Logic behind the handling of semivowels in the Major System?

I’m currently exploring the Major System and I’m a bit confused. What I’m struggling with is how to treat semivowels – h, w, and j. Normally they are simply ignored. However, I fail to see how this would be better than including them in some cases if the system is to be used strictly phonetically.

I’ll give some examples. These are wrong according to the guidelines, but feel more correct to me:


Haruki, Hannibal, hell, hat – include h. Thai, honest, phone, sheep – ignore h. (These are somewhat bad examples though. I failed to think of an instance when I would keep the h while it was is in the middle of a word in English (but several in Swedish)).


Washing, awaiting – include w. (I would also include w when pronounced hard as a v). Awesome – ignore w.

J is then harder. If it’s pronounced as a soft g (dʒ) it’s no problem (as in jump, journal). However, I would phonetically spell rain, naked, new and use as:

rejn, nejkhed, njou and jous. This might be due to a difference in languages? The j in these examples is closer to the y in you, or the j in Hallelujah. The correct symbol would be j or ʝ̞ (voiced palatal approximant) I think. I don’t know how to tackle j really.

It would be very strange for me to ignore the j completely in Swedish. And likewise, if ignored in English only, that would create som confusion as well I imagine? If included in all cases though, the confusion would be to differentiate j from the vocal sounds ei and ai. (These are not really used in Swedish, instead they are most commonly created with the letter j).

If anyone has chosen to include semivowels and have a system for it, or could better explain why it would be a bad idea to do so, I’d love to hear it.

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I haven’t yet pinpointed how I would make these distinctions, which is of course a big problem. This is how I have grouped the consonant sounds for now:

  • 0 = f / v / h (fe ve he)
  • 1 = t / d / ʈ / ð, θ (te de rte the)
  • 2 = n / ŋ (ne nge)
  • 3 = m (me)
  • 4 = k / g (ka ga)
  • 5 = s (se)
  • 6 = b / p (be pe)
  • 7 = L (le)
  • 8 = R (re)
  • 9 = j / ʝ / ɕ / ɧ / dʒ (ji shi chi dji)

I guess w would then be added to f, v and h if not ignored (?).

If anyone is really interested, here’s a link to a Wikipedia page in English with recorded examples of the Swedish consonant and vowel sounds. It can be compared to the same page for the English language.

it’s not so much that you ignore the “h” in these cases; rather, they act as modifiers (phonetically speaking). So “phone” isn’t PN but rather FN and “sheep” is JN rather than SN. You got the same with “motion” and “ocean” where phonetically you’re also looking at a “J” not a “T” or a “C”.

You should use it in a way that makes sense to you of course. Take a German “V” for example, which could be pronounces as either “W” (English V sound) or “F”. You could use the latter as an “F” and ignore the former if you stick to phonetic usage.

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With a phonetic system, it isn’t the letter that’s important, it’s the sound. “J” in “jump” is a different consonant than “j” in “Jonas”, even though they are represented with the same letter.

Another example: in my accent “tree” is pronounced “chree”, so I would assign it to 64 in a sound-based system, and 14 in a letter-based system.

The video on the how to memorize numbers page has more information about differences between letter-based and sound-based systems.

Thank you for your reply Bjoern. You’re right, ignore was a poor choice of word from me. It’s just like you say that the letter h acts as modifiers in those instances, hence it shouldn’t be encoded.

I think that in most cases, in English, h either modifies the vocal sounds or create a shi-sound when coupled with s or c. I wouldn’t encode h then. However, in the examples I gave when I would encode h, I think it functions more as a pure consonant beyond modifying the following vowel. I might very well be wrong here though, what do you say in those cases?

The examples you gave are interesting (motion, ocean). Here, I wouldn’t be confused as to how I would process them. I would look at them as pure shi-sounds – which I’d interpret under the ”shi”-sound ɕ, which is close enough to ʃ or whatever is the direct match.

The j-sound is solely the Hallelujah or you sound to me. if I look at it through Swedish lenses. If sounded out phonetically, I’d probably spell your examples something like moushun, oushen – or, if using a more Swedish way, with the consonant sounds tj, k or kj. They would all have the same sound (shi) more or less.

So perhaps my confusion with j is mainly regarding it’s relationship to the vocal sounds ai and ei, and were I should draw the line.

Josh, I’m with you. I might have been a bit unclear in what I meant. I at least think that I understand what you mean and agree fully.

The distinction I was trying to make was between how in English the j sound is different from Swedish – it often represents a soft g sound, and that I have no problem with processing. The problem is more in the examples I gave. I’m guessing most would encode rain as r and n, naked as n, k and d and so forth – thus interpret the j-sound as the vowel sounds ai and ei. Do you agree? Would it be problematic, you think, to encode these as the consonant sound j has in Swedish instead? I might still be a bit unclear, If that’s the case I’ll try and clarify some more tomorrow.

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You pretty much summed it up right there… now just make it your own. For example “taxi” (English or Swedish) would give you “taksi” so 170 or in your modified assignment 145… but why give yourself a headache.

Personnaly, I don’t use words that start with vowels and equally I stay away from words like warrior. What is that? 44 or are there two syllables, so 444? Just use better words that make sense to you and are not ambiguous according to your rules.

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Sorry, I might be misunderstanding something. :slight_smile:

“Rain” would always be 42 in an unmodified Major System. The only consonants in the word “rain” are r and n.

The diphthong “ai” in “rain” (alternatively written with symbols like “ei” in “eight”, “ay” in “day”, “ej” in “rejn”, “a[*e]” in “plate”, etc.) isn’t a consonant, even if spelled with a “j”.

I think the “j” in “hallelujah” is a consonant, though one that is traditionally ignored in the Major System (typically written as “y” in English).

At least in English, the letter “y” can represent a consonant (“yellow”) or a vowel (“day”).

If I’m misunderstanding something, let me know.


To avoid the words that causes me confusion phonetically might be obvious Bjoern, but I didn’t think that far. It’s good advice, I might not need an all-encompassing system right away – rules like not choosing words starting with a vowel resonates with me.

Josh, no I don’t think your misunderstanding, it’s just me having some trouble making clear distinctions now. Thank you for your effort. I’ll try and describe my confusion more clearly below.

What I’m failing with is distinguishing between vowel sounds and consonant sounds. Writing this feels really stupid, but I guess that’s the issue here. In a phonetical system, like the Major System, the spelling doesn’t matter – this I realize. If we stick with the previous examples, I looked up their phonetical sounds:


So, it’s just like you say. It’s not a consonant sound in naked or rain, but rather the vowel sound ei. I would instinctively spell this wrong as ”ej” phonetically, and process it as a consonant sound since the letter j is strongly associated with only consonant sounds in my mind.

This might be because the diphthongs ai, ey (ei), au are not used in my native language (or it might just be me having a gap in what’s considered common knowledge).

The word use then muddles the waters even more for me, since it begins with a consonant j-sound. I’ll need to think some more on this. I suspect I’m making this harder than it needs to be.

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The interpretations are through an English native’s point of view.

For a Swedish speaker, here’s the closest thing I can come up with.

0: s (English adds z here)
1: t/d (some English speakers add in th here)
2: n (and for some, ng)
3: m
4: r
5: l
6: tj/kj and related sounds articulated in the same place in the mouth. In English, sh and sh-like sounds, including ch and the j sound (jump) which are articulated in the same place. English speakers would encode 6 as sh/ch/j. (In English, cabbage, with the final g pronounced as an English j sound, would be 796. The Swedish word kjol would be 65.)
7: k/g
8: f/v/w (in English, w is a semivowel and is so not counted, thus leaving only f/v. The letters ph are also pronounced like f, so they count as well. The word phone would therefore be 82.)
9: p/b

Vowels and diphthongs are not counted, as well as semi-vowels and h for some reason. So Swedish h and j are not counted, and English h, w, and y are not counted.

Most of your confusion stems from the fact that the English j and Swedish j represent different sounds. The English j sound counts as 6, but the Swedish j/English y sound is ignored.


Yes, this is what I’m struggling with. The Swedish j-sound in particular seems illogical not to count. I’m leaning towards including it, but I haven’t fully made up my mind yet.

Ultimately, you do you. Above, I was mapping the original English major system onto Swedish sounds as closely as possible. Maybe that seems illogical to you, so feel free to change the system to something that seems more logical for you. I looked up a real Swedish adaptation of the Major system, and it seems that in this person’s system, j is grouped together with sj, which might make sense for you.


Thank you, and yes that probably makes the most sense I think. It’s what I’m leaning towards anyhow. I read Jonas von Essens book (who’s also Swedish), but it’s unfortunately more introductory in it’s character. There the j is grouped together with sj (sh) and sch as you mention, and he doesn’t seem to differentiate j (as it’s used in Swedish) from (other) consonants. Of course this might not fully reflect his opinion since he only discusses this very briefly.