Writing system

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.[1] 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 a script. Writing is usually recorded onto a durable medium, such as paper or electronic storage, although non-durable methods may also be used, such as writing on a computer display, on a blackboard, in sand, or by skywriting.

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.

Writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, which used pictograms, ideograms and other mnemonic symbols. Proto-writing lacked the ability to capture and express a full range of thoughts and ideas. The invention of writing systems, which dates back to the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic Era of the late 4th millennium BC, enabled the accurate durable recording of human history in a manner that was not prone to the same types of error to which oral history is vulnerable. Soon after, writing provided a reliable form of long distance communication. With the advent of publishing, it provided the medium for an early form of mass communication.

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 Latin script, Cyrillic script, Arabic script, and even numbers,[2] although the most common instance of it, converting to Latin script, is usually called romanization.

General properties

Kuozhai
Chinese characters (漢字) are morpho-syllabic. Each one represents a syllable with a distinct meaning, but some characters may have multiple meanings or pronunciations

Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that a writing system is always associated with at least one spoken language. In contrast, visual representations such as drawings, paintings, and non-verbal items on maps, such as contour lines, are not language-related. Some symbols on information signs, such as the symbols for male and female, are also not language related, but can grow to become part of language if they are often used in conjunction with other language elements. Some other symbols, such as numerals and the ampersand, are not directly linked to any specific language, but are often used in writing and thus must be considered part of writing systems.

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;[3]
  • 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).

Basic terminology

A Specimen by William Caslon
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[4] 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,[5] and the act of viewing and interpreting the text as reading.[6] 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

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 Latin-based writing system of standard contemporary English, examples of graphemes include the majuscule and minuscule forms of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet (corresponding to various phonemes), marks of punctuation (mostly non-phonemic), and a few other symbols such as those for numerals (logograms for numbers).

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, Chinese character. The glyphs of most writing systems are made up of lines (or strokes) and are therefore called linear, but there are glyphs in non-linear writing systems made up of other types of marks, such as Cuneiform and Braille.

Complete and partial writing systems

Writing systems may be regarded as complete according to the extent to which they are able to represent all that may be expressed in the spoken language, while a partial writing system is limited in what it can convey.[7]

Writing systems, languages and conceptual systems

Writing systems can be independent from languages, one can have multiple writing systems for a language, e.g., Hindi and Urdu;[8] and one can also have one writing system for multiple languages, e.g., the Arabic script. Chinese characters were also borrowed by variant countries as their early writing systems, e.g., the early writing systems of Vietnamese language until the beginning of the 20th century.

To represent a conceptual system, one uses one or more languages, e.g., mathematics is a conceptual system[9] and one may use first-order logic and a natural language together in representation.

History

Comparative evolution of Cuneiform, Egyptian and Chinese characters
Comparative evolution from pictograms to abstract shapes, in Mesopotamian cuneiforms, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters.

Writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols. The best known examples are:

The invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic of the late 4th millennium BC. The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400 to 3200 BC with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC. It is generally agreed that Sumerian writing was an independent invention; however, it is debated whether Egyptian writing was developed completely independently of Sumerian, or was a case of cultural diffusion.

A similar debate exists for the Chinese script, which developed around 1200 BC.[10][11] Chinese script are probably an independent invention, because there is no evidence of contact between China and the literate civilizations of the Near East,[12] and because of the distinct differences between the Mesopotamian and Chinese approaches to logography and phonetic representation.[13]

The pre-Columbian Mesoamerican writing systems (including among others Olmec and Maya scripts) are generally believed to have had independent origins.

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 Phoenician alphabet, or were directly inspired by its design.

The first true alphabet is the Greek script which consistently represents vowels since 800 BC.[14][15] The Latin alphabet, a direct descendant, is by far the most common writing system in use.[16]

Functional classification

Sanskrit Brhama English alphabets
Table of scripts in the introduction to Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams
Puyi's schoolbook - Forbidden City
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[17]

  • pictographic script
  • ideographic script
  • analytic transitional script
  • phonetic script
  • alphabetic script

as too simplistic, often considering the categories to be incomparable. Hill[18] split writing into three major categories of linguistic analysis, one of which covers discourses and is not usually considered writing proper:

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,[19] criticizing Sampson's[20] introduction of semasiographic writing and featural alphabets stresses the phonographic quality of writing proper

  • pictures
    • nonwriting
    • writing
      • rebus
        • syllabic systems
          • pure syllabic, e.g. Linear B, Yi, Kana, Cherokee
          • morpho-syllabic, e.g. Sumerian, Chinese, Mayan
          • consonantal
            • morpho-consonantal, e.g. Egyptian
            • pure consonantal, e.g. Phoenician
            • alphabetic
              • pure phonemic, e.g. Greek
              • morpho-phonemic, e.g. English

Faber[21] categorizes phonographic writing by two levels, linearity and coding:

Classification by Daniels
Type Each symbol represents Example
Logographic morpheme Chinese characters
Syllabic syllable or mora Japanese kana
Alphabetic phoneme (consonant or vowel) Latin alphabet
Abugida phoneme (consonant+vowel) Indian Devanāgarī
Abjad phoneme (consonant) Arabic alphabet
Featural phonetic feature Korean hangul

Logographic systems

日-oracle
Early Chinese character for sun (ri), 1200 B.C
Character Ri4 Trad
Modern Chinese character (ri) meaning "day" or "Sun"

A logogram is a single written character which represents a complete grammatical word. Most traditional Chinese characters are classified as logograms.

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 they call it one, eins, uno, yi, ichi, ehad, ena, or jedan. Other western logograms include the ampersand &, used for and, the at sign @, used in many contexts for at, the percent sign % and the many signs representing units of currency ($, ¢, , £, ¥ and so on.)

Logograms are sometimes called ideograms, a word that refers to symbols which graphically represent abstract ideas, but linguists avoid this use, as Chinese characters are often semanticphonetic compounds, symbols which include an element that represents the meaning and a phonetic complement element that represents the pronunciation. Some nonlinguists distinguish between lexigraphy and ideography, where symbols in lexigraphies represent words and symbols in ideographies represent words or morphemes.

The most important (and, to a degree, the only surviving) modern logographic writing system is the Chinese one, whose characters have been used with varying degrees of modification in varieties of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other east Asian languages. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Mayan writing system are also systems with certain logographic features, although they have marked phonetic features as well and are no longer in current use. Vietnamese speakers switched to the Latin alphabet in the 20th century and the use of Chinese characters in Korean is increasingly rare. The Japanese writing system includes several distinct forms of writing including logography.

Syllabic systems: syllabary

Cherokee stop sign
Bilingual stop sign in English and the Cherokee syllabary, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

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 onsetcoda or onset–rime table.

Syllabaries are best suited to languages with relatively simple syllable structure, such as Japanese. The English language, on the other hand, allows complex syllable structures, with a relatively large inventory of vowels and complex consonant clusters, making it cumbersome to write English words with a syllabary. To write English using a syllabary, every possible syllable in English would have to have a separate symbol, and whereas the number of possible syllables in Japanese is around 100, in English there are approximately 15,000 to 16,000.

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 Unicode). The Chinese script, when used to write Middle Chinese and the modern varieties of Chinese, also represents syllables, and includes separate glyphs for nearly all of the many thousands of syllables in Middle Chinese; however, because it primarily represents morphemes and includes different characters to represent homophonous morphemes with different meanings, it is normally considered a logographic script rather than a syllabary.

Other languages that use true syllabaries include Mycenaean Greek (Linear B) and Indigenous languages of the Americas such as Cherokee. Several languages of the Ancient Near East used forms of cuneiform, which is a syllabary with some non-syllabic elements.

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 Tifinagh) belong to the Semitic family of scripts, and derive from the original Northern Linear Abjad. The reason for this is that Semitic languages and the related Berber languages have a morphemic structure which makes the denotation of vowels redundant in most cases.

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 Ugaritic. "Abjad" is still the word for alphabet in Arabic, Malay and Indonesian.

Bible printed with Balinese script
A Bible printed with Balinese script

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 in India and Southeast Asia.

The name abugida is derived from the first four characters of an order of the Ge'ez script used in some contexts. It was borrowed from Ethiopian languages as a linguistic term by Peter T. Daniels.

Featural systems

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".[22]

Ambiguous systems

Most writing systems are not purely one type. The English writing system, for example, includes numerals and other logograms such as #, $, and &, and the written language often does not match well with the spoken one. As mentioned above, all logographic systems have phonetic components as well, whether along the lines of a syllabary, such as Chinese ("logo-syllabic"), or an abjad, as in Egyptian ("logo-consonantal").

Some scripts, however, are truly ambiguous. The semi-syllabaries of ancient Spain were syllabic for plosives such as p, t, k, but alphabetic for other consonants. In some versions, vowels were written redundantly after syllabic letters, conforming to an alphabetic orthography. Old Persian cuneiform was similar. Of 23 consonants (including null), seven were fully syllabic, thirteen were purely alphabetic, and for the other three, there was one letter for /Cu/ and another for both /Ca/ and /Ci/. However, all vowels were written overtly regardless; 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.

Graphic classification

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 Latin alphabet and Chinese characters. Chinese characters are considered linear whether they are written with a ball-point pen or a calligraphic brush, or cast in bronze. Similarly, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Maya glyphs were often painted in linear outline form, but in formal contexts they were carved in bas-relief. The earliest examples of writing are linear: the Sumerian script of c. 3300 BC was linear, though its cuneiform descendants were not. Non-linear systems, on the other hand, such as braille, are not composed of lines, no matter what instrument is used to write them.

Cuneiform was probably the earliest non-linear writing. Its glyphs were formed by pressing the end of a reed stylus into moist clay, not by tracing lines in the clay with the stylus as had been done previously.[23][24] The result was a radical transformation of the appearance of the script.

Braille is a non-linear adaptation of the Latin alphabet that completely abandoned the Latin forms. The letters are composed of raised bumps on the writing substrate, which can be leather (Louis Braille's original material), stiff paper, plastic or metal.

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.)

Directionality

Writing directions of the world
Overview of the writing directions used in the world

Scripts are also graphically characterized by the direction in which they are written. Egyptian hieroglyphs were written either left to right or right to left, with the animal and human glyphs turned to face the beginning of the line. The early alphabet could be written in multiple directions:[25] horizontally (side to side), or vertically (up or down). Prior to standardization, alphabetical writing was done both left-to-right (LTR or sinistrodextrally) and right-to-left (RTL or dextrosinistrally). It was most commonly written boustrophedonically: starting in one (horizontal) direction, then turning at the end of the line and reversing direction.

The 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 Hebrew, came to be written right-to-left. Scripts that incorporate Chinese characters have traditionally been written vertically (top-to-bottom), from the right to the left of the page, but nowadays are frequently written left-to-right, top-to-bottom, due to Western influence, a growing need to accommodate terms in the Latin script, and technical limitations in popular electronic document formats. Chinese characters sometimes, as in signage, especially when signifying something old or traditional, may also be written from right to left. The Old Uyghur alphabet and its descendants are unique in being written top-to-bottom, left-to-right; this direction originated from an ancestral Semitic direction by rotating the page 90° counter-clockwise to conform to the appearance of vertical Chinese writing. Several scripts used in the Philippines and Indonesia, such as Hanunó'o, are traditionally written with lines moving away from the writer, from bottom to top, but are read horizontally left to right; however, Kulitan, another Philippine script, is written top to bottom and right to left. Ogham is written bottom to top and read vertically, commonly on the corner of a stone.

On computers

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 toward the Latin script), CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and bi-directional text. Today, many such standards are re-defined in a collective standard, the ISO/IEC 10646 "Universal Character Set", and a parallel, closely related expanded work, The Unicode Standard. Both are generally encompassed by the term Unicode. In Unicode, each character, in every language's writing system, is (simplifying slightly) given a unique identification number, known as its code point. Computer operating systems use code points to look up characters in the font file, so the characters can be displayed on the page or screen.

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 CPU. The operating system intercepts and converts those signals to the appropriate characters based on the keyboard layout and input method, and then delivers those converted codes and characters to the running application software, which in turn looks up the appropriate glyph in the currently used font file, and requests the operating system to draw these on the screen.

See also

References

Citations

  1. ^ "Definitions of writing systems". Omniglot: The Online Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages. www.omniglot.com. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  2. ^ Hessler, Peter (2006), "Artifact K: The Lost Alphabets", Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present, Harper Collins, pp. 401–417, ISBN 9780060826581.
  3. ^ Coulmas, Florian. 2003. Writing systems. An introduction. Cambridge University Press. pg. 35.
  4. ^ David Crystal (2008), A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 6th Edition, p.481, Wiley
  5. ^ Hadumod Bußmann (1998), Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, p.1294, Taylor & Francis
  6. ^ Hadumod Bußmann (1998), Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, p.979, Taylor & Francis
  7. ^ Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer (2012), The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology, p.194, Cengage Learning
  8. ^ StackExchange: Is it plausible to have two written forms of one spoken language that are so different as to be indecipherable?
  9. ^ Metaphor and Analogy in the Sciences, p.126, Springer Science & Business Media (2013)
  10. ^ Robert Bagley (2004). "Anyang writing and the origin of the Chinese writing system". In Houston, Stephen. The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process. Cambridge University Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780521838610. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  11. ^ William G. Boltz (1999). "Language and Writing". In Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L. The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC. Cambridge University Press. p. 108. ISBN 9780521470308. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  12. ^ David N. Keightley, Noel Barnard. The Origins of Chinese civilization. Page 415-416
  13. ^ Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature. By Dr Gwendolyn Leick. Pg 3.
  14. ^ Coulmas, Florian (1996). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-631-21481-X.
  15. ^ Millard 1986, p. 396
  16. ^ Haarmann 2004, p. 96
  17. ^ David Diringer (1962): Writing. London.
  18. ^ Archibald Hill (1967): The typology of Writing systems. In: William A. Austin (ed.), Papers in Linguistics in Honor of Leon Dostert. The Hague, 92–99.
  19. ^ John DeFrancis (1989): Visible speech. The diverse oneness of writing systems. Honolulu
  20. ^ Geoffrey Sampson (1986): Writing Systems. A Linguistic Approach. London
  21. ^ Alice Faber (1992): Phonemic segmentation as an epiphenomenon. Evidence from the history of alphabetic writing. In: Pamela Downing et al. (ed.): The Linguistics of Literacy. Amsterdam. 111–134.
  22. ^ See Primus, Beatrice (2004), "A featural analysis of the Modern Roman Alphabet" (PDF), Written Language and Literacy, 7 (2): 235–274, retrieved 2015-12-05
  23. ^ Cammarosano, Michele. "Cuneiform Writing Techniques". cuneiform.neocities.org. Retrieved 2018-07-18.
  24. ^ Cammarosano, Michele (2014). "The Cuneiform Stylus". Mesopotamia. XLIX: 53–90 – via https://osf.io/dfng4/.
  25. ^ Threatte, Leslie (1980). The grammar of Attic inscriptions. W. de Gruyter. pp. 54–55. ISBN 3-11-007344-7.

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  • Daniels, Peter T, and William Bright, eds. 1996. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  • DeFrancis, John. 1990. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1068-6
  • Haarmann, Harald (2004). Geschichte der Schrift [History of Writing] (in German) (2nd ed.). München: C. H. Beck. ISBN 3-406-47998-7.
  • Hannas, William. C. 1997. Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1892-X (paperback); ISBN 0-8248-1842-3 (hardcover)
  • Millard, A. R. (1986). "The Infancy of the Alphabet". World Archaeology. 17 (3): 390–398. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979978.
  • Nishiyama, Yutaka. 2010. The Mathematics of Direction in Writing. International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, Vol.61, No.3, 347-356.
  • Rogers, Henry. 2005. Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-23463-2 (hardcover); ISBN 0-631-23464-0 (paperback)
  • Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. Writing Systems. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1756-7 (paper), ISBN 0-8047-1254-9 (cloth).
  • Smalley, W. A. (ed.) 1964. Orthography studies: articles on new writing systems. London: United Bible Society.

External links

Alphabet

An alphabet is a standard set of letters (basic written symbols or graphemes) that represent the phonemes (basic significant sounds) of any spoken language it is used to write. This is in contrast to other types of writing systems, such as syllabaries (in which each character represents a syllable) and logographic systems (in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic unit).

The first fully phonemic script, the Proto-Canaanite script, later known as the Phoenician alphabet, is considered to be the first alphabet, and is the ancestor of most modern alphabets, including Arabic, Greek, Latin, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and possibly Brahmic. Peter T. Daniels, however, distinguishes an abugida or alphasyllabary, a set of graphemes that represent consonantal base letters which diacritics modify to represent vowels (as in Devanagari and other South Asian scripts), an abjad, in which letters predominantly or exclusively represent consonants (as in the original Phoenician, Hebrew or Arabic), and an "alphabet", a set of graphemes that represent both vowels and consonants. In this narrow sense of the word the first "true" alphabet was the Greek alphabet, which was developed on the basis of the earlier Phoenician alphabet.

Of the dozens of alphabets in use today, the most popular is the Latin alphabet, which was derived from the Greek, and which many languages modify by adding letters formed using diacritical marks. While most alphabets have letters composed of lines (linear writing), there are also exceptions such as the alphabets used in Braille. The Khmer alphabet (for Cambodian) is the longest, with 74 letters.Alphabets are usually associated with a standard ordering of letters. This makes them useful for purposes of collation, specifically by allowing words to be sorted in alphabetical order. It also means that their letters can be used as an alternative method of "numbering" ordered items, in such contexts as numbered lists and number placements.

Belarusian Braille

Belarusian Braille is the braille alphabet of the Belarusian language. It is based on Russian Braille, with a couple additional letters found in the print Belarusian alphabet.

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphs combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, with a total of some 1,000 distinct characters.Cursive hieroglyphs were used for religious literature on papyrus and wood. The later hieratic and demotic Egyptian scripts were derived from hieroglyphic writing, as was the Proto-Siniatic script that later evolved into the Phoenician alphabet. Through the Phoenician alphabet's major child systems, the Greek and Aramaic scripts, the Egyptian hieroglyphic script is ancestral to the majority of scripts in modern use, most prominently the Latin and Cyrillic scripts (through Greek) and the Arabic script and Brahmic family of scripts (through Aramaic).

The use of hieroglyphic writing arose from proto-literate symbol systems in the Early Bronze Age, around the 32nd century BC (Naqada III), with the first decipherable sentence written in the Egyptian language dating to the Second Dynasty (28th century BC). Egyptian hieroglyphs developed into a mature writing system used for monumental inscription in the classical language of the Middle Kingdom period; during this period, the system made use of about 900 distinct signs. The use of this writing system continued through the New Kingdom and Late Period, and on into the Persian and Ptolemaic periods. Late survivals of hieroglyphic use are found well into the Roman period, extending into the 4th century AD.With the final closing of pagan temples in the 5th century, knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost. Although attempts were made, the script remained undeciphered throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The decipherment of hieroglyphic writing would only be accomplished in the 1820s by Jean-François Champollion, with the help of the Rosetta Stone.

Hiragana

Hiragana (平仮名, ひらがな, Japanese pronunciation: [çiɾaɡana]) is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and in some cases rōmaji (Latin script). It is a phonetic lettering system. The word hiragana literally means "ordinary" or "simple" kana ("simple" originally as contrasted with kanji).Hiragana and katakana are both kana systems. With one or two minor exceptions, each sound in the Japanese language (strictly, each mora) is represented by one character (or one digraph) in each system. This may be either a vowel such as "a" (hiragana あ); a consonant followed by a vowel such as "ka" (か); or "n" (ん), a nasal sonorant which, depending on the context, sounds either like English m, n, or ng ([ŋ]), or like the nasal vowels of French. Because the characters of the kana do not represent single consonants (except in the case of ん "n"), the kana are referred to as syllabaries and not alphabets.Hiragana is used to write okurigana (kana suffixes following a kanji root, for example to inflect verbs and adjectives), various grammatical and function words including particles, as well as miscellaneous other native words for which there are no kanji or whose kanji form is obscure or too formal for the writing purpose. Words that do have common kanji renditions may also sometimes be written instead in hiragana, according to an individual author's preference, for example to impart an informal feel. Hiragana is also used to write furigana, a reading aid that shows the pronunciation of kanji characters.

There are two main systems of ordering hiragana: the old-fashioned iroha ordering and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.

ISO/TR 11941

ISO/TR 11941:1996 is a Korean romanization system used in ISO. It is not commonly used. One example of its use is in Unicode character names. The standard was withdrawn in December 2013.

It is very similar to Yale Romanization.

Idu script

Idu (이두, hanja : 吏讀, meaning official's reading) is an archaic writing system that represents the Korean language using hanja. The term "idu" is used in two senses. It may refer to various systems of representing Korean phonology through Chinese characters called hanja, which were used from the early Three Kingdoms to Joseon periods. In this sense, it includes hyangchal and gugyeol writing, as well as the narrower sense of "idu". The narrower sense refers solely to the system developed in the Goryeo period (918–1392), and first referred to by name in the Jewang Ungi.

Japanese writing system

The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of logographic kanji, which are adopted Chinese characters, and syllabic kana. Kana itself consists of a pair of syllabaries: hiragana, used primarily for native or naturalised Japanese words and grammatical elements, and katakana, used primarily for foreign words and names, loanwords, onomatopoeia, scientific names, and sometimes for emphasis. Almost all written Japanese sentences contain a mixture of kanji and kana. Because of this mixture of scripts, in addition to a large inventory of kanji characters, the Japanese writing system is often considered to be one of the most complicated in use anywhere in the world.Several thousand kanji characters are in regular use. Each has an intrinsic meaning (or range of meanings), and most have more than one pronunciation, the choice of which depends on context. Japanese primary and secondary school students are required to learn 2,136 jōyō kanji as of 2010. The total number of kanji is well over 50,000, though few if any native speakers know anywhere near this number.In modern Japanese, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries each contain 46 basic characters, or 71 including diacritics. With one or two minor exceptions, each different sound in the Japanese language (that is, each different syllable, strictly each mora) corresponds to one character in each syllabary. Unlike kanji, these characters intrinsically represent sounds only; they convey meaning only as part of words. Hiragana and katakana characters also originally derive from Chinese characters, but they have been simplified and modified to such an extent that their origins are no longer visually obvious.

Texts without kanji are rare; most are either children's books—since children tend to know few kanji at an early age—and early electronics such as computers, phones, and videogames, which could not display complex graphemes like kanji due to both graphical and technological limitations.To a lesser extent, modern written Japanese also uses acronyms from the Latin alphabet, for example in terms such as "BC/AD", "a.m./p.m.", "FBI", and "CD". Romanized Japanese is most frequently used by foreign students of Japanese who have not yet mastered kana, and by native speakers for computer input.

Kana

Kana (仮名) are syllabic Japanese scripts, a part of the Japanese writing system contrasted with the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji (漢字). There are three kana scripts: modern cursive hiragana (ひらがな); modern angular katakana (カタカナ); and the old syllabic use of kanji known as man'yōgana (万葉仮名) that was ancestral to both. Hentaigana (変体仮名, "variant kana") are historical variants of modern standard hiragana. In modern Japanese, hiragana and katakana have directly corresponding character sets (different sets of characters representing the same sounds).

Katakana with a few additions is also used to write Ainu. Taiwanese kana was used in Taiwanese Hokkien as a gloss (furigana) for Chinese characters during Taiwan under Japanese rule.

Each kana character (syllabogram) corresponds to one sound in the Japanese language. This is always CV (consonant onset with vowel nucleus), such as ka, ki, etc., or V (vowel), such as a, i, etc., with the sole exception of the C grapheme for nasal codas usually romanised as n. This structure had made some scholars label the system moraic instead of syllabic, because it requires the combination of two syllabograms to represent a CVC syllable with coda (i.e. CVn, CVm, CVng), a CVV syllable with complex nucleus (i.e. multiple or expressively long vowels), or a CCV syllable with complex onset (i.e. including a glide, CyV, CwV).

Due to the limited number of phonemes in Japanese, as well as the relatively rigid syllable structure, the kana system is a very accurate representation of spoken Japanese.

Kanji

Kanji (漢字; [kã̠ɴʑi] listen) are the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. They are used alongside the Japanese syllabic scripts hiragana and katakana. The Japanese term kanji for the Chinese characters literally means "Han characters". It is written with the same characters in the Chinese language to refer to the character writing system, hanzi (漢字).

Katakana

Katakana (片仮名, かたかな, カタカナ, Japanese pronunciation: [katakana]) is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji and in some cases the Latin script (known as rōmaji). The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derived from components or fragments of more complex kanji. Katakana and hiragana are both kana systems. With one or two minor exceptions, each syllable (strictly mora) in the Japanese language is represented by one character or kana, in each system. Each kana represents either a vowel such as "a" (katakana ア); a consonant followed by a vowel such as "ka" (katakana カ); or "n" (katakana ン), a nasal sonorant which, depending on the context, sounds either like English m, n or ng ([ŋ]) or like the nasal vowels of Portuguese.

In contrast to the hiragana syllabary, which is used for Japanese words not covered by kanji and for grammatical inflections, the katakana syllabary usage is quite similar to italics in English; specifically, it is used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words (collectively gairaigo); for emphasis; to represent onomatopoeia; for technical and scientific terms; and for names of plants, animals, minerals and often Japanese companies.

Katakana are characterized by short, straight strokes and sharp corners. There are two main systems of ordering katakana: the old-fashioned iroha ordering and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.

Korean language

The Korean language (South Korean: 한국어/韓國語 Hangugeo; North Korean: 조선말/朝鮮말 Chosŏnmal) is an East Asian language spoken by about 77 million people. It is a member of the Koreanic language family and is the official and national language of both Koreas: North Korea and South Korea, with different standardized official forms used in each country. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Changbai Korean Autonomous County of Jilin province, China. It is also spoken in parts of Sakhalin, Ukraine and Central Asia.Historical and modern linguists classify Korean as a language isolate; however, it does have a few extinct relatives, which together with Korean itself and the Jeju language (spoken in the Jeju Province and considered somewhat distinct) form the Koreanic language family. The linguistic homeland of Korean is suggested to be somewhere in Manchuria.

Maya script

Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs, was the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica and is the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BCE in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Maya writing was in continuous use throughout Mesoamerica until the Spanish conquest of the Maya in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Maya writing used logograms complemented with a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing. Maya writing was called "hieroglyphics" or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, to which the Maya writing system is not at all related.

Modern Mayan languages are written using the Latin alphabet rather than Maya script.

Mesoamerican writing systems

Mesoamerica, along with Mesopotamia and China, is among the three known places in the world where writing has thought to have developed independently. Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are a combination of logographic and syllabic values. They are often called hieroglyphs due to the iconic shapes of many of the glyphs, a pattern superficially similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs. Fifteen examples of distinct writing systems have been identified in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, many from a single inscription. The limits of archaeological dating methods make it difficult to establish which was the earliest and hence the fore-bearer from which the others developed. The best documented and deciphered Mesoamerican writing system, and the most widely known, is the classic Maya script. An extensive Mesoamerican literature has been conserved partly in indigenous scripts and partly in the postconquest transcriptions in the Latin script.

Moon type

The Moon System of Embossed Reading (commonly known as the Moon writing, Moon alphabet, Moon script, Moon type, or Moon code) is a writing system for the blind, using embossed symbols mostly derived from the Latin script (but simplified). It is claimed by its supporters to be easier to understand than Braille, though it is mainly used by people who have lost their sight as adults, and thus already have knowledge of the shapes of letters.

Numeral system

A numeral system (or system of numeration) is a writing system for expressing numbers; that is, a mathematical notation for representing numbers of a given set, using digits or other symbols in a consistent manner.

The same sequence of symbols may represent different numbers in different numeral systems. For example, "11" represents the number eleven in the decimal numeral system (used in common life), the number three in the binary numeral system (used in computers), and the number two in the unary numeral system (e.g. used in tallying scores).

The number the numeral represents is called its value.

Ideally, a numeral system will:

Represent a useful set of numbers (e.g. all integers, or rational numbers)

Give every number represented a unique representation (or at least a standard representation)

Reflect the algebraic and arithmetic structure of the numbers.For example, the usual decimal representation of whole numbers gives every nonzero whole number a unique representation as a finite sequence of digits, beginning with a non-zero digit. However, when decimal representation is used for the rational or real numbers, such numbers, in general, have an infinite number of representations, for example 2.31 can also be written as 2.310, 2.3100000, 2.309999999..., etc., all of which have the same meaning except for some scientific and other contexts where greater precision is implied by a larger number of figures shown.

Numeral systems are sometimes called number systems, but that name is ambiguous, as it could refer to different systems of numbers, such as the system of real numbers, the system of complex numbers, the system of p-adic numbers, etc. Such systems are, however, not the topic of this article.

Pegon script

Pegon is an Arabic script used to write the Javanese and Sundanese languages, as an alternative to the Latin script or the Javanese script and the old Sundanese script. In particular, it was used for religious (Islamic) writing and poetry from the fifteenth century, particularly in writing commentaries of the Qur'an. Pegon includes symbols for sounds that are not present in Modern Standard Arabic. Pegon has been studied far less than its Jawi counterpart for Malay, Acehnese, and Minangkabau.

Syllabary

A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words.

A symbol in a syllabary, called a syllabogram, typically represents an (optional) consonant sound (simple onset) followed by a vowel sound (nucleus)—that is, a CV or V syllable—but other phonographic mappings such as CVC, CV- tone, and C (normally nasals at the end of syllables) are also found in syllabaries.

Undeciphered writing systems

Many undeciphered writing systems date from several thousand years BC, though some more modern examples do exist. The term "writing systems" is used here loosely to refer to groups of glyphs which appear to have representational symbolic meaning, but which may include "systems" that are largely artistic in nature and are thus not examples of actual writing.

The difficulty in deciphering these systems can arise from a lack of known language descendants or from the languages being entirely isolated, from insufficient examples of text having been found and even (such as in the case of Vinča) from the question of whether the symbols actually constitute a writing system at all. Some researchers have claimed to be able to decipher certain writing systems, such as those of Epi-Olmec, Phaistos and Indus texts; but to date, these claims have not been widely accepted within the scientific community, or confirmed by independent researchers, for the writing systems listed here (unless otherwise specified).

Writing

Writing is a medium of human communication that represents language and emotion with signs and symbols. In most languages, writing is a complement to speech or spoken language. Writing is not a language, but a tool used to make languages be read. Within a language system, writing relies on many of the same structures as speech, such as vocabulary, grammar, and semantics, with the added dependency of a system of signs or symbols. The result of writing is called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader. Motivations for writing include publication, storytelling, correspondence, record keeping and diary. Writing has been instrumental in keeping history, maintaining culture, dissemination of knowledge through the media and the formation of legal systems.

As human societies emerged, the development of writing was driven by pragmatic exigencies such as exchanging information, maintaining financial accounts, codifying laws and recording history. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia outgrew human memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form. In both ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica, writing may have evolved through calendric and a political necessity for recording historical and environmental events.

Writing systems
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Types of writing systems
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