Ian James
© November 2009

script name

Fontok is a kind of shorthand inspired by the calligraphic style of China and Japan called wild cursive (k’uang tsao). Mongolian was also an influence. It is in essence a structured scribbling, with phonemes assigned to particular movements of the pen. The name comes from the Thai word for “falling rain”, and also has connotations with “font” and “phonetics”.

Notable Features

sample text


[down the left] “All human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights. They are endowed with conscience and reason,
and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)”


The consonantal phonemes of English were ranked by frequency, and the most common were assigned to the easiest, most natural shapes. Rarer phonemes like /th/ of thing and the /zh/ in measure were assigned to more complicated, less naturally-flowing shapes.

A relatively small set of curves and knots was chosen, and then mirrored to bring the total number up to match the number of consonantal phonemes in English. It turns out that for English, the dental phonemes are generally more common than the bilabials and velars. For this reason, the more natural side of the central axis for forming curves (left side for right-handed writers, right side for left-handed writers) has mainly those phonemes. The mirrored shapes were then given roughly equivalent articulations to those of the main (outer) side.


The vowels of English can be grouped roughly into 6 pairs of short and long, where each pair is seen to share similar articulation. A long vowel is simply represented as duplication of a short vowel.

Short vowels are regarded as simple, short lines going out from, and then returning to, a point. A six-way radial system is the basis of assignment. Since there are two main axes of movement at the physical level — wrist rotation (blue) and finger squeezing (red) — the most clearly distinguished vowels are assigned to these. A midway movement is given to the medium frequency vowel /a/, and the most common vowel schwa is a simple line following the vertical axis of the word.

basis of vowel assignment


In the following chart of Fontok shapes, the yellow line shows the central axis of writing. For shapes like /s/, /d/ and /v/, a slight extension from the end-point, or to the start-point, may be drawn.

When the end of a word is reached, a slight tail may be added for aesthetics; the direction—left or right—is chosen to balance the overall lateral weight of the written word. This is especially useful in the strictly vertical printed font.

The diphthongs are given with simplified phonetics, to show clearly how the shapes are derived from two single vowel marks. The solo mark labeled /a/ is an abbreviated form used for the indefinite article of English. A small ring may be prefixed to a word as a capitalizer (see my name in the tattoo page, for example).

chart of Fontok shapes

NB. This chart and the vowel diagram were designed for right-handed writers; left-handers can simply use a mirror image of the system.

A version of this page can also be found on Omniglot.

a red Chinese seal (anonymous image) a black Chinese seal (anonymous image)


All material on this page © Ian James.
Last modified Nov.11,2009