So, I was thinking about where to put this question. It has linguistic and political aspects but it also has an impact on many other topics. At the end, I also think that it can't be answered with facts alone, which is why I write my question here.

Let's imagine that languages which are quite close to each other (let's take Germanic languages without English as example). For the sake of this question, these languages have not had any written standard before, so people are not influenced by one way or the other and no books and other media has a written form. These languages agree to create a standard orthography, so a standard way of writing down what is spoken, but no standard dictionary.

I have my thoughts of what could happen, but I would like to hear the logical conclusions of other people.

Edit: I'm especially looking for things the governments would have to implement, how the spread of education of the writing would happen, how people would try to understand one another and so on.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you would get better answer at: linguistics.stackexchange.com , and to short answer your question - nothing special would happen. Dictionaries are just a collection of words that are being used, nothing else. Every word just has to follow the general rules. (you dont need a dictionary do determine if its singular/plural masculine/feminine etc.) $\endgroup$ – Daniel M. Sep 29 '16 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ What is the question? As I read it, it seems you are just asking about opinions, which makes it too opinion-based to be valid for this site. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Sep 29 '16 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean like Chinese, where several mutually unintelligible spoken dialects share a written form? Or do you mean Latin/Phoenician languages where the same letters are used, but the meanings vary wildly? $\endgroup$ – Joel Harmon Sep 29 '16 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ There are a number of cases of, usually, First Nation languages which do not have written forms. Also, languages like Chinese and Japanese which borrowed alternative alphabetic orthographies to their pictographic writing. These are historical examples of languages which have adopted orthographies. They can be used as exemplars of the process. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 29 '16 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ This site deals with world building. But research is a good to start especially if there are real world equivalents. Then speculation can be grounded in reality, and thereafter go beyond reality. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 29 '16 at 12:58

It seems implausible that speakers of several related languages, none of which have a written form, would get together and create an full orthography from scratch without any outside influences. The limited information we have on the creation of written language suggests that it was a gradual process, but that the idea spread fairly quickly once it had been invented.

So if you want this language group to go from no written language to a common one fairly quickly, the idea seems to need to come from outside, and there will be people who have at least seen writing in other languages, and grasped the basic idea of representing a written language.

But if they know no more than that, and try to make a standard to apply across a range of several languages, they're quite likely to mess the job up in some way. Depending on how bad a job it is, it may fall out of use, or it may get fixed up in different ways for different languages, creating variations in the orthography.

Basically, the question as asked presents a deeply implausible scenario. If there are aspects of the world that dictate it, explaining them would be a good idea.


This happens in real life, when we lend indigenous people our alphabet to write down their language with. It also has happened with larger groups. Romanji is often used to convey Japanese words using the Latin characterset and Pinyin serves the same purpose in China.

China has actually become quite an interesting case because of cell phones. The new generation communicates heavily by text, which make pinyin a very effective form of communication. As a result, the Chinese government has concerns that the next generation isn't learning the actual Chinese characters (hanzi) well enough. They're worried about a degradation in fluency. There are many characters in the Chinese language which are homophones but are written very differently, so they are easy to distinguish in hanzi but hard to distinguish in pinyin.

Another odd real life case to consider is that of programming languages. In programming languages, the grammar is specified in a very formal specification, but the content of your program is typically dominated by "identifiers," which are words that have no meaning in the language, but you give them semantic meaning by how you use them. As a result, a 3d scene graph written in C++ has a very different feel than a database written in C++, even though they share a common language.

In the end, convincing people to use a particular orthography will be far easier than teaching them the concept of writing in the first place. I would expect the end result would be dominated by the needs of teaching people how to write.


If the culture didn't use writing before, then writing is initially going to be irrelevant to everyday life for most people.

A lot will depend on how whoever keeps the records at the moment reacts - priests, government, merchants - who're presumably using oral history and maybe tally sticks or similar.

If it makes their life easier it'll probably catch on.

On the other hand, if the priests decide that letting any literate layman deal with written stuff instead of properly fully trained priests that actually remember things and won't be fooled if someone changes the written record is a bad idea, there may be pressure against it.


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