A writing system (also called a script) is a system of symbols used to represent language. There are different kinds of writing systems, with symbols that represent different things. For example, English uses an alphabet (the Latin alphabet).
The fundamental principle is that symbols stand for sound, but there is more to it than that. The term "writing system" includes more than just (for example) an alphabet. Alphabets are part of a "graphic inventory" which includes punctuation, diacritics, ideograms (e.g. numbers) and logograms (standing for specific words such as $, & etc).
Types of writing systems[change | change source]
There are many different types of writing systems. Each grapheme, or symbol, can mean different things in different writing systems. Depending on what an individual symbol means, such as a whole word or a sound, each writing system is categorized as a different type.
Logography[change | change source]
A logography is a writing system with symbols that mean whole words or symbols that represent ideas. These symbols are called "logograms" or "logographs". Examples of logographies are Chinese characters (used in Chinese) and hieroglyphs.
Syllabary[change | change source]
Alphabet[change | change source]
An alphabet is a writing system with symbols that mean individual sounds (or phonemes). There are different types of alphabets.
True alphabets[change | change source]
A true alphabet is a writing system with symbols that mean both consonants and vowels. Examples of alphabetic writing systems are the Latin alphabet, (used in large parts of the world), the Greek alphabet (used in Greek), and the Cyrillic alphabet (used in many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where Russia had a major influence during the days of the Soviet Union).
Abjad[change | change source]
Alphabets that only write consonants (and do not write vowels) are called abjads. Examples of abjads are the Arabic alphabet, which is used in much of the Muslim world, and the Hebrew alphabet used for Jewish languages like Hebrew and Yiddish. Both of these abjads are written in lines that run from right to left. The logic is that people in those areas know what vowels are used when the words are spoken.
Abugida[change | change source]
Abugidas are alphabets where consonants are written as a symbol, and vowels are written as diacritics. Examples of abugidas are many writing systems of India and Southeast Asia, such as Devanagari (used in Hindi and Sanskrit).
Direction of writing[change | change source]
Each writing system can be written in different directions. English (which uses the Latin alphabet) is written from left to right. Some languages, like Arabic, are written from right to left.
Some languages, like Chinese and Japanese, can be written vertically (from top to bottom).
Related pages[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
- Martin H-J. 1994. The history and power of writing. Chicago University Press. ISBN 0-226-50836-6
- Diringer, David. 1965. Writing. London, Thames & Hudson.