Unbeknownst to many readers of the LDS tract, “The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” there is an interesting historic artifact nestled in the middle of a number of copies of the Book of Mormon in different languages. The Deseret Alphabet—a phonetic alphabet used briefly in early Utah—is represented on what looks like an antique book in some foreign script. The alphabet was created by Brigham Young’s direction as an attempt to make the English language less complex to learn for incoming foreign converts. At Young’s request, Parley P. Pratt, George D. Watt, and Heber C. Kimball designed an alphabet with some thirty-eight characters in 1853 and 1854, mostly based on the Latin alphabet and Pittman shorthand.
The alphabet was advocated by Church leaders—especially Parley P. Pratt—and a few school readers and the Book of Mormon were published in the script. A set of coins minted in the territory used the alphabet and some Saints even learned it and used in their journals. Within a few years, however, the alphabet died out. It was slower and more difficult to write than the traditional Latin alphabet and never had much hope of displacing the system used in the entire English world. Today only a few Mormon studies professionals and hobbyists study and use the alphabet. There is, however, a publisher that prints copies of public domain classics such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet in the Deseret Alphabet.
Although Mormons attempted to reform the way the English language was read, there has been no systematic attempt to change how it was spoken (unless you count the cord-card merger). There is, however, a belief in a pure, undefiled language spoken by Adam that Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders believed they had learned fragments of by revelation here and there. The occasional word was thrown out in public sermons, used to name places (i.e., Adam-ondi- Ahman), and even used in temple rituals until the late 20th century. The word Deseret is even thought by some Latter-day Saints to be an Adamic word for honeybee. When glossolalia (the type of speaking in tongues that isn’t just someone learning another language really quickly) was widely practiced in Mormonism, the incomprehensible language spoken was occasionally declared to be the Adamic language. Use and understandings of this Adamic language is largely speculative within Mormonism and is rarely mentioned in public discourse today.
Wikipedia – Deseret alphabet
Wikipedia – Adamic Language
DeseretAlphabet.org – The Deseret Alphabet Portal
A Comlete Guide to Reading and Writing the Deseret Alphabet – by Neil Alexander Walker (PDF)
DeseretAlphabet.info – Deseret Alphabet Classics
Featured Image Public Domain, Image Credits – LDS.org, Wikipedia