List of writing systems

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This is a list of writing systems (or scripts), classified according to some common distinguishing features. There are at least 3 866 writing systems.[1]

The usual name of the script is given first; the name of the language(s) in which the script is written follows (in brackets), particularly in the case where the language name differs from the script name. Other informative or qualifying annotations for the script may also be provided.

Predominant national and selected regional or minority scripts
Alphabetic Abjad Abugida
  Latin
  Greek
  Hangul
  Hanzi [L]
  Kana [S] / Kanji [L]  
  Arabic
  Hebrew
  Thaana
a Featural-alphabetic.   b Limited.
Writing systems of the world today.

Pictographic/ideographic writing systems[edit]

Ideographic scripts (in which graphemes are ideograms representing concepts or ideas, rather than a specific word in a language), and pictographic scripts (in which the graphemes are iconic pictures) are not thought to be able to express all that can be communicated by language, as argued by the linguists John DeFrancis and J. Marshall Unger. Essentially, they postulate that no full writing system can be completely pictographic or ideographic; it must be able to refer directly to a language in order to have the full expressive capacity of a language. Unger disputes claims made on behalf of Blissymbols in his 2004 book Ideogram.

Although a few pictographic or ideographic scripts exist today, there is no single way to read them, because there is no one-to-one correspondence between symbol and language. Hieroglyphs were commonly thought to be ideographic before they were translated, and to this day Chinese is often erroneously said to be ideographic.[2] In some cases of ideographic scripts, only the author of a text can read it with any certainty, and it may be said that they are interpreted rather than read. Such scripts often work best as mnemonic aids for oral texts, or as outlines that will be fleshed out in speech.

There are also symbol systems used to represent things other than language, or to represent constructed languages. Some of these are

Linear B and Asemic writing also incorporate ideograms.

Logographic writing systems[edit]

In logographic writing systems, glyphs represent words or morphemes (meaningful components of words, as in mean-ing-ful), rather than phonetic elements.

Note that no logographic script is composed solely of logograms. All contain graphemes that represent phonetic (sound-based) elements as well. These phonetic elements may be used on their own (to represent, for example, grammatical inflections or foreign words), or may serve as phonetic complements to a logogram (used to specify the sound of a logogram that might otherwise represent more than one word). In the case of Chinese, the phonetic element is built into the logogram itself; in Egyptian and Mayan, many glyphs are purely phonetic, whereas others function as either logograms or phonetic elements, depending on context. For this reason, many such scripts may be more properly referred to as logosyllabic or complex scripts; the terminology used is largely a product of custom in the field, and is to an extent arbitrary.

Consonant-based logographies[edit]

Syllable-based logographies[edit]

Syllabaries[edit]

In a syllabary, graphemes represent syllables or moras. (Note that the 19th-century term syllabics usually referred to abugidas rather than true syllabaries.)

Semi-syllabaries: Partly syllabic, partly alphabetic scripts[edit]

In most of these systems, some consonant-vowel combinations are written as syllables, but others are written as consonant plus vowel. In the case of Old Persian, all vowels were written regardless, so it was effectively a true alphabet despite its syllabic component. In Japanese a similar system plays a minor role in foreign borrowings; for example, [tu] is written [to]+[u], and [ti] as [te]+[i]. Paleohispanic semi-syllabaries behaved as a syllabary for the stop consonants and as an alphabet for the rest of consonants and vowels. The Tartessian or Southwestern script is typologically intermediate between a pure alphabet and the Paleohispanic full semi-syllabaries. Although the letter used to write a stop consonant was determined by the following vowel, as in a full semi-syllabary, the following vowel was also written, as in an alphabet. Some scholars treat Tartessian as a redundant semi-syllabary, others treat it as a redundant alphabet. Zhuyin is semi-syllabic in a different sense: it transcribes half syllables. That is, it has letters for syllable onsets and rimes (kan = "k-an") rather than for consonants and vowels (kan = "k-a-n").

Segmental scripts[edit]

A segmental script has graphemes which represent the phonemes (basic unit of sound) of a language.

Note that there need not be (and rarely is) a one-to-one correspondence between the graphemes of the script and the phonemes of a language. A phoneme may be represented only by some combination or string of graphemes, the same phoneme may be represented by more than one distinct grapheme, the same grapheme may stand for more than one phoneme, or some combination of all of the above.

Segmental scripts may be further divided according to the types of phonemes they typically record:

Abjads[edit]

An abjad is a segmental script containing symbols for consonants only, or where vowels are optionally written with diacritics ("pointing") or only written word-initially.

True alphabets[edit]

A true alphabet contains separate letters (not diacritic marks) for both consonants and vowels.

Linear nonfeatural alphabets[edit]

Writing systems used in countries of Europe.[note 1]
  Greek
  Greek & Latin
  Latin
  Latin & Cyrillic
  Cyrillic
  Latin & Armenian
  Armenian

Linear alphabets are composed of lines on a surface, such as ink on paper.

Featural linear alphabets[edit]

A featural script has elements that indicate the components of articulation, such as bilabial consonants, fricatives, or back vowels. Scripts differ in how many features they indicate.

Linear alphabets arranged into syllabic blocks[edit]

Manual alphabets[edit]

Manual alphabets are frequently found as parts of sign languages. They are not used for writing per se, but for spelling out words while signing.

Other non-linear alphabets[edit]

These are other alphabets composed of something other than lines on a surface.

Abugidas[edit]

An abugida, or alphasyllabary, is a segmental script in which vowel sounds are denoted by diacritical marks or other systematic modification of the consonants. Generally, however, if a single letter is understood to have an inherent unwritten vowel, and only vowels other than this are written, then the system is classified as an abugida regardless of whether the vowels look like diacritics or full letters. The vast majority of abugidas are found from India to Southeast Asia and belong historically to the Brāhmī family, however the term is derived from the first characters of the abugida in Ge'ez: አ (A) ቡ (bu) ጊ (gi) ዳ (da) — (compare with alphabet). Unlike abjads, the diacritical marks and systemic modifications of the consonants are not optional.

Abugidas of the Brāhmī family[edit]

A Palaung manuscript written in a Brahmic abugida

Other abugidas[edit]

Final consonant-diacritic abugidas[edit]

In at least one abugida, not only the vowel but any syllable-final consonant is written with a diacritic. That is, representing [o] with an under-ring, and final [k] with an over-cross, [sok] would be written as s̥̽.

Vowel-based abugidas[edit]

In a few abugidas, the vowels are basic, and the consonants secondary. If no consonant is written in Pahawh Hmong, it is understood to be /k/; consonants are written after the vowel they precede in speech. In Japanese Braille, the vowels but not the consonants have independent status, and it is the vowels which are modified when the consonant is y or w.

List of writing scripts by adoption[edit]

Name of script Type Population actively using (in millions) Languages associated with Regions with predominant usage
Latin
Latin
Alphabet 4900000over 4900[note 2] Latin and Romance languages (Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian), Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Nordic languages), Austronesian languages (Indonesian, Filipino, Malay, Polynesian languages), Finnish, Turkish, Polish, Vietnamese, others Worldwide
Chinese
汉字
漢字
Logographic 13400001340[note 3] Chinese, Japanese (Kanji), Korean (Hanja),[note 4]Vietnamese (Chu Nom (obsolete)), Zhuang (Sawndip) Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China, North Korea, Singapore, Malaysia
Arabic
العربية
Abjad 0660000660+ Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Malaysian (Jawi), Uyghur, Kazakh (in China), Kurdish, Azeri (in Iran), others Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan, India (some states), China (Xinjiang), Malaysia
Devanagari
देवनागरी
Abugida 0420000608+[note 5] Hindi, Marathi, Konkani, Nepali, Sanskrit, several others India, Nepal
Bengali / Assamese
বাংলা / অসমীয়া
Abugida 0220000300[4] Bengali, Assamese, Kokborok, Bishnupriya Manipuri and Meitei Manipuri Bangladesh and India (West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Andaman and Nicobar Islands)
Cyrillic
Кирилица
Alphabet 0250000250 Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Macedonian, others Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Mongolia, the Russian Far East
Kana
かな
カナ
Syllabary 0120000120[note 6] Japanese, Okinawan, Ainu Japan
Javanese
ꦗꦮ
Abugida 008000080[note 7] Javanese Central Java (Indonesia), Javanese diaspora
Hangul
한글
조선글
Alphabet, featural 007870078.7[note 8] Korean, Cia-Cia Korea (North and South), Jilin Province (China)
Telugu
తెలుగు
Abugida 004500074[note 9] Telugu Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry (India)
Tamil
தமிழ்
Abugida 007000070[note 10][note 11] Tamil Tamil Nadu (India), Puducherry (India), Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius
Gujarati
ગુજરાતી
Abugida 003000048[note 12] Gujarati, Kutchi, Vasavi, Sanskrit, Avestan India,[note 13] Pakistan[note 14]
Kannada
ಕನ್ನಡ
Abugida 004500045[note 15] Kannada Karnataka (India)
Burmese
မြန်မာ
Abugida 003900039[note 16] Burmese Myanmar
Malayalam
മലയാളം
Abugida 005200038[note 17] Malayalam Kerala, Puducherry (India)
Thai
ไทย
Abugida 003800038[note 18] Thai, Southern Thai, Northern Khmer and Lao (Isan) Thailand
Sundanese
ᮞᮥᮔ᮪ᮓ
Abugida 003800038 Sundanese Java, Indonesia
Gurmukhi
ਗੁਰਮੁਖੀ
Abugida 010000022[note 19] Punjabi Punjab (India)
Lao
ລາວ
Abugida 002200022[note 20] Lao Laos
Odia
ଉତ୍କଳ
Abugida 002100021[note 21] Odia Odisha (India)
Ge'ez
ግዕዝ
Abugida 001800018[note 22] Amharic, Tigrinya Ethiopia, Eritrea
Sinhala
සිංහල
Abugida 001440014.4[note 23] Sinhalese Sri Lanka
Hebrew
אלפבית
Abjad 001400014[note 24] Hebrew and other Jewish languages Israel
Armenian
Հայոց
Alphabet 001200012 Armenian Armenia
Khmer
ខ្មែរ
Abugida 001140011.4[note 25] Khmer Cambodia
Greek
Ελληνικό
Alphabet 001100011 Greek Greece, Cyprus, Southern Albania; worldwide for mathematical and scientific purposes
Lontara
ᨒᨚᨈᨑ
Abugida 00076007.6 Buginese, Makassar, and Mandar Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tibetan
བོད་
Abugida 00050005 Tibetic languages, Dzongkha Tibet, Bhutan
Georgian
ქართული
Alphabet 00045004.5 Georgian and many other Kartvelian languages Georgia
Modern Yi
ꆈꌠ
Syllabary 00040004 Nuosu Yi Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of China
Mongolian
ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ
Alphabet 00020002 Mongolian Mongolia, Inner Mongolia
Tifinagh
ⵜⵉⴼⵉⵏⴰⵖ
Abjad 00010001 Berber languages North Africa
Syriac
ܣܘܪܝܬ
Abjad 00004000.4 Syriac, Aramaic, Neo-Aramaic West Asia
Thaana
ދިވެހި
Abugida 00003500.35 Maldivian Maldives
Inuktitut
ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ
Abugida 00000350.035 Inuktitut Canada (North of Tree Line)
Cherokee
ᏣᎳᎩ
Syllabary 00000200.02 Cherokee United States

Undeciphered systems that may be writing[edit]

These systems have not been deciphered. In some cases, such as Meroitic, the sound values of the glyphs are known, but the texts still cannot be read because the language is not understood. Several of these systems, such as Epi-Olmec and Indus, are claimed to have been deciphered, but these claims have not been confirmed by independent researchers. In many cases it is doubtful that they are actually writing. The Vinča symbols appear to be proto-writing, and quipu may have recorded only numerical information. There are doubts that Indus is writing, and the Phaistos Disc has so little content or context that its nature is undetermined.

Undeciphered manuscripts[edit]

A number of manuscripts exist which may be written in an invented writing system, a cipher of an existing writing system or may only be a hoax.

Other[edit]

Asemic writing is generally meaningless, though it sometimes contains ideograms or pictograms.

Phonetic alphabets[edit]

This section lists alphabets used to transcribe phonetic or phonemic sound; not to be confused with spelling alphabets like the ICAO spelling alphabet.

Special alphabets[edit]

Alphabets may exist in forms other than visible symbols on a surface. Some of these are:

Tactile alphabets[edit]

Manual alphabets[edit]

For example:

Long-Distance Signaling[edit]

Alternative alphabets[edit]

Fictional writing systems[edit]

For animal use[edit]

  • Yerkish uses "lexigrams" to communicate with non-human primates.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ This maps shows languages official in the respective countries; if a country has an independent breakaway republic, both languages are shown. Moldova's sole official language is Romanian (Latin-based), but the unrecognized de facto independent republic of Transnistria uses three Cyrillic-based languages: Ukrainian, Russian, and Moldovan. Georgia's official languages are Georgian and Abkhazian (in Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia), the sparsely recognized de facto independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia use Cyrillic-based languages: Both republics use Russian. Additionally, Abkhazia also uses Abkhaz, and South Ossetia uses Ossetian. Azerbaijan's sole official language is Azerbaijani, but the unrecognized de facto independent republic of Nagorno-Karabakh uses Armenian as its sole language. Additionally, Serbia's sole official language is Cyrillic Serbian, but within the country, Latin script for Serbian is also widely used.
  2. ^ Difficult to determine, as it is used to write a very large number of languages with varying literacy rates among them.
  3. ^ Based on sum of 1.335 billion PRC citizens with a 92% literacy rate (1.22 billion), and 120 million Japanese Kanji users with a near-100% literacy rate.
  4. ^ Hanja has been banned in North Korea and is increasingly being phased out in South Korea. It is mainly used in official documents, newspapers, books, and signs to identify Chinese roots to Korean words.
  5. ^ January 2017 estimate. 2001 census reported that languages with more than 1 million native speakers that use Devanagari had a total amount of native speakers of 631.5 million. The January 2017 population estimate of India is 1.30 times that of the 2001 census, and it was estimated that the native speakers of Devanagari languages increased by the same proportion, i.e. to 820.95 million. This was multiplied by the literacy rate 74.04% as reported by the 2011 census. Since the literacy rate has increased since 2011 a + sign was added to this figure.
  6. ^ Based on Japanese population of roughly 120 million and a literacy rate near 100%.
  7. ^ Since around 1945 Javanese script has largely been supplanted by Latin script to write Javanese.
  8. ^ Excluding figures related to North Korea, which does not publish literacy rates.
  9. ^ Based on 61.11% literacy rate in Andhra Pradesh (according to government estimate) and 74 million Telugu speakers.
  10. ^ Tamil Nadu has an estimated 80% literacy rate and about 72 million Tamil speakers.
  11. ^ Sri Lanka Tamil and Moor population that use Tamil script. 92% literacy
  12. ^ Based on 60.38 million population and 79.31% literacy rate of Gujarat
  13. ^ An estimated 46 million Gujaratis live in India with 11 Gujarati-script newspapers in circulation.
  14. ^ An estimated 1 million Gujaratis live in Pakistan with 2 Gujarati-script newspapers in circulation.
  15. ^ Based on 46 million speakers of Kannada language, Tulu, Konkani, Kodava, Badaga in a state with a 75.6 literacy rate. url=http://updateox.com/india/26-populated-cities-karnataka-population-sex-ratio-literacy
  16. ^ Based on 42 million speakers of Burmese in a country (Myanmar) with a 92% literacy rate.
  17. ^ Spoken by 38 million people in the world.
  18. ^ Based on 40 million proficient speakers in a country with a 94% literacy rate.
  19. ^ Based on 29 million Eastern Punjabi speakers and 75% literacy rate
  20. ^ Based on 30 million speakers of Lao in a country with a 73% literacy.
  21. ^ Based on 32 million speakers of Odia in a country with a 65% literacy.
  22. ^ Based on 30 million native speakers of Amharic and Tigrinya and a 60% literacy rate.
  23. ^ Based on 15.6 million Sinhalese language speakers and a 92% literacy rate in Sri Lanka.
  24. ^ Hebrew has over 9 million speakers, including other Jewish languages and Jewish population outside Israel, where the Hebrew script is used by Jews for religious purposes worldwide.
  25. ^ Based on 15 million Khmer speakers with 73.6% literacy rate.

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.ethnologue.com/enterprise-faq/how-many-languages-world-are-unwritten-0
  2. ^ Halliday, M.A.K., Spoken and written language, Deakin University Press, 1985, p.19
  3. ^ Smith, Mike (1997). The Aztecs. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23015-7. 
  4. ^ http://www.omniglot.com/writing/bengali.htm

External links[edit]