List of writing systems

List of writing systems

This is a list of writing systems (or scripts), classified according to some common distinguishing features.

The usual name of the script is given first (and bolded); 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.


Pictographic/ideographic writing systems

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.

*Aztec ndash Nahuatl
*Dongbandash Naxi
*Míkmaq hieroglyphic writingndash Míkmaq - Does have phonetic components, however.

There are also symbol systems used to represent things other than language. Some of these are
*Blissymbols - A constructed ideographic script used primarily in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
*New Epoch Notation Painting

Logographic writing systems

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 comprised solely of logograms. All contain graphemes which 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 which 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, while 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

*Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, and Demoticndash writing systems of Ancient Egypt

yllable-based logographies

*Anatolian hieroglyphsndash Luwian
*Cuneiformndash Sumerian, Akkadian, other Semitic languages, Elamite, Hittite, Luwian, Hurrian, and Urartian
*Chinese characters (Hanzi)ndash Chinese, Japanese (called Kanji), Korean (called Hanja), Vietnamese (called Han tu, obsolete)
*Mayanndash Chorti, Yucatec, and other Classic Maya languages
*Yi (classical)ndash various Yi/Lolo languages

Logographies based on Chinese

*Jurchenndash Jurchen
*Khitan large scriptndash Khitan
*Tangutndash Tangut
*Zhuangndash Zhuang
*Vietnamesendash Chu nho (for vernacular Vietnamese, now obsolete)


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

*Afakandash Ndyuka
*Alaska scriptndash Central Yup'ik
*Cherokeendash Cherokee
*Cypriotndash Mycenean Greek
*Gebandash Naxi
*Hiraganandash Japanese
*Japanese manual syllabaryndash Japanese Sign Language
*Katakanandash Japanese
*Kikakui - Mende
*Kpellendash Kpelle
*Linear Bndash Mycenean Greek
*Man'yōgana - Japanese
*Nü Shundash Yao
*Vaindash Vai
*Woleaianndash Woleaian (a likely syllabary)
*Yi (modern)ndash various Yi/Lolo languages

Semi-syllabaries: Part syllabic, part alphabetic scripts

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")."

*Paleohispanic semi-sillabariesndash Paleohispanic languages
** Tartessian or Southwestern scriptndash Tartessian or Southwestern language
** Southeastern Iberian scriptndash Iberian language
** Northeastern Iberian scriptndash Iberian language
** Celtiberian scriptndash Celtiberian language

*Old Persian Cuneiformndash Old Persian
*Zhuyin fuhaondash phonetic script for Chinese languages, and principal script for several Formosan languages.

Segmental scripts

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:


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.
*Arabicndash Arabic, Azeri, Baluchi, Kashmiri, Pashtun, Persian, Kurdish, Sindhi, Uighur, Urdu, and the languages of many other Muslim peoples
*Dhives akurundash Dhivehi
*Estrangelondash Syriac
*Hebrew Square Scriptndash Hebrew, Yiddish, and other Jewish languages
*Jawi - Arabic, Malay
*Nabataeanndash the Nabataeans of Petra
*Pahlavi scriptndash Middle Persian
*Phoenicianndash Phoenician and other Canaanite languages
**South Arabianndash Sabaic, Qatabanic, Himyaritic, and Hadhramautic
*Samaritan (Old Hebrew)ndash Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew
*Tifinaghndash Tuareg
*Ugariticndash Ugaritic, Hurrian

True alphabets

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

Linear nonfeatural alphabets

"Linear" alphabets are composed of lines on a surface, such as ink on paper.
*Arabic (for Uyghur)
*Armenianndash Armenian
*Avestan alphabetndash Avestan language
*Beitha Kukjundash Albanian
*Copticndash Egyptian
*Cyrillicndash Eastern Slavic languages (Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian), eastern South Slavic languages (Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian), the other languages of Russia, Kazakh language, Kyrgyz language, Tajik language, Mongolian language. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are changing to the Latin alphabet but still have considerable use of Cyrillic. See Languages using Cyrillic.
*Eclectic Shorthand
*Elbasanndash Albanian
*Fraserndash Lisu
*Gabelsberger shorthand
*Georgianndash Georgian and Mingrelian. Variants include Mkhedruli, Khutsuri, Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri
*Glagoliticndash Old Church Slavonic
*Gothicndash Gothic
*Greekndash Greek
*International Phonetic Alphabet
*Latin alphabet or Roman alphabetndash originally Latin language; most current western and central European languages, Turkic languages, sub-Saharan African languages, indigenous languages of the Americas, languages of maritime Southeast Asia and languages of Oceania use developments of it. Languages using a non-Latin writing system are generally also equipped with Romanization for transliteration or secondary use.
*Manchundash Manchu
*Mandaicndash Mandaic dialect of Aramaic
*Mongolianndash Mongolian
*Neo-Tifinaghndash Tamazight
*N'Kondash Maninka language, Bambara, Dyula language
*Ogham (pronounced|oːm)ndash Gaelic, Britannic, Pictish
*Hungarian Runesndash Hungarian
*Old Italic alphabetndash Etruscan, Oscan, Umbrian
*Old Permic (or "Abur")ndash Komi
*Orkhon "runes"ndash Turkic
*Osmanyandash Somali
*Runic alphabetndash Germanic languages
*Ol Cemet'ndash Santali
*Tai Luendash Lue
*Vah ndash Bassa

Featural linear alphabets

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.

*Gregg Shorthand
*Hangulndash Korean
*Shavian alphabet
*Tengwar (a fictional script)
*Visible Speech (a phonetic script)
*Stokoe notation for American Sign Language

Manual alphabets

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.
*American manual alphabet (used with slight modification in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Paraguay, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand)
*British manual alphabet (used in some of the Commonwealth of Nations, such as Australia and New Zealand)
*Catalonian manual alphabet
*Chilean manual alphabet
*Chinese manual alphabet
*Dutch manual alphabet
*Ethiopian manual alphabet (an abugida)
*French manual alphabet
*Greek manual alphabet
*Icelandic manual alphabet (also used in Denmark)
*Indian manual alphabet (a true alphabet?; used in Devanagari and Gujarati areas)
*International manual alphabet (used in Germany, Austria, Norway, Finland)
*Iranian manual alphabet (an abjad; also used in Egypt)
*Israli manual alphabet (an abjad)
*Italian manual alphabet
*Korean manual alphabet
*Latin American manual alphabets
*Polish manual alphabet
*Portuguese manual alphabet
*Romanian manual alphabet
*Russian manual alphabet (also used in Bulgaria and ex-Soviet states)
*Spanish manual alphabet (Madrid)
*Swedish manual alphabet
*Yugoslav manual alphabet

Other non-linear alphabets

These are other alphabets composed of something other than lines on a surface.
*Braille (Unified)ndash an embossed alphabet for the visually-impaired, used with some extra letters to transcribe the Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic alphabets, as well as Chinese
*Braille (Korean)
*Braille (American) (defunct)
*New York Pointndash a defunct alternative to Braille
*International maritime signal flags (both alphabetic and ideographic)
*Morse code (International)ndash a trinary code of dashes, dots, and silence, whether transmitted by electricity, light, or sound)
*American Morse code (defunct)
*Optical telegraphy (defunct)
*Flag semaphorendash (made by moving hand-held flags)


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.

Abugidas of the Brāhmī family

*Brāhmīndash Prakrit, Sanskrit
*Batakndash Toba and other Batak languages
*Baybayinndash Ilokano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Tagalog, Bikol languages, Visayan languages, and possibly other Philippine languages
*Bengalindash Bengali, Assamese
*Burmesendash Burmese, Karen languages, Mon, and Shan
*Dehongndash Dehong Dai
*Devanāgarīndash Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Nepali, and many other languages of northern India
*Gujarātindash Gujarāti, Kachchi
*Gurmukhi scriptndash Punjabi
*Kagangandash Rejang
*Kannadandash Kannada, Tulu
*Lannandash Khün, and Northern Thai
*Lontara’ndash Buginese, Makassar, and Mandar
*Modindash Marathi
*Phags-pandash Mongolian, Chinese, and other languages of the Yuan Dynasty Mongol Empire
*Ranjanandash Newari
*Syloti Nagri - Sylheti
*Tagbanwandash Languages of Palawan
*Tai Dam
*Varang Kshitindash Ho

Other Abugidas

*Canadian Aboriginal syllabicsndash Cree syllabics (for Cree), Inuktitut syllabics (for Inuktitut), and other variants for Ojibwe, Carrier, Blackfoot, and other languages of Canada
*Ethiopicndash Amharic, Ge’ez, Oromo, Tigrigna
*Kharoṣṭhīndash Gandhari, Sanskrit
*Meroiticndash Meroë
*Pitman Shorthand
*Pollard scriptndash Miao
*Sorang Sompengndash Sora
*Thaanandash Dhivehi
*Thomas Natural Shorthand

Final consonant-diacritic abugidas

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 written as IPA|s̥̽.

*Róngndash Lepcha

Vowel-based abugidas

In a couple 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".

*Boyd's Syllabic Shorthand
*Japanese Braillendash Japanese
*Pahawh Hmong abugidandash Hmong

Undeciphered systems thought to be writing

These writing 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. In others, such as the Phaistos Disc, there is little hope of progress unless further texts are found. 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 Vinča and other cases the system, although symbolic, may turn out to not be writing.

*Byblosndash the city of Byblos
*Eskayanndash Bohol, Philippines
*Isthmian (apparently logosyllabic)
*Indus scriptndash Indus Valley Civilization
*Khipundash Inca Empire (very possibly not writing)
*Khitan small scriptndash Khitan
*Linear A (a syllabary)ndash Minoan
*Mixtecndash Mixtec (perhaps pictographic)
*Vinča (perhaps proto-writing)
*Olmecndash Olmec civilization (possibly the oldest Mesoamerican script)
*Phaistos Disc (a unique text)
*Proto-Elamitendash Elam (nearly as old as Sumerian)
*Rongorongondash Rapa Nui (perhaps a syllabary)
*Wadi el-Ħôl & Proto-Sinaitic (likely an abjad)
*Zapotecndash Zapotec (another old Mesoamerican script)
*Banpo Script -Yangshao culture
*Jiahu Script -Peiligang culture
* Tartessian or Southwestern scriptndash Tartessian or Southwestern language
* Southeastern Iberian scriptndash Iberian language

Undeciphered manuscripts

A number of manuscripts from comparable recent past may be written in an invented writing system, a cipher of an existing writing system or may only be a hoax.
*Voynich manuscript
*Rohonc Codex
*Codex Seraphinianus
*"'Asemic writing


Phonetic alphabets

This section lists alphabets used to transcribe phonetic or phonemic sound; not to be confused with spelling alphabets like the NATO phonetic alphabet.
# International Phonetic Alphabet
# Deseret alphabet
# Unifon
# Americanist phonetic notation
# Uralic Phonetic Alphabet
# Shavian alphabet

pecial alphabets

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

Tactile alphabets

# Braille
# Moon type
# New York Point

Manual alphabets

# FingerspellingFor example:
# American Sign Language
# American manual alphabet
# Korean manual alphabet
# Cued Speech

Long-Distance Signaling

# International maritime signal flags
# Morse code
# Flag semaphore
# Optical telegraphy

Alternative alphabets

# Gregg Shorthand
# Initial Teaching Alphabet
# Pitman Shorthand
# Quikscript

Fictional writing systems

# Ath (alphabet)
# Aurebesh
# Cirth
# D'ni
# Goa'uld
# Klingon
# On Beyond Zebra!
# Sarati
# Tengwar

See also

*Artificial script
*List of languages by first written accounts
*Genealogy of scripts derived from Proto-Sinaitic
*Writing system
*List of languages by writing system
*List of inventors of writing systems
*List of ISO 15924 codes
* - computer representations of alphabets, especially Unicode
* [ Deseret Alphabet]


* [ Omniglot - a guide to writing systems]
* [ Ancient Scripts: Home] (Site with some introduction to different writing systems and group them into [ origins] / [ types] / [ families] / [ regions] / [ timeline] / [ A to Z] )
* Michael Everson's [ Alphabets of Europe]
* [ Scriptorium Bulletin Board] ndash A forum devoted to writing systems
* [ Deseret Alphabet]

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