A WRITING SYSTEM is any conventional method of visually representing
verbal communication . While both writing and speech are useful in
conveying messages , writing differs in also being a reliable form of
information storage and transfer . The processes of encoding and
decoding writing systems involve shared understanding between writers
and readers of the meaning behind the sets of characters that make up
The general attributes of writing systems can be placed into broad categories such as alphabets , syllabaries , or logographies . Any particular system can have attributes of more than one category. In the alphabetic category, there is a standard set of letters (basic written symbols or graphemes ) of consonants and vowels that encode based on the general principle that the letters (or letter pair/groups) represent speech sounds . In a syllabary, each symbol correlates to a syllable or mora . In a logography, each character represents a word, morpheme , or other semantic units. Other categories include abjads , which differ from alphabets in that vowels are not indicated, and abugidas or alphasyllabaries, with each character representing a consonant–vowel pairing. Alphabets typically use a set of 20-to-35 symbols to fully express a language, whereas syllabaries can have 80-to-100, and logographies can have several hundreds of symbols.
Most systems will typically have an ordering of its symbol elements so that groups of them can be coded into larger clusters like words or acronyms (generally lexemes ), giving rise to many more possibilities (permutations ) in meanings than the symbols can convey by themselves. Systems will also enable the stringing together of these smaller groupings (sometimes referred to by the generic term 'character strings') in order to enable a full expression of the language. The reading step can be accomplished purely in the mind as an internal process, or expressed orally . A special set of symbols known as punctuation is used to aid in structure and organization of many writing systems and can be used to help capture nuances and variations in the message's meaning that are communicated verbally by cues in timing , tone , accent , inflection or intonation . A writing system will also typically have a method for formatting recorded messages that follows the spoken version's rules like its grammar and syntax so that the reader will have the meaning of the intended message accurately preserved.
The creation of a new alphabetic writing system for a language with
an existing logographic writing system is called alphabetization, as
when the People\'s Republic of China studied the prospect of
alphabetizing the Chinese languages with
* 1 General properties
* 2 Basic terminology
* 2.1 Text, writing, reading and orthography
Grapheme and phoneme
* 2.3 Glyph, sign and character
* 2.4 Complete and partial writing systems
* 3 History
* 4 Functional classification
* 4.1 Logographic systems * 4.2 Syllabic systems: syllabary * 4.3 Segmental systems: Alphabets * 4.4 Featural systems * 4.5 Ambiguous systems
* 5 Graphic classification * 6 Directionality * 7 On computers * 8 See also
* 9 References
* 9.1 Citations * 9.2 Sources
* 10 External links
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. 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:
* at least one set of defined base elements or symbols , individually termed signs and collectively called a script; * at least one set of rules and conventions (orthography ) understood and shared by a community, which assigns meaning to the base elements (graphemes ), their ordering and relations to one another; * at least one language (generally spoken ) whose constructions are represented and can be recalled by the interpretation of these elements and rules; * some physical means of distinctly representing the symbols by application to a permanent or semi-permanent medium , so they may be interpreted (usually visually, but tactile systems have also been devised).
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 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 , and the act of viewing and interpreting the text as reading . Orthography refers to the method and rules of observed writing structure (literal meaning, "correct writing"), and particularly for alphabetic systems, includes the concept of spelling .
GRAPHEME AND PHONEME
Main articles: grapheme and phoneme
A grapheme is a specific base unit of a writing system. Graphemes 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
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 a
grapheme. Common usage varies from discipline to discipline; compare
cuneiform sign , Maya glyph ,
COMPLETE AND PARTIAL WRITING SYSTEMS
WRITING SYSTEMS, LANGUAGES AND CONCEPTUAL SYSTEMS
To represent a conceptual system , we use one or more languages, e.g., mathematics is a conceptual system and we may use first-order logic and a natural language together in representation.
Jiahu symbols , carved on tortoise shells in
The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary
with the beginning of the
A similar debate exists for the Chinese script , which developed around 1200 BC. Chinese script are probably an independent invention, because there is no evidence of contact between China and the literate civilizations of the Near East, and because of the distinct differences between the Mesopotamian and Chinese approaches to logography and phonetic representation.
A hieroglyphic writing system used by pre-colonial Mi\'kmaq , that was observed by missionaries from the 17th to 19th centuries, is thought to have developed independently. Although, there is some debate over whether or not this was a fully formed system or just a series of mnemonic pictographs.
It is thought that the first consonantal alphabetic writing appeared
before 2000 BC, as a representation of language developed by Semitic
tribes in the Sinai-peninsula (see
History of the alphabet ). Most
other alphabets in the world today either descended from this one
innovation, many via the
The first true alphabet is the Greek script which consistently
represents vowels since 800 BC. The
For lists of writing systems by type, see List of writing systems . 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 is 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
* pictographic script * ideographic script * analytic transitional script * phonetic script * alphabetic script
as too simplistic, often considering the categories to be incomparable. Hill split writing into three major categories of linguistic analysis, one of which covers discourses and is not usually considered writing proper:
* discourse system
* iconic discourse system, e.g. Amerindian * conventional discourse system, e.g. Quipu
* morphemic writing system, e.g. Egyptian , Sumerian , Maya , Chinese
* phonemic writing system
* mono-phonemic writing system
* phonemic writing system, e.g.
Sampson draws a distinction between semasiography and glottography
* semasiography, relating visible marks to meaning directly without reference to any specific spoken language
* glottography, using visible marks to represent forms of a spoken language
* logography, representing a spoken language by assigning distinctive visible marks to linguistic elements of André Martinet's "first articulation" (Martinet 1949), i.e. morphemes or words * phonography, achieving the same goal by assigning marks to elements of the "second articulation", e.g. phonemes, syllables
DeFrancis, criticizing Sampson's introduction of semasiographic writing and featural alphabets stresses the phonographic quality of writing proper
* syllabic systems
* pure syllabic, e.g. Linear B, Yi, Kana, Cherokee * morpho-syllabic, e.g. Sumerian, Chinese, Mayan
* morpho-consonantal, e.g. Egyptian * pure consonantal, e.g. Phoenician
* pure phonemic, e.g. Greek * morpho-phonemic, e.g. English
Faber categorizes phonographic writing by two levels, linearity and coding:
* logographic, e.g. Chinese , Ancient Egyptian
* syllabically linear
* segmentally linear
Classification by Daniels TYPE EACH SYMBOL REPRESENTS EXAMPLE
Syllabic syllable or mora Japanese kana
phoneme (consonant or vowel)
Featural phonetic feature Korean hangul
A logogram is a single written character which represents a complete
grammatical word. Most traditional
As each character represents a single word (or, more precisely, a morpheme ), many logograms are required to write all the words of language. The vast array of logograms and the memorization of what they mean are major disadvantages of logographic systems over alphabetic systems. However, since the meaning is inherent to the symbol, the same logographic system can theoretically be used to represent different languages. In practice, the ability to communicate across languages only works for the closely related varieties of Chinese , as differences in syntax reduce the crosslinguistic 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. However, the grammatical differences between Japanese and Chinese are significant 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 newspaper headlines are much easier to comprehend.
While most languages do not use wholly logographic writing systems,
many languages use some logograms. A good example of modern western
logograms are the
Hindu-Arabic numerals : everyone who uses those
symbols understands what 1 means whether he or she calls it one, eins,
uno, yi, ichi, ehad, ena, or jedan. Other western logograms include
the ampersand ">
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 onset –coda or onset–rime table.
Syllabaries are best suited to languages with relatively simple
syllable structure, such as Japanese. The
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
Other languages that use true syllabaries include Mycenaean Greek
SEGMENTAL SYSTEMS: ALPHABETS
An alphabet is a small set of letters (basic written symbols), each of which roughly represents or represented historically a 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
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
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
Main article: Featural writing system
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. The Korean script is a conscious script creation by literate experts, which Daniels calls a "sophisticated grammatogeny ". 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".
Most writing systems are not purely one type. The English writing system, for example, includes numerals and other logograms such as #, $, and 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.
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
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 also graphically characterized by the direction in which
they are written.
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
The direction of writing in the
In computers and telecommunication systems, writing systems are
generally not codified as such, 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
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
* Languages portal
* ^ "Definitions of writing systems". Omniglot: The Online
* Cisse, Mamadou. 2006. "Ecrits et écritures en Afrique de
l'Ouest". Sudlangues n°6,
* Coulmas, Florian. 1996. The Blackwell encyclopedia of writing
systems. Oxford: Blackwell.
* Coulmas, Florian. 2003.