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In a written language, a logogram or logograph is a written character that represents a word or morpheme. Chinese characters (pronounced hanzi in Mandarin, kanji in Japanese, hanja in Korean and Hán tự in Vietnamese) are generally logograms, as are many hieroglyphic and cuneiform characters. The use of logograms in writing is called logography, and a writing system that is based on logograms is called a logography or logographic system. All known logographies have some phonetic component, generally based on the rebus principle.

Alphabets and syllabaries are distinct from logographies in that they use individual written characters to represent sounds directly. Such characters are called phonograms in linguistics. Unlike logograms, phonograms do not have any inherent meaning. Writing language in this way is called phonemic writing or orthographic writing.

Logographic systems

Logographic systems include the earliest writing systems; the first historical civilizations of the Near East, Africa, China, and Central America used some form of logographic writing.

A purely logographic script would be impractical for most languages, and none is known,[1] except for one devised for the artificial language Toki Pona, which is a purposely limited language with only 120 morphemes. All logographic scripts ever used for natural languages rely on the rebus principle to extend a relatively limited set of logograms: A subset of characters is used for their phonetic values, either consonantal or syllabic. The term logosyllabary is used to emphasize the partially phonetic nature of these scripts when the phonetic domain is the syllable. In both Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and in Chinese, there has been the additional development of determinatives, which are combined with logograms to narrow down their possible meaning. In Chinese, they are fused with logographic elements used phonetically; such "radical and phonetic" characters make up the bulk of the script. Both languages relegated the active use of rebus to the spelling of foreign and dialectical words.

Logographic writing systems include:

  • Logoconsonantal scripts
    These are scripts in which the graphemes may be extended phonetically according to the consonants of the words they represent, ignoring the vowels. For example, Egyptian was used to write both 'duck' and 'son', though it is likely that these words were not pronounced the same except for their consonants. The primary examples of logoconsonantal scripts are:
  • Logosyllabic scripts
    These are scripts in which the graphemes represent morphemes, often polysyllabic morphemes, but when extended phonetically represent single syllables. They include:
    • Anatolian hieroglyphs: Luwian
    • [1] except for one devised for the artificial language Toki Pona, which is a purposely limited language with only 120 morphemes. All logographic scripts ever used for natural languages rely on the rebus principle to extend a relatively limited set of logograms: A subset of characters is used for their phonetic values, either consonantal or syllabic. The term logosyllabary is used to emphasize the partially phonetic nature of these scripts when the phonetic domain is the syllable. In both Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and in Chinese, there has been the additional development of determinatives, which are combined with logograms to narrow down their possible meaning. In Chinese, they are fused with logographic elements used phonetically; such "radical and phonetic" characters make up the bulk of the script. Both languages relegated the active use of rebus to the spelling of foreign and dialectical words.

      Logographic writing systems include:

      None of these systems is purely logographic. This can be illustrated with Chinese. Not all Chinese characters represent morphemes: some morphemes are composed of more than one character. For example, the Chinese word for spider, 蜘蛛 zhīzhū, was created by fusing the rebus 知朱 zhīzhū (literally 'know cinnabar') with the "bug" determinative . Neither * zhī nor * zhū can be used separately (except to stand in for 蜘蛛 in poetry). In Archaic Chinese, one can find the reverse: a single character representing more than one morpheme. An example is Archaic Chinese 王 hjwangs, a combination of a morpheme hjwang meaning king (coincidentally also written ) and a suffix pronounced /s/. (The suffix is preserved in the modern falling tone.) In modern Mandarin, bimorphemic syllables are always written with two characters, for example 花儿 huār 'flower [diminutive]'.

      A peculiar system of logograms developed within the Pahlavi scripts (developed from the Aramaic abjad) used to write Middle Persian during much of the Sassanid period; the logograms were composed of letters that spelled out the word in Aramaic but were pronounced as in Persian (for instance, the combination m-l-k would be pronounced "shah"). These logograms, called hozwārishn (a form of heterograms), were dispensed with altogether after the Arab conquest of Persia and the adoption of a variant of the Arabic alphabet.

      Logograms are used in modern shorthand to represent common words. In addition, the numerals and mathematical symbols are logograms – 1 'one', 2 'two', + 'plus', = 'equals', and so on. In English, the ampersand & is used for 'and' and (as in many languages) for Latin et (as in &c for et cetera), % for 'percent' ('per cent'), # for 'number' (or 'pound', among other meanings), § for 'section', $ for 'dollar', for 'euro', £ for 'pound', ° for 'degree', @ for 'at', and so on.

      Semantic and phonetic dimensions

      All historical logographic systems include a phonetic dimension, as it is impractical to have a separate basic character for every word or morpheme in a language.[a] In some cases, such as cuneiform as it was used for Akkadian, the vast majority of glyphs are used for their sound values rather than logographically. Many logographic systems also have a semantic/ideographic component, called "determinatives" in the case of Egyptian and "radicals" in the case of Chinese.[b]

      Typical Egyptian usage was to augment a logogram, which may potentially represent several words with different pronunciations, with a determinate to narrow down the meaning, and a phonetic component to specify the pronunciation. In the case of Chinese, the vast majority of characters are a fixed combination of a radical that indicates its nominal category, plus a phonetic to give an idea of the pronunciation. The Mayan system used logograms with phonetic complements like the Egyptian, while lacking ideographic components.

      Chinese characters