Writing system

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A writing system comprises a particular set of symbols, called a script, as well as the rules by which the script represents a particular language. Most writing systems can be broadly categorized into alphabets, syllabaries, or logographies. Alphabets use symbols called letters that correspond to spoken phonemes. Abjads generally only have letters for consonants, while pure alphabets have letters for both consonants and vowels. Abugidas use characters that correspond to consonant–vowel pairs. Syllabaries use symbols called syllabograms to represent syllables or moras. Logographies use characters that represent semantic units, such as words or morphemes.


Alphabets typically use fewer than 100 symbols, while syllabaries and logographies may use hundreds or thousands respectively. Writing systems also include punctuation to aid interpretation and encode additional meaning, including that which is communicated verbally by qualities such as rhythm, tone, pitch, accent, inflection or intonation.

Writing was first invented in the late 4th millennium BC. Each independently invented writing system in human history evolved from a system of proto-writing not fully capable of encoding spoken language. These systems used a small number of ideograms, but were not fully capable of encoding spoken language, and lacked the ability to express a broad range of ideas.

General properties

Written Chinese uses morphosyllabic characters assembled from phonetic and semantic components in order to encode the spoken language Kuozhai.jpg
Written Chinese uses morphosyllabic characters assembled from phonetic and semantic components in order to encode the spoken language

Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that a writing system is always associated with at least one spoken language. In contrast, visual representations such as drawings, paintings, and non-verbal items on maps, such as contour lines, are not language-related. Some symbols on information signs, such as the symbols for male and female, are also not language related, but can grow to become part of language if they are often used in conjunction with other language elements. Some other symbols, such as numerals and the ampersand, are not directly linked to any specific language, but are often used in writing and thus must be considered part of writing systems.

Every human community possesses language, which many regard as an innate and defining condition of humanity. However, the development of writing systems, and the process by which they have supplanted traditional oral systems of communication, have been sporadic, uneven and slow. Once established, writing systems generally change more slowly than their spoken counterparts. These longstanding changes and adaptions can change by the decade. Thus they often preserve features and expressions which are no longer current in the spoken language. One of the great benefits of writing systems is that they can preserve a permanent record of information expressed in a language.

All writing systems require:

Basic terminology

A Specimen of typefaces and styles, by William Caslon, letter founder; from the 1728 Cyclopaedia A Specimen by William Caslon.jpg
A Specimen of typefaces and styles, by William Caslon, letter founder; from the 1728 Cyclopaedia

In the examination of individual scripts, the study of writing systems has developed along partially independent lines. Thus, the terminology employed differs somewhat from field to field.

Text, writing, reading and orthography

The generic term text [2] refers to an instance of written or spoken material with the latter having been transcribed in some way. The act of composing and recording a text may be referred to as writing , [3] and the act of viewing and interpreting the text as reading . [4] Orthography (lit.'correct writing') refers to the method and rules of observed writing structure, and particularly for alphabetic systems, includes the concept of spelling .

Grapheme and phoneme

A grapheme is a specific base unit of a writing system. They are the minimally significant elements which taken together comprise the set of "building blocks" out of which texts made up of one or more writing systems may be constructed, along with rules of correspondence and use. The concept is similar to that of the phoneme used in the study of spoken languages. For example, in the Latin-based writing system of standard contemporary English, examples of graphemes include the majuscule and minuscule forms of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet (corresponding to various phonemes), marks of punctuation (mostly non-phonemic), and a few other symbols such as those for numerals (logograms for numbers).

An individual grapheme may be represented in a wide variety of ways, where each variation is visually distinct in some regard, but all are interpreted as representing the "same" grapheme. These individual variations are known as allographs of a grapheme (compare with the term allophone used in linguistic study). For example, the minuscule letter a has different allographs when written as a cursive, block, or typed letter. The choice of a particular allograph may be influenced by the medium used, the writing instrument, the stylistic choice of the writer, the preceding and following graphemes in the text, the time available for writing, the intended audience, and the largely unconscious features of an individual's handwriting.

Glyph, sign and character

The terms glyph, sign and character are sometimes used to refer to graphemes. Glyphs in linear writing systems are made up of lines or strokes. Linear writing is most common, but there are non-linear writing systems where glyphs consist of other types of marks, such as in cuneiform and Braille.

Complete and partial writing systems

Writing systems may be regarded as complete according to the extent to which they are able to represent all that may be expressed in the spoken language, while a partial writing system is limited in what it can convey. [5]

Writing systems, languages and conceptual systems

Writing systems can be independent from languages, one can have multiple writing systems for a language, e.g., Hindustani; and one can also have one writing system for multiple languages, e.g., the Arabic script. Chinese characters were also borrowed by other countries as their early writing systems, e.g., the early writing systems of Vietnamese language until the beginning of the 20th century.

To represent a conceptual system, one uses one or more languages, e.g., mathematics is a conceptual system [6] and one may use first-order logic and a natural language together in representation.


Comparative abstraction of pictograms in Mesopotamian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters Comparative evolution of Cuneiform, Egyptian and Chinese characters.svg
Comparative abstraction of pictograms in Mesopotamian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters

Writing systems were preceded by proto-writing systems consisting of ideograms and early mnemonic symbols. The best-known examples are:

The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age following the late Neolithic in the late 4th millennium BC. The archaic cuneiform script used to write Sumerian is generally considered to be the earliest true writing system, closely followed by the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Both evolved from proto-writing systems between 3400 and 3200 BC, with the earliest coherent texts dating to c.2600 BC. It is generally agreed that the two systems were invented independently from one another.

Chinese characters were developed independently c.1200 BC in the Yellow River valley. There is no evidence of contact between China and the literate peoples of the Near East, and the Mesopotamian and Chinese approaches to logography and phonetic representation are distinct. [10] [11] [12]

The Mesoamerican writing systems, including Olmec and the Maya scripts, are also considered to have been invented independently.

A set of symbols used by pre-colonial Mi'kmaq, which was observed by missionaries from the 17th to 19th centuries, is thought to have developed independently. There is some debate over whether or not this was a fully formed system or just a series of mnemonic pictographs.

The first known consonantal alphabetic writing appeared before 2000 BC, and was used to write a Semitic language spoken in the Sinai Peninsula. Most of the world's alphabets either descend directly from the Proto-Sinaitic script, or were directly inspired by its design. Descendants include the Phoenician alphabet and its child system in the Greek alphabet—the first to represent vowels, which it has done since 800 BC. [13] [14] The Latin alphabet, which descended from the Greek alphabet, is by far the most common writing system in use. [15]

Functional classification

Table of scripts in the introduction to Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams. Sanskrit Brhama English alphabets.jpg
Table of scripts in the introduction to Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams.
This textbook for Puyi shows the English alphabet. Although the English letters run from left to right, the Chinese explanations run from top to bottom then right to left, as traditionally written. Puyi's schoolbook - Forbidden City.JPG
This textbook for Puyi shows the English alphabet. Although the English letters run from left to right, the Chinese explanations run from top to bottom then right to left, as traditionally written.

Several approaches have been taken to classify writing systems, the most common and basic one being a broad division into three categories: logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic (or segmental); however, all three may be found in any given writing system in varying proportions, often making it difficult to categorise a system uniquely. The term complex system is sometimes used to describe those where the admixture makes classification problematic. Modern linguists regard such approaches, including Diringer's [16]

as too simplistic, often considering the categories to be incomparable. Hill [17] split writing into three major categories of linguistic analysis, one of which covers discourses and is not usually considered writing proper:

Sampson draws a distinction between semasiography and glottography:

DeFrancis, [18] criticizing Sampson's [19] introduction of semasiographic writing and featural alphabets stresses the phonographic quality of writing proper

Faber [20] categorizes phonographic writing by two levels, linearity and coding:

Classification by Daniels [21]
TypeEach symbol representsExample
Logosyllabary word or morpheme as well as syllable Chinese characters
Syllabary syllableJapanese kana
Abjad (consonantary) consonant Arabic alphabet
Alphabet consonant or vowel Latin alphabet
Abugida consonant accompanied by specific vowel,
modifying symbols represent other vowels
Indian Devanagari
Featural system distinctive feature of segment Korean Hangul

Logographic systems

Early Chinese character for sun (ri), 1200 B.C Ri -oracle.svg
Early Chinese character for sun (ri), 1200 B.C
Modern Chinese character (ri) meaning "day" or "Sun" Character Ri4 Trad.svg
Modern Chinese character (ri) meaning "day" or "Sun"

A logogram is a character that represents a morpheme within a language. Chinese characters are type examples of logograms, in that each character represents a syllabic morpheme, or, occasionally half of a morpheme for very limited numbers of disyllabic morphemes. In such a system, se(x)dec-, hexa(kai)deca-, hexadec- and sixteen would each be written with one logogram for all cognates for six and one for all cognates for -teen, leaving the reader to choose whether to read it in the Greek way or the Roman way, or mixed Greco-Roman way, though confined to certain conventional restraints.[ clarification needed ]

As each character represents a single word (or, more precisely, a morpheme), many logograms are required in order to write all the words of language. If they do not adequately represent all meanings and words of a language, the dialect or language can be confusing verbally or through writing.[ clarification needed ] The vast array of logograms and the need to remember what they all mean are considered by many as major disadvantages of logographic systems over alphabetic systems. Since the meaning is inherent to the symbol, the same logographic system could theoretically be used to write different languages. In practice, the ability to communicate across languages works best for the closely related varieties of Chinese, and only to a lesser extent for other languages, as differences in syntax reduce the cross-linguistic portability of a given logographic system.

Japanese uses Chinese logograms extensively in its writing systems, with most of the symbols carrying the same or similar meanings, although they frequently have different readings with different meanings. However, the grammatical differences between Japanese and Chinese are large enough that a long Chinese text is not readily understandable to a Japanese reader without any knowledge of basic Chinese grammar, though short and concise phrases such as those on signs and in newspaper headlines are much easier to comprehend. Similarly, a Chinese reader can get a general idea of what a long Japanese text means, but usually cannot understand the text fully, even if it is entirely in kanji with no kana or romaji.

While most languages do not use wholly logographic writing systems, many languages use a few logograms. A good example of modern western logograms is the Arabic numerals: everyone who uses those symbols understands what 1 means whether they read it as one, eins, uno, yi, ichi, ehad, ena, or jedan. Other western logograms include the ampersand &, used for and, the at sign @, used in many contexts for at, the percent sign % and the many signs representing units of currency ($, ¢, , £, ¥ and so on.) The apostrophe can also be regarded as a logogram, corresponding to the kana の in Japanese.

Logograms are sometimes called ideograms, a word that refers to symbols which graphically represent abstract ideas, but linguists avoid this use, as Chinese characters are often semanticphonetic compounds, symbols which include an element that represents the meaning and a phonetic complement element that represents the pronunciation. Some non-linguists distinguish between lexigraphy and ideography, where symbols in lexigraphies represent words and symbols in ideographies represent words or morphemes.

The most important (and, to a degree, the only surviving) modern logographic writing system is the Chinese one, whose characters have been used with varying degrees of modification in varieties of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other east Asian languages. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Mayan writing system are also systems with certain logographic features, although they have marked phonetic features as well and are no longer in current use. Vietnamese switched to the Latin alphabet in the 20th century and the use of Chinese characters in Korean is increasingly rare. The Japanese writing system includes several distinct forms of writing including logography.


A bilingual stop sign in English and the Cherokee syllabary in Tahlequah, Oklahoma Cherokee stop sign.png
A bilingual stop sign in English and the Cherokee syllabary in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Another type of writing system with systematic syllabic linear symbols, the abugidas, is discussed below as well.

As logographic writing systems use a single symbol for an entire word, a syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables, which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary typically represents a consonant sound followed by a vowel sound, or just a vowel alone.

In a "true syllabary", there is no systematic graphic similarity between phonetically related characters (though some do have graphic similarity for the vowels). That is, the characters for /ke/, /ka/ and /ko/ have no similarity to indicate their common "k" sound (voiceless velar plosive). More recent creations such as the Cree syllabary embody a system of varying signs, which can best be seen when arranging the syllabogram set in an onsetcoda or onset–rime table.

Syllabaries are best suited to languages with relatively simple syllable structure, such as Japanese. The English language, on the other hand, allows complex syllable structures, with a relatively large inventory of vowels and complex consonant clusters, making it cumbersome to write English words with a syllabary. To write English using a syllabary, every possible syllable in English would have to have a separate symbol, and whereas the number of possible syllables in Japanese is around 100, in English there are approximately 15,000 to 16,000.

However, syllabaries with much larger inventories do exist. The Yi script, for example, contains 756 different symbols (or 1,164, if symbols with a particular tone diacritic are counted as separate syllables, as in Unicode). The Chinese script, when used to write Middle Chinese and the modern varieties of Chinese, also represents syllables, and includes separate glyphs for nearly all of the many thousands of syllables in Middle Chinese; however, because it primarily represents morphemes and includes different characters to represent homophonous morphemes with different meanings, it is normally considered a logographic script rather than a syllabary.

Other languages that use true syllabaries include Mycenaean Greek (Linear B) and Indigenous languages of the Americas such as Cherokee. Several languages of the Ancient Near East used forms of cuneiform, which is a syllabary with some non-syllabic elements.


An alphabet is a small set of letters (basic written symbols), each of which roughly represents or represented historically a segmental phoneme of a spoken language. The word alphabet is derived from alpha and beta, the first two symbols of the Greek alphabet.

The first type of alphabet that was developed was the abjad. An abjad is an alphabetic writing system where there is one symbol per consonant. Abjads differ from other alphabets in that they have characters only for consonantal sounds. Vowels are not usually marked in abjads. All known abjads (except maybe Tifinagh) belong to the Semitic family of scripts, and derive from the original Northern Linear Abjad. The reason for this is that Semitic languages and the related Berber languages have a morphemic structure which makes the denotation of vowels redundant in most cases.

Some abjads, like Arabic and Hebrew, have markings for vowels as well. However, they use them only in special contexts, such as for teaching. Many scripts derived from abjads have been extended with vowel symbols to become full alphabets. Of these, the most famous example is the derivation of the Greek alphabet from the Phoenician abjad. This has mostly happened when the script was adapted to a non-Semitic language. The term abjad takes its name from the old order of the Arabic alphabet's consonants 'alif, bā', jīm, dāl, though the word may have earlier roots in Phoenician or Ugaritic. "Abjad" is still the word for alphabet in Arabic, Malay and Indonesian.

A Bible printed with Balinese script Bible printed with Balinese script.jpg
A Bible printed with Balinese script

An abugida is an alphabetic writing system whose basic signs denote consonants with an inherent vowel and where consistent modifications of the basic sign indicate other following vowels than the inherent one. Thus, in an abugida there may or may not be a sign for "k" with no vowel, but also one for "ka" (if "a" is the inherent vowel), and "ke" is written by modifying the "ka" sign in a way that is consistent with how one would modify "la" to get "le". In many abugidas the modification is the addition of a vowel sign, but other possibilities are imaginable (and used), such as rotation of the basic sign, addition of diacritical marks and so on.

The contrast with "true syllabaries" is that the latter have one distinct symbol per possible syllable, and the signs for each syllable have no systematic graphic similarity. The graphic similarity of most abugidas comes from the fact that they are derived from abjads, and the consonants make up the symbols with the inherent vowel and the new vowel symbols are markings added on to the base symbol. In the Ge'ez script, for which the linguistic term abugida was named, the vowel modifications do not always appear systematic, although they originally were more so.

Canadian Aboriginal syllabics can be considered abugidas, although they are rarely thought of in those terms. The largest single group of abugidas is the Brahmic family of scripts, however, which includes nearly all the scripts used in India and Southeast Asia. The name abugida is derived from the first four characters of an order of the Ge'ez script used in some contexts. It was borrowed from Ethiopian languages as a linguistic term by Peter T. Daniels.

Featural systems

A featural script represents finer detail than an alphabet. Here symbols do not represent whole phonemes, but rather the elements (features) that make up the phonemes, such as voicing or its place of articulation. Theoretically, each feature could be written with a separate letter; and abjads or abugidas, or indeed syllabaries, could be featural, but the only prominent system of this sort is Korean hangul. In hangul, the featural symbols are combined into alphabetic letters, and these letters are in turn joined into syllabic blocks, so that the system combines three levels of phonological representation.

Many scholars, e.g. John DeFrancis, reject this class or at least labeling hangul as such.[ citation needed ] The Korean script is a conscious script creation by literate experts, which Daniels calls a "sophisticated grammatogeny".[ citation needed ] These include stenographies and constructed scripts of hobbyists and fiction writers (such as Tengwar), many of which feature advanced graphic designs corresponding to phonologic properties. The basic unit of writing in these systems can map to anything from phonemes to words. It has been shown that even the Latin script has sub-character "features". [22]

Ambiguous systems

Most writing systems are not purely one type. The English writing system, for example, includes numerals and other logograms such as #, $, and &, and the written language often does not match well with the spoken one. As mentioned above, all logographic systems have phonetic components as well, whether along the lines of a syllabary, such as Chinese ("logo-syllabic"), or an abjad, as in Egyptian ("logo-consonantal").

Some scripts, however, are truly ambiguous. The semi-syllabaries of ancient Spain were syllabic for plosives such as p, t, k, but alphabetic for other consonants. In some versions, vowels were written redundantly after syllabic letters, conforming to an alphabetic orthography. Old Persian cuneiform was similar. Of 23 consonants (including null), seven were fully syllabic, thirteen were purely alphabetic, and for the other three, there was one letter for /Cu/ and another for both /Ca/ and /Ci/. However, all vowels were written overtly regardless; as in the Brahmic abugidas, the /Ca/ letter was used for a bare consonant.

The zhuyin phonetic glossing script for Chinese divides syllables in two or three, but into onset, medial, and rime rather than consonant and vowel. Pahawh Hmong is similar, but can be considered to divide syllables into either onset-rime or consonant-vowel (all consonant clusters and diphthongs are written with single letters); as the latter, it is equivalent to an abugida but with the roles of consonant and vowel reversed. Other scripts are intermediate between the categories of alphabet, abjad and abugida, so there may be disagreement on how they should be classified.

Graphic classification

Perhaps the primary graphic distinction made in classifications is that of linearity. Linear writing systems are those in which the characters are composed of lines, such as the Latin alphabet and Chinese characters. Chinese characters are considered linear whether they are written with a ball-point pen or a calligraphic brush, or cast in bronze. Similarly, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Maya glyphs were often painted in linear outline form, but in formal contexts they were carved in bas-relief. The earliest examples of writing are linear: the Sumerian script of c.3300 BC was linear, though its cuneiform descendants were not. Non-linear systems, on the other hand, such as braille, are not composed of lines, no matter what instrument is used to write them.

Cuneiform was probably the earliest non-linear writing. Its glyphs were formed by pressing the end of a reed stylus into moist clay, not by tracing lines in the clay with the stylus as had been done previously. [23] [24] The result was a radical transformation of the appearance of the script.

Braille is a non-linear adaptation of the Latin alphabet that completely abandoned the Latin forms. The letters are composed of raised bumps on the writing substrate, which can be leather (Louis Braille's original material), stiff paper, plastic or metal.

There are also transient non-linear adaptations of the Latin alphabet, including Morse code, the manual alphabets of various sign languages, and semaphore, in which flags or bars are positioned at prescribed angles. However, if "writing" is defined as a potentially permanent means of recording information, then these systems do not qualify as writing at all, since the symbols disappear as soon as they are used. (Instead, these transient systems serve as signals.)


Scripts are graphically characterized by the direction in which they are written. Egyptian hieroglyphs were written either left to right or right to left, with the animal and human glyphs turned to face the beginning of the line. The early alphabet could be written in multiple directions: [25] horizontally (side to side), or vertically (up or down). Prior to standardization, alphabetical writing was done both left-to-right (LTR or sinistrodextrally) and right-to-left (RTL or dextrosinistrally). It was most commonly written boustrophedonically: starting in one (horizontal) direction, then turning at the end of the line and reversing direction.

The Greek alphabet and its successors settled on a left-to-right pattern, from the top to the bottom of the page. Other scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew, came to be written right-to-left. Scripts that historically incorporate Chinese characters (including Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese etc.) have traditionally been written, on the character-level, vertically (top-to-bottom), from the right to the left of the page, but nowadays are frequently written left-to-right, top-to-bottom, due to Western influence, a growing need to accommodate terms in the Latin script, and technical limitations in popular electronic document formats, and the fact that strokes are predominantly written from top to bottom ("丨", "丿", "㇏" or "丶") and left to right ("一"), so are their orders within every single character.

Chinese characters sometimes, as in signage, especially when signifying something old or traditional, may also be written from right to left if written horizontally, but this is a special case of the traditional "vertical (top-to-bottom), from the right to the left of the board" (tbrl) direction, although every column has only one character. No boards with more than two rows adopt the rltb direction, four characters forming a square must either follow tbrl or lrtb. The Old Uyghur alphabet (and some Sogdian) and its descendants are unique in being written top-to-bottom, left-to-right; this direction originated from an ancestral Semitic direction by rotating the page 90° counter-clockwise to conform to the appearance of vertical Chinese writing. However, except for Old Uyghur itself, all its descendant are quoted in lrtb articles with a rotated ltr directionality when vertical quoting is impractical. When Chinese are quoted in Mongolian articles, it will fit into a tblr scheme

Several scripts used in the Philippines and Indonesia, such as Hanunó'o, are traditionally written with lines moving away from the writer, from bottom to top, but are read horizontally left to right; however, Kulitan, another Philippine script, is written top to bottom and right to left. Ogham is written bottom to top and read vertically, commonly on the corner of a stone. The ancient Libyco-Berber alphabet was also written from bottom to top. [26]

Left-to-right writing has the advantage that, since most people are right-handed, [27] [28] the hand does not interfere with the just-written text—which might not yet have dried—since the hand is on the right side of the pen. Right-to-left writing, by contrast, may have been advantageous back when writing was done with hammer and chisel; the scribe would hold the hammer in their right hand and chisel in their left, and going right-to-left would mean the hammer was less likely to hit the left hand, as the right hand had more control. [29] [30]

On computers

In computers and telecommunication systems, writing systems are generally not codified as such,[ clarification needed ] but graphemes and other grapheme-like units that are required for text processing are represented by "characters" that typically manifest in encoded form. There are many character encoding standards and related technologies, such as ISO/IEC 8859-1 (a character repertoire and encoding scheme oriented toward the Latin script), CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and bi-directional text.

Today, many such standards are re-defined in a collective standard, the ISO/IEC 10646 "Universal Character Set", and a parallel, closely related expanded work, The Unicode Standard. Both are generally encompassed by the term Unicode. In Unicode, each character, in every language's writing system, is (simplifying slightly) given a unique identification number, known as its code point. Computer operating systems use code points to look up characters in the font file, so the characters can be displayed on the page or screen.

A keyboard is the device most commonly used for writing via computer. Each key is associated with a standard code which the keyboard sends to the computer when it is pressed. By using a combination of alphabetic keys with modifier keys such as Ctrl, Alt, Shift and AltGr, various character codes are generated and sent to the CPU. The operating system intercepts and converts those signals to the appropriate characters based on the keyboard layout and input method, and then delivers those converted codes and characters to the running application software, which in turn looks up the appropriate glyph in the currently used font file, and requests the operating system to draw these on the screen.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alphabet</span> Set of letters used to write a given language

An alphabet is a standardized set of written letters that represent particular spoken sounds in a language. Specifically, letters correspond to phonemes, the categories of sounds that can distinguish one word from another in a given language. Not all writing systems represent language in this way: a syllabary assigns symbols to spoken syllables, while logographic systems assign symbols to spoken words, morphemes, or other semantic units.

An abjad is a writing system in which only consonants are represented, leaving vowel sounds to be inferred by the reader. This contrasts with alphabets, which provide graphemes for both consonants and vowels. The term was introduced in 1990 by Peter T. Daniels. Other terms for the same concept include: partial phonemic script, segmentally linear defective phonographic script, consonantary, consonant writing, and consonantal alphabet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abugida</span> Writing system

An abugida – sometimes also called alphasyllabary, neosyllabary, or pseudo-alphabet – is a segmental writing system in which consonant–vowel sequences are written as units; each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is secondary, like a diacritical mark. This contrasts with a full alphabet, in which vowels have status equal to consonants, and with an abjad, in which vowel marking is absent, partial, or optional – in less formal contexts, all three types of script may be termed "alphabets". The terms also contrast them with a syllabary, in which a single symbol denotes the combination of one consonant and one vowel.

An orthography is a set of conventions for writing a language, including norms of spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word boundaries, emphasis, and punctuation.

In the linguistic study of written languages, a syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or moras which make up words.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Writing</span> Persistent representation of language

Writing is the act of creating a persistent representation of human language. A writing system uses a set of symbols and rules to encode aspects of spoken language, such as its lexicon and syntax. However, written language may take on characteristics distinct from those of any spoken language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Logogram</span> Grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme

In a written language, a logogram, also logograph or lexigraph, is a written character that represents a semantic component of a language, such as a word or morpheme. Chinese characters as used in Chinese as well as other languages are logograms, as are Egyptian hieroglyphs and characters in cuneiform script. A writing system that primarily uses logograms is called a logography. Non-logographic writing systems, such as alphabets and syllabaries, are phonemic: their individual symbols represent sounds directly and lack any inherent meaning. However, all known logographies have some phonetic component, generally based on the rebus principle, and the addition of a phonetic component to pure ideographs is considered to be a key innovation in enabling the writing system to adequately encode human language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ugaritic alphabet</span> Cuneiform consonantal alphabet of 30 letters

The Ugaritic writing system is a Cuneiform Abjad with syllabic elements used from around either 1400 BCE or 1300 BCE for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit, Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters. Other languages were occasionally written in the Ugaritic script in the area around Ugarit, although not elsewhere.

A phonemic orthography is an orthography in which the graphemes correspond to the language's phonemes. Natural languages rarely have perfectly phonemic orthographies; a high degree of grapheme–phoneme correspondence can be expected in orthographies based on alphabetic writing systems, but they differ in how complete this correspondence is. English orthography, for example, is alphabetic but highly nonphonemic; it was once mostly phonemic during the Middle English stage, when the modern spellings originated, but spoken English changed rapidly while the orthography was much more stable, resulting in the modern nonphonemic situation. On the contrary the Albanian, Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian/Montenegrin, Romanian, Italian, Turkish, Spanish, Finnish, Czech, Latvian, Esperanto, Korean and Swahili orthographic systems come much closer to being consistent phonemic representations.

In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived length of a vowel sound: the corresponding physical measurement is duration. In some languages vowel length is an important phonemic factor, meaning vowel length can change the meaning of the word, for example in Arabic, Estonian, Finnish, Fijian, Japanese, Kannada, Kyrgyz, Latin, Malayalam, Old English, Scottish Gaelic, Tamil and Vietnamese.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canadian Aboriginal syllabics</span> Writing systems for indigenous North American languages created in 1840 CE

Canadian syllabic writing, or simply syllabics, is a family of writing systems used in a number of Indigenous Canadian languages of the Algonquian, Inuit, and (formerly) Athabaskan language families. These languages had no formal writing system previously. They are valued for their distinctiveness from the Latin script and for the ease with which literacy can be achieved. For instance, by the late 19th century the Cree had achieved what may have been one of the highest rates of literacy in the world.

An inherent vowel is part of an abugida script. It is a vowel sound which is used with each unmarked or basic consonant symbol. For example, if the Latin alphabet used 'i' as an inherent vowel, "Wikipedia" could be rendered as "Wkpeda" [w(I)+k(I)+p+e+d(I)+a].

In a featural writing system, the shapes of the symbols are not arbitrary but encode phonological features of the phonemes that they represent. The term featural was introduced by Geoffrey Sampson to describe the Korean alphabet and Pitman shorthand.

Yi Syllables is a Unicode block containing the 1,165 characters of the Liangshan Standard Yi script for writing the Nuosu language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Syllabogram</span>

Syllabograms are signs used to write the syllables of words. This term is most often used in the context of a writing system otherwise organized on different principles—an alphabet where most symbols represent phonemes, or a logographic script where most symbols represent morphemes—but a system based mostly on syllabograms is a syllabary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Semi-syllabary</span> Writing system that behaves partly as an alphabet and partly as a syllabary

A semi-syllabary is a writing system that behaves partly as an alphabet and partly as a syllabary. The main group of semi-syllabic writing are the Paleohispanic scripts of ancient Spain, a group of semi-syllabaries that transform redundant plosive consonants of the Phoenician alphabet into syllabograms.

Dyslexia is a complex, lifelong disorder involving difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols. Dyslexia does not affect general intelligence, but is often co-diagnosed with ADHD. There are at least three sub-types of dyslexia that have been recognized by researchers: orthographic, or surface dyslexia, phonological dyslexia and mixed dyslexia where individuals exhibit symptoms of both orthographic and phonological dyslexia. Studies have shown that dyslexia is genetic and can be passed down through families, but it is important to note that, although a genetic disorder, there is no specific locus in the brain for reading and writing. The human brain does have language centers, but written language is a cultural artifact, and a very complex one requiring brain regions designed to recognize and interpret written symbols as representations of language in rapid synchronization. The complexity of the system and the lack of genetic predisposition for it is one possible explanation for the difficulty in acquiring and understanding written language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hangul</span> Native alphabet of the Korean language

The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl (조선글) in North Korea, is the modern official writing system for the Korean language. The letters for the five basic consonants reflect the shape of the speech organs used to pronounce them, and they are systematically modified to indicate phonetic features; similarly, the vowel letters are systematically modified for related sounds, making Hangul a featural writing system. It has been described as a syllabic alphabet as it combines the features of alphabetic and syllabic writing systems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ditema tsa Dinoko</span> Writing system for some Southern Bantu languages

Ditema tsa Dinoko, also known as ditema tsa Sesotho, is a constructed writing system for the siNtu or Southern Bantu languages. It is also known by its IsiZulu name isiBheqe soHlamvu, and by various other names in different languages. It was developed in the 2010s from antecedent ideographic traditions of the Southern African region. Its visual appearance is inspired by these, including the traditional litema arts style. It was developed between 2014 and 2016 by a group of South African linguists and software programmers with the goal of creating a denser writing system to avoid the slowness in reading caused by the word length and visual homogeneity of Southern Bantu languages written in the Roman alphabet. As of 2023, no proposal has been made to encode the script in Unicode, the text encoding standard designed to support all of the world's major writing systems.


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