Has anyone attempted to make a keyboard for Runes?

This keyboard, based on the Windows layout, is available:

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I had a conversation with another keyboard developer just a few days ago, who is intending to contribute a Runic keyboard soon.


That’s awesome. I was actually inspired by this video that lays out a nice scheme for writing English with runes

Maybe the person that you spoke to saw the same thing :slight_smile:

While useful for typing Old Norse, Keyman’s current Futhark Basic keyboard does not include all of the Anglo-Saxon (aka Anglo-Frisian) runes. Consequently, it is at best an incomplete runic keyboard in a similar way to how a Latin keyboard without letters such as j, y, and w would be incomplete but still useful for typing in Latin.

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I have seen Hurlebatte’s video before. He does a much better job than many others of designing a system for typing Modern English in runes that is both true to history and adapted to the language as it currently stands. Indeed, he has come to many of the same conclusions as I have, probably in a much shorter period of time than I took to examine the wide diversity of contemporary English accents. However, his system is flawed for a number of reasons:

  1. Hurlebatte breaks his own rules in the example at the end of his video.

This, coupled with his visible uncertainty about how to spell certain words, demonstrates that he has given insufficient thought to the complexities of this matter.

  1. Hurlebatte is mistaken to claim that he has left ᛉ untouched. Rather, he has mistaken the limited historic use of a grapheme for the use of the phoneme associated with that grapheme today.

It is not correct to say that the Anglo-Saxons used ᛉ to represent the sound of our letter X. In Elder Futhark, that rune originally made the [z] sound. But because the Anglo-Saxons considered [z] and [s] to be allophones, they used ᛋ for both. Consequently, although they retained that rune in the Futhorc, ᛉ does not appear anywhere in Anglo-Saxon inscriptions. That rune was only later repurposed by the Church to represent the Latin letter X which writing in runes. This was a substitution of a grapheme only, not a phoneme.

  1. While the use of ᛋ for both [s] and [z] upholds the principle of Historic Continuity, it ignores the fact that these sounds are no longer allophones in most circumstances (although they can be in some).

I initially did the same thing when developing my system of Modern English Futhorc however, after several months of practice, I came to realise that there are simply too many frequently used words in Modern English that become conflated as a result. Consequently, I was behoved to appeal to the principle of Justifiable Development to restrict the use of ᛋ to [s] while reverting ᛉ to its older [z] sound. Such repurposing causes no problem as there is no need to have a rune of the letter X because there are already multiple ways of representing its sounds, e.g. ᛣᛋ᛫᛫ᚸᛋ. While Hurlebatte is correct that this may cause some confusions in regards to words such as “tax” and “tacks”, such instances are far fewer than the problems caused by failing to distinguish [z] from [s], and when they do occur it is much more likely that context will help the reader to correctly grasp which word is intended.

  1. Hurlebatte does not distinguish between the runes ᛄ & ᛡ even though they are distinguished in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem.

This might be called a non-critical error and he justifies himself by saying that one is just the manuscript form of the other. It’s not a huge problem. There is a good case to be argued that they were different forms of the same rune even though the Rune Poem treats them as distinct characters with different names. But as Unicode includes both, it would seem remiss to exclude one. However, the main reason I’m mentioning this has to do with my next point.

  1. Hurlebatte retains both of the sounds [j] & [g] for the rune ᚷ even though each one is already made by a different rune. While I respect his desire to leave the Futhorc relatively untouched, his doing so here ironically violates both the principles of Historic Continuity and Justifiable Development.

In regards to the first, he overlooks the historic continuity of the English language itself in a few ways:
i) It’s well known that when the Authorised Bible (KJV) was translated “Jehovah” was pronounced with the sound of today’s letter Y at the start of it (which in IPA is of course [j]).
ii) Historically, the rune ᚷ also made the [ɣ] sound which fall out of use in Middle English. This shows that it was used to represent a range of what might be called “G-sounds”.
iii) The name of the rune ᚷ is often translated as “gift” but it also means “generosity”. Note how “gift” begins with a hard G (as in “gut”) whereas “generosity” begins with a soft G (as in the name “George”). This shows that there is a connection between the rune ᚷ and the soft G sound [d͡ʒ] historically.

In light of the above, it is justifiable to argue that, had runes remained in use, ᚷ would have become the rune to make the [d͡ʒ] sound (like the letter J in the word “jeep”). Consequently, I consider Hurlebatte’s assumption that “ᚳᚷ” would make this sound to not only be a false assumption but strangely inaccurate.

The use of ᛄ (which Hurlebatte shows on screen as ᛡ) for the [j] sound (of Y in “yes” or “year”) is entirely appropriate. Likewise, the use of ᚸ for the [g] sound in “gut” is also ideal. Both of those runes remain “untouched” to use Hurlebatte’s terminology. Why then did he not chose to repurpose the redundant ᚷ rune when he did repurpose other runes? (I’ve just explained how that can logically be done in light of history.)

  1. Hurlebatte contradicts himself by telling people to write how they talk but then almost immediately telling them to talk “properly”.

I’m sorry but his very use of the word “properly” bewrays his bias. In accents with the pin-pen merger, many speakers can’t even hear the difference between the sounds he assigns to the runes ᛖ & ᛁ. So how could they possibly know how they were meant to say them “properly”? Now I basically agree with the way Hurlebatte has assigned those two sounds (although I recognise the need for some flexibility in spelling to avoid creating an artificial split for some speakers). But he is in error to attempt to instruct people in regards to how to speak. This causes him to make the following, very common mistake.

  1. English is spoken with more than 1 accent.

This is the key reason why English spelling reforms almost invariably fail. This is just as true of Shavian as it is of Deseret script. But runes has what neither of those scripts ever had - history! Those 2 scripts were invented with the accents of their days in mind without reference to the broader spectrum of English. That spectrum expands through both time and space/place.

Because how runes were used can be analysed across the time period during which they were in use, the methods of adaptation the Anglo-Saxons used with them can also be employed to solve the current problem of diverse accents across space/location. I have seldom seen anyone even try to do this and those who have inevitably run into the fault of failing to realise that they themselves have an accent which restricts their ability to design a system that people with significantly different accents can use. This is what I have almost finished doing now after several years working part-time on this problem.

By way of example, based upon Hurlebatte’s choice of the word “father” to represent his tweaked sound for the ᚪ rune, I can deduce with relative confidence that he uses that same vowel sound in the words “palm” and “lot”. Unfortunately for him, most accents (including RP) use different vowel sounds for the PALM and LOT lexical sets. In this case, he has created an artificial merger for many millions of English speakers, probably without even realising it. Although, he does acknowledge when speaking about ᚩ that he has dropped the short O sound that rune originally made (presumably because he could not hear it as a distinct sound).

  1. Hurlebatte unnecessarily abolished the use of ᚣ by not repurposing it.

Although this rune’s historic sound is still used in a very small minority of English dialects, speakers of those dialects almost always considered that sound to be allophonic with another vowel sound. It would be more logical to repurpose it in light of its history.

The rune ᚣ was originally created to distinguish a sub-set of the sounds made by ᚢ. One of those sounds was the sound still heard today in the Scottish pronunciation of “cow” (which sounds a lot like “coo”). Consequently, it is logical to conclude that ᚣ would have been the rune making that sound when it morphed into the vowel in the MOUTH lexical set in Modern English. There is no need to assume a digraph for that sound as Hurlebatte does.

  1. In regards to [ʌ], he makes the American mistake recently discussed by Dr Geoff Lindsey on his YouTube channel of falsely assuming that it is always stressed. That is not the case, nor is the schwa always unstressed. (But it may be best to see his video on that topic at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wt66Je3o0Qg )

There is a better option for the modern sound of the ᛟ rune but that’s another topic.

  1. Hurlebatte’s idea of using ᚱ to indicate vowel length in non-rhotic dialects is novel but it ignores how even non-rhotic dialects still use the /r/ sound when a suffix is added.

To be fair, I myself have struggled greatly with the matter of how to overcome rhoticity-related problems. This is extremely difficult but I think this suggestion creates more problems than it solves. There is a simpler solution to the problem of vowel length but I’ll keep that to myself for now.


At this point, I’ll end my critique. Although I do have some further differences with Hurlebatte, I think it would only be fair to commend him in regards to some things he has done well.

  1. As mentioned above, he tried to respect the Futhorc’s history. He even correctly recognised that ᛋᚳ is the historic way of writing the “sh” sound (as in “sheep”) and ᚻᚹ is the historic way of writing the “wh” sound of “whine” (in accents which do not exhibit the wine-whine merger).

  2. Hurlebatte’s use of ᛖᚱ for the vowel of the NURSE lexical set is extremely logical in light of how children in many countries are taught that “er” makes that sounds.

  3. In spite of point 6 of my above critique, Hurlebatte did begin by instructing viewers to tweak his system. However, it was a major oversight to provide no guidance in regards to how that could be done in a feasible manner.

  4. Not using ᚳ to represent the sound of “c” in “cut” is an excellent idea and the logical development of having the ᛣ rune. Though I praise the concept, for historical reasons I’ve not fully required its abandonment in my system but it is highly restricted.

  5. The use of ᛖ before a syllabic consonant has merit in light of how frequently “e” is used in Latin script, yet it may seem odd in words like “rhythm”. So I think its best not to lean upon our existing biases in this case. In spite of what some English teachers say, the English language does not require a vowel to be present in every syllable. (I say this having taught English as a second language while helping to establish a tutoring school.) This could easily move into a discussion about the schwa but that’s too big a topic for here and I’ve already said far more than I probably needed to.

For now, I am planning on publishing a book (possibly two) on how to write today’s English phonetically in runes. Currently the handbook is around 80 pages long but that’s likely to change during editing. I have tried to keep it brief so it’ll be on A5 paper. I wanted to have the runic keyboard ready well beforehand though so I could include images of it.

While I’ve not publicly released anything yet, if you would like to follow videos on Modern English Futhorc once they’re out, please let me know your preferred platform and I’ll give you a link.

Finally, my apologies for such a long reply but, given your clear interest in the topic, I didn’t want to leave you thinking that I hadn’t thoroughly thought through these matters, as a brief response may have done.



Shavian is custom to English and also featural (quite smart), but it has no connection to history. People like to have that rootedness whether they know it or not. Although, I suppose Hangul took off without a history as well. But if the king of england required adoption of shavian, that would also be quite the historic event :laughing:

Regarding the issue of accents and mergers, I think it is natural that there will be different “official” dictionaries for different major accents. I don’t see it as a problem as long as the letter sounds are agreed upon across accents. Keyman has a wonderful prediction system for keyboard too so you can include your preferred dictionary for your accent.

Great comment with great ideas!! I also would find it tragic if some runes were simply unused. So many of them are beautiful.

Please do share a youtube channel, blog, email, or even discord server. I’m super interested. Otherwise we can stay updated on this thread.

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If today’s King of England requires all English texts henceforth to be escribed in Shavian I’ll give you a $1000 mate!

I’m not opposed to dictionaries. Indeed, they can be helpful. However I agree with that Oxford professor who the other year said that requiring specific spellings is a form of elitism. Whenever a language too rigidly adheres to set spellings, its new learners suffer along with the less educated as a result.

How familiar are you with different accents? They are people who say the vowels in “square” and “nurse” identically. They are people who insert a yod (i.e. the [j] sound) into the word “car” so that it sounds like [kjaːɹ]. There are people who think the vowel sounds in “force” and “north” are different.

Nonetheless, I believe it is possible for all of us to typing phonetically in runes according to our own accents provided we agree upon a system of anchoring, i.e. some degree of liberty in spelling needs to be acceptable yet it must remain anchored to certain common words so that, even if you and I say those words differently, we can still both decipher what the other writes by drawing upon our common knowledge of which runes represent which lexical groupings. (I’ve intentionally avoided the technical term “lexical sets” here because, put simply, it’s a bit more complicated than that.)

If you know though please, is there a way to access a list of IPA transcriptions in RP &/or GenAm? I must admit, I have no idea how to write a dictionary for a keyboard. If you’re skilled in this area, it would be wonderful if you could assist please :slight_smile:

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The problem is that English is not Spanish. I am fairly educated and I need to think really hard to figure out how I would spell a word phonetically in English. Stress-timing is so tricky! So it’s not about elitism. It’s about genuinely being helpful imo. Elitism could be forcing Americans to speak the “king’s english” perhaps. But as I mentioned, I don’t see an issue with having multiple acceptable pronunciations in a dictionary, or different major regions having their own dictionaries.

Focusing on these little quirks are a huge waste of time imo. General American and RP are a great start. Nobody that pronounces “square” like “nurse” is going to be up in arms that their accent is not one of the official standards :smile:

It is a noble concept, but my proposition is that nobody wants to type in their own very specific accent because it requires too much effort to think deeply about how they specifically pronounce things. Too much work and too much study would be required.

It sounds like you are describing a Phonemic alphabet (as opposed to a phonetic alphabet). This would be similar to Shavian which in multiple cases says “however you pronounce this sound, that is what this letter is”.

Keyman enables this actually. It was done for Shavian if you look at the “lexical set” repo here: Shavian-info (Shavian-info) / Repositories · GitHub

People on this forum can help us with this. Essentially though, it can be as simple as

  1. Get a word frequency list for English
  2. Transcribe all of this latin spellings to runic spellings

And that is it.

If you need to think hard, you may be overthinking my friend. If phonetic spelling required everyone to be an expert in IPA, we wouldn’t already see so much of it in casual exchanges. Precision is not required. Indeed, often it is detrimental. What needs to be conveyed in a general idea, and that’s what runes can do.

You seem to miss the point. A speaker with the square-nurse merger is incapable of distinguishing between those 2 vowels because they are identical to that person, not only in thought but in their lived experience. Thus, a method for accommodating such people must be available or else we are guilty of prejudice. Perhaps a better example may be how many Americans consider the LOT vowel to either be the same as that in PALM or that in CLOTH, yet a few recognise those as 3 distinct vowels though in some places they are such. Yet to what extent is distinction in writing necessary? To complicate matters furthers, some assign the LOT vowel to the PALM set yet consider the CLOTH vowel to be entirely distinct, while others see the LOT and CLOTH vowels as being identical but the PALM vowel as being distinct. Do you see now what I mean about the need for flexibility?

Sorry but that is simply not the case, though I can see why you may think it is. You’re right that the average man doesn’t like thinking too hard. But people regularly write in their own local accents precisely because it comes naturally. We see it in words like “dawg” (in Georgia) and in how children everywhere default towards writing phonetically because it is easier for them than trying to remember numerous, often absurd, spellings. Are you old enough to remember 1337? Leetspeak may have had its day but every generation creates its own new slang which often has some phonetic basis. What’s more, it’s not just an ideal, I still have my licence key for Keyman (from Tavultesoft) from when I began working on how to solve this problem. I’ve not completed it yet, but I overcame a major hurdle just a few months ago :slight_smile:

I have drawn upon some similar ideas to Shavian though I was unaware it existed when I did so. As far as I’m aware though, Shavian failed to account for the dynamism of accents. Whenever one assumes accents are static, one’s ship is bound to sink in the storm. This is what I mean by the use of “anchors”, not that even sound has only its own range but, if you can imagine it, something more like a series of interconnected Venn diagrammes of varying sizes where the centre of each circle is an achor. Each boat can drift within its circle, which may even allow some boats to do-si-do, yet despite this there will still be an ability to understand one another.

Thank you very much for the link. That may be quite helpful but I’ll look at it another day seeing it’s nearing 4 am here.

Thanks for the suggestion but manual transcribing would be a waste of time. If its decision tree were accurate, a machine could do the whole dictionary in a matter of minutes, if that. It wouldn’t be hard to programme. That’s why I asked for RP & GenAm lists. They would make good test cases and could help form an initial dictionary for Modern English Futhorc.

Speaking of programming, I’ve completed my runic keyboard layout now. (Decided to add Ogham on an extra layer too.) But it’s been so long since I last used Keyman that I seem to be running into a problem with the keyboard compiler. If you can help at all, what do I resolve the following please?

RunicKeyboard.kmn (207): 208A The compiler has assigned a minimum engine version of 9.0 based on features used in this keyboard
runic.kmn: Failure: ‘C:\Users\Owner\Documents\Keyman Developer\Projects\runeboard\runic.kmn’ was not compiled successfully for Windows, macOS, Linux, Desktop devices.

Thanks in advance.

In Shavian, I leaned towards an “unmerging maximalism”. I would prefer to learn how to spell the word in the unmerged way even if I could not personally hear a difference. My logic is that over time I would start to see the patterns of words that are unmerged and use the same vowels. I may even start to unmerged them in my own speech one day.

I preferred a more conservative spelling I suppose. One that retained as many sounds as possible, even if some were unclear to me. Maybe it is idealistic and an attempt to aim at a future “transatlantic” accent.

Can you share some of the layout info? even if it is just runes->IPA sounds in a list?

Yes, I would never suggest manual work regarding the dictionary :smile:

is it uh-liz-uh-buh-th, ih-liz-uh-beth, eh-liz-ah-beth, i could go on…

Frankly, english being stress-timed just does not lend itself to clarity in vowel sounds. It is probably the main reason that the writing departed so much from the pronunciation.

You seem quite intelligent. Would it be fair to say you’re an academic? It’s great that you want to learn as much as you can but when one can’t heard any difference the exercise becomes inauthentic. The average man is often unwilling to learn what he sees as unnecessary.

Though I would ask how you would address accents that never underwent the foot-strut split? Why should they have to learn something extra when they weren’t the ones to change? Or should everyone who has the split be required to ignore it for the sake of the remnant minority? My system offers options for such cases so that every man write his own accent while still being able to read the accents of others just as much as we can both read colour/color regardless of the debate.

I have included the Trans-Atlantic accent in my analysis though I’ve generally preferenced natural accents. I’ve looked at around 50 including 3 South African accents, various Pacific Islander accents, Singaporean, Indian, as well as the usual line-up of CANZUKUS accents, though to be fair I really only looked at one Canadian accent as most of theirs can be covered by different US accents (as much as they may not like to admit that).

I originally intended to include a table at the end of the handbook on possible IPA equivalents for different runes though now I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea as it could confuse the common man. I may save it for a larger work further down the track.

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This is overthinking my friend. Stress generally does not matter. It can be largely be ignored when writing in runes. If one vocalises a schwa then it should be written as such. If one doesn’t, then write what one says. One need not over-complicate matters. The purpose of text is to convey what is basically oral. That’s one of the reasons why variety in spelling is helpful. It can convey sounds more naturally than unified spelling can.

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Good point! I suppose that I would simply make a choice as I see fit and if a different group of people disagree, they would be free to make their own dictionary and set of “standards”. Again, I see the standards as helping people rather than controlling them. I would prefer to have some kind of autocorrect to help me.

The problem is that many people hear the words in their head even when they are reading silently. So if I read the british spelling and pronunciation of a word, then I (as an american) am forced to read it in the british way and it is jarring and unfamiliar. If the text is long like a novel, these two communities of speakers may depart further just because they don’t like a foreign accent invading their mind space. Sounds dramatic, but it is what I experienced with Shavian.

I only meant that stress timing crushes vowels to a degree where even the speaker isn’t exactly clear which vowels they are saying (see: “elizabeth” example). In that sense, I would prefer to just have a standard representation of the word to help guide the clarity of my own pronunciation and thought.

I tend to favor a more etymological spelling, but I know that is a point of divergence with many people.

I have made a keymap for a 4x12 ortholinear keyboard (e.g. the Planck) for the open source QMK firmware that uses Unicode on Windows, Linux and macOS. Each OS uses a different input method for unicode. It is available here and you can also view the documentation on this page: https://github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware/tree/master/layouts/community/ortho_4x12/trguhq

I think ortholinear is well suited for runes compared to QWERTY. With the 24 runes in the Elder Futhark grouped in 3 sets (aetts) of 8 runes each, they can be logically arranged on the keyboard (see attached photo). QWERTY offers little for this purpose, and trying to map runes to specific positions of Latin characters can be an inexact method. There have been a number of efforts to come up with QWERTY layouts - none of which I found particularly compelling.

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that looks beautiful! how did you print the keycaps?

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Thanks! Those are an out of production variant of “Drop + MiTo XDA Canvas” called “Manfred”.

Going from my notes (which may be out of date), other keycaps with runes have been “GMK Norse”, “Infinikey Vanir” and “ePBT Skadi”.

There are some custom keycap printers as well, for example WASDkeyboards. Varmilo also offers rune options for complete keyboards.

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There are a couple of sellers with rune keycaps on Etsy as well.

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That is really good to know!! I think it could be good to do a custom WASD keys one though so that you can print a second and third layer on the keys for non anglo-saxon runes and also latin letters

I would want it to still be usable for latin letters