This is a list of writing systems (or scripts), classified according to some common distinguishing features. There are at least 3,866 languages that make use of an established writing system.
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.
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. 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
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.
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").
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:
Linear alphabets are composed of lines on a surface, such as ink on paper.
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These are other alphabets composed of something other than lines on a surface.
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 alphasyllabary regardless of whether the vowels look like diacritics or full letters. The vast majority of alphasyllabaries are found from India to Southeast Asia and belong historically to the Brāhmī family. The term abugida 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.
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.
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.
|Name of script||Type||Population actively using (in millions)||Languages associated with||Regions with predominant usage|
|Alphabet||6120000over 6120[note 2]||Latin and Romance languages (Italian, French, Franco-Provençal, Occitan, Catalan, Portuguese, Galician, Spanish, Rhaeto-Romance languages, Sardinian and Romanian), Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Nordic languages), Chinese (Mandarin Pinyin, Cantonese Pinyin), Austronesian languages (Indonesian, Filipino, Malay, Polynesian languages), West and Southwest Slavic languages (including Polish), Turkish, Albanian, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Maltese, Finnic (including Estonian and Finnish) and Sami languages, others||Worldwide|
|Logographic||13400001340[note 3]||Chinese (Chinese characters), Japanese (Kanji), Korean (Hanja),[note 4] Vietnamese (Chu Nom), Zhuang (Sawndip), Okinawan (Okinawan), Mulam||China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia (Chinese Malaysians), Japan, South Korea, Indonesia (Chinese Indonesians)|
|Abjad||0660000660+||Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Malayan (Jawi), Acehnese (Jawi), Uyghur, Kazakh (in China), Kurdish, Azeri (in Iran), Javanese (Pegon), Sundanese (Pegon), others||Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan, China (Xinjiang), India (a few states), Brunei (co-cofficial with Latin), Malaysia, Indonesia (religious uses only)|
|Abugida||0420000600+[note 5]||Angika, Awadhi, Bhili, Bhojpuri, Bodo, Chhattisgarhi, Dogri, Haryanvi, Hindi, Kashmiri, Konkani, Magahi, Maithili, Marathi, Mundari, Nepali, Newar, Pali, Rajasthani, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, others||India (Hindi Belt, Goa, Maharashtra), Nepal|
|Abugida||0220000300||Sanskrit, Bengali, Assamese, Kokborok, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Khasi, Meitei Manipuri, Hajong, Chakma, Maithili/মৈথিলি (historical use), Angika/অঙ্গিকা (historical use), Sylheti and others.||Bangladesh, and India (West Bengal, Bihar, Mizoram, Jharkhand, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Andaman and Nicobar Islands)|
|Alphabet||0250000250||Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Macedonian, others||Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Mongolia, the Russian Far East|
|Syllabary||0120000120[note 6]||Japanese, Okinawan, Ainu, Palauan, other Japonic languages||Japan|
|Abugida||008000080[note 7]||Javanese, Cirebonese, Madurese, Sundanese||Indonesia (Central Java, East Java, Special Region of Yogyakarta, Cirebon, Cirebon Regency, Indramayu Regency), Javanese diaspora|
|Alphabet, featural||007870078.7[note 8]||Korean, Cia-Cia, Jeju||South Korea, North Korea, and Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China, Bau-Bau (Indonesia)|
|Abugida||004500074[note 9]||Telugu, Sanskrit, Gondi||Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry (India)|
|Abugida||007000070[note 10][note 11]||Tamil, Kanikkaran, Badaga, Irula, Paniya, Sanskrit, Saurashtra||Tamil Nadu (India), Puducherry (India), Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius|
|Abugida||003000048[note 12]||Gujarati, Kutchi, Avestan, Bhili, Bhilori, Gamit, Chowdhary, Kukna, Bhili, Varli, Vasavi||India,[note 13] Pakistan[note 14]|
|Abugida||004500045[note 15]||Kannada, Tulu, Kodava, Badaga, Beary, Sanketi, Konkani, Sanskrit||Karnataka (India)|
|Abugida||003900039[note 16]||Burmese, Pali, Sanskrit||Myanmar|
|Abugida||005200038[note 17]||Malayalam, Sanskrit, Paniya, Betta Kurumba, Ravula||Kerala, Puducherry (India)|
|Abugida||003800038[note 18]||Thai, Northern Thai, Southern Thai, Northern Khmer, and Isan, Kelantan-Pattani Malay, Pali, Sanskrit, others||Thailand|
|Abugida||003800038||Sundanese, Bantenese, Baduy||West Java and Banten (Indonesia)|
|Abugida||010000022[note 19]||Punjabi, Sant Bhasha, Sindhi||Punjab (India)|
|Abugida||002200022[note 20]||Lao, Isan, others||Laos|
|Abugida||002100021[note 21]||Odia, others||Odisha (India)|
|Abugida||001800018[note 22]||Ethiopian Semitic languages, Blin, Meʻen, Oromo, Anuak||Ethiopia, Eritrea|
|Abugida||001440014.4[note 23]||Sinhalese, Vedda||Sri Lanka|
|Abjad||001400014[note 24]||Hebrew, Yiddish, other Jewish languages||Israel|
|Abugida||001140011.4[note 25]||Khmer, Pali, others||Cambodia|
|Alphabet||001100011||Greek, others||Greece, Cyprus, Southern Albania; worldwide for mathematical and scientific purposes|
|Abugida||00085008.5||Batak languages||North Sumatra (Indonesia)|
|Abugida||00076007.6||Buginese, Makassar, Mandar||Indonesia (South Sulawesi and West Sulawesi)|
|Abugida||00060006||Balinese and Sasak (modified)||Indonesia (Bali and Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara)|
|Abugida||00050005||Tibetan, Dzongkha, Ladakhi, Sikkimese, Balti, Tamang, Sherpa, Yolmo, Tshangla||Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Bhutan, and India (Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh)|
|Alphabet||00045004.5||Georgian and other Kartvelian languages||Georgia|
|Syllabary||00040004||Nuosu Yi, other Yi languages||Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture and Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture of China|
|Alphabet||00020002||Mongolian, Manchu (Manchu), Evenki (experimentally)||China (Inner Mongolia)|
|Abjad||00010001||Berber languages||North Africa|
|Abugida||0.72||Tai Nüa||Yunnan (China)|
|New Tai Lue
|Abugida||0.55||Tai Lü||Yunnan (China)|
|Abjad||00004000.4||Syriac, Aramaic, Neo-Aramaic, Suriyani Malayalam, nothers||West Asia|
|Abugida||00000350.035||Inuktitut, other Inuit languages||Canada (North of Tree Line)|
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.
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.
Asemic writing is generally meaningless, though it sometimes contains ideograms or pictograms.
Alphabets may exist in forms other than visible symbols on a surface. Some of these are: