This cipher uses a unique phonetic alphabet.

Consonant sounds (not necessarily in the text):

m b p f v r l d t s z y n j ch sh zh* w ng g k thin** this** h

*Zh refers to the s in conclusion or the j in bonjour

**Thin and This refer to the th in those words

Vowel sounds (not necessarily in the text):

bat bit but baa bot bet beat boot book

I haven't seen anyone else do something like this so I thought it would make a good challenge for those of you who are accustomed to breaking normal substitution ciphers.

For rhotic vowels, I just used Rs.

You can assume I did not choose the correct vowel sounds. However, the second puzzle piece should allow you to break it regardless.

Transcription: ab cd efgbi ajkl. ab mbnkfom pqo qr ecrcrg as oqt ufr vqoeqg avcjg wg. wg gaorm cjg gj vb fb xbrbat abmbya uaj, cz ecrcrg n*mwrg hb, ab dbr hfb, &wz tgcrmbi $odb taj kqi.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you distinguish /ə/ (ago, memory), and /ʌ/ (but)? What about the /oʊ/ vowel sound, as in "boat" - is that a potential sound? $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ (Also, is there any chance we could get a transcription of this, with a random letter replacing each symbol?) $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Yes those are separate sounds. For the most part, I try to spell words as if they were articulated as clearly as possible, which means avoiding the /ə/ (schwa) since for the most part it is what sounds get reduced to when they are said fast and unstressed. There are some exceptions to this because sometimes the schwa sound is the full sound, such as with "book" and "look". The only time I used the sound is with the ou in the word "couldn't" but I should also have used it in the word "turned". $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ 2. The oa in "boat" is actually the u in "but" + the oo in "boot". They are shown here as two separate sounds. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ 3. I unfortunately don't have time to do that today but I can help by revealing that the half size letters are vowel sounds and the tall letters are consonant sounds. Hopefully this makes it a more reasonable challenge. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 10:06

1 Answer 1


The code, translating symbols to their IPA equivalents:

Black is the transcription letter, blue is the IPA symbol for the sound. enter image description here
Two-unit shapes are consonants, and one-unit-tall shapes are vowels. Mirroring a consonant across a vertical axis changes a sound from voiced to unvoiced or vice versa; the sounds that don't have counterparts get symmetric symbols. The fricative/sibilant-ish sounds have the "heavy" part on top and some roughly corresponding stop-ish sounds have the heavy part on the bottom. There's no pattern in which direction is voiced, or which asymmetric symbols get paired with symmetric ones, though.

The message is:

/ʌi æm gɛtiŋ ʌuld. ʌi diklɛrd wɔr ɔn gænænt ʌv rɔs ðɛn fɔrgɔt ʌbæut ɪt. ɪt tʌrnd æut tu bi ɛi ʤiniʌs ʌidijʌ ðʌu, æz gænænt kʊdɪnt wi, ʌi min wɛi hɪz stændiŋ armi sʌu lɔŋ./

"I am getting old. I declared war on Ganant of Ross, then forgot about it. It turned out to be a genius idea though, as Ganant couldn't pee, I mean pay his standing army so long."

How I figured it out:

The most likely way to start a sentence with a single word with two vowel sounds is "I". (I had transcribed this as /ai/ at first.) The most natural short word to follow that is "am", and then after that something ending in "-ing". Once that was done, "genius idea" stood out to me for /?i?ia? ai?i?a/, and at that point I could always find a word with only one blank to fill in.

  • $\begingroup$ It is ridiculous how good you are at these! I will accept as correct since you basically have it, but it was "pay" not "weigh". "pee, I mean pay" was actually a mistake I made while writing it and decided it worked to leave it in as a mistake the actual writer was correcting. You are correct about the name, Ganant, and Roos is the county Ross. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ On reflection I believe the mistake I have been making is with the /ə/ sound and assuming it is just the /ʊ/ sound. In other words I think I have the correct understanding of /ʊ/ and the wrong understanding of /ə/. Otherwise I haven't done too badly... you can probably tell that I haven't studied phonetics. This alphabet is based on a phonetic fantasy language I made but all the phonetics are the result of me just trying to make sense of the sounds and find patterns between them. There is no "symmetry/asymmetry/direction" pattern because I just hadn't discovered that. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 13:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JoshuaBizley Even if you aren't experienced with phonetics, there are still a lot of patterns here! Reminds me a bit of Canadian syllabics. (And for what it's worth, I also have trouble with /ə/ -- in my accent, it's essentially the same as /ʌ/. And I also have the cot-caught merger, which doesn't help things.) $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 18:30

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