Writing systems

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(See also Morpheme, Syllable, Lexeme, Grapheme, Phoneme, Character, Glyph)

It should be noted that few real-world writing systems are purely any of the below; all ave main tendencies but expceptions and properties from the other mentioned categories as well.

Logographic (and ideographic) systems

Logographic systems have graphemes/glyphs directly referencing morphemes, lexemes, or concepts.

This in contrast with alphabets, syllabaries, abugidas, and abjads (see writing systems) which represent sounds that must first combine to be recognizable words (preferably in one's vocabulary) before they can be expressions of ideas.

In other words, (...and assuming it it a spoken language...), logographic systems represent concepts alongside sounds, rather than via sounds.

The graphemes/glyphs in a logographic system are called logograms, or logographs.

Note that in in reality, most logographic languages typically involve (relatively separated) phonetical systems

Examples: Chinese Hanzi, and derivatives in the form of Japanese's Kanji, Korean Hanja, Vietnamese hán tự, and such.

Ideographic systems are a more specific concept than logographic: They use characters to represent ideas directly, rather than dealing with morphemes, lexemes, radicals and such. Ideographs are often rudimentary pictures of what they represent.

In practice, the term is often (incorrectly) used to refer to logographic systems as well, though there are quite a few systems that are logographic overall, with some ideographic elements.

There are very few ideographically written natural languages, and none are large(verify). It seems to speak to the imagination, though; a number of constructed languages are ideographic. You may think of Egyptian hieroglyphs, but they are mostly a logogram-alphabet mix. While some Chinese characters are logographic and a few even ideographic in origin, most are essentially free morphemes. More often than not, chinese characters are idiomatic, not tracable to an ideographic origin.

Pictograms like those generally used in signs and computer icons are ideographic.

Degrees of alphabet

An alphabet, in the wider sense of the word, is a system of symbols that match roughly to sounds. This includes the western sense of an alphabet as well as abjads and abugidas.


In a stricter sense, an alphabet is a system in which a fixed set of letters (glyphs) refers to both vowels and consonants.

While letters tend to have simple phonetic origin, alphabetic languages often do not have have a trivial symbol-to-sound mapping. Alphabetic languages have relatively complex morphological systems.

Current alphabets are often Latin-derived, or Cyrillic.


Abjads, also consonantaries or consonantal alphabets, are alphabets with only consonant characters.

Many abjads have, or at some time had, ways to mark vowels to some degree.

They have a simple mapping between character and sound.

Examples include Hebrew and Arabic writing.


Abugidas, also alphasyllaberies (and sometimes syllabics, and not to be confused with syllabaries), are systems with consonants and vowels, but where vowels have secondary status. For example, consonants may imply vowel sounds, vowels may be marked by diacritics, or such.

They have a simple mapping between character and sound.

Examples of abugidas include Hindi.


A syllabary is a writing system based on indivisible syllables (sometimes approximations of such).

That is, characters represent sounds that are themselves indivisible in that language.

Note this definition does put explicit distance between it and an abugida. The largest difference is is that in abugidas, characters that sound the same are also based on the same symbol.

Examples of syllaberies include Japanese's hiragana and katakana (kana).

Terms used


"Writes sounds".


See also