Written language

A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will pick up spoken language (oral or sign) by exposure even if they are not specifically taught.

A written language exists only as a complement to a specific spoken language, and no natural language is purely written.

A Specimen by William Caslon
A Specimen of typeset fonts and languages, by William Caslon, letter founder; from the 1728 Cyclopaedia.

Compared to spoken language

Written languages change more slowly than corresponding spoken languages. When at least one register of a language is strongly divergent from spoken language, the resulting situation is called diglossia. However, that is still often considered one language between literary language and other registers, especially if the writing system reflects its pronunciation.

Native readers and writers of English are often unaware that the complexities of English spelling make written English a somewhat artificial construct. The traditional spelling of English, at least for inherited words, preserves a late Middle English phonology that is never used as a speech dialect. The artificial preservation of that form of the language, in writing, might make much of what is now written intelligible to Geoffrey Chaucer (1343–1400) even if the medieval writer's speech could no longer be understood.

See also

Further reading

  • Ankerl, Guy (2000). Global communication without universal civilization. INU societal research. Vol.1: Coexisting contemporary civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Geneva: INU Press. pp. 59–66, 235–236. ISBN 2-88155-004-5.

10 (ten) is an even natural number following 9 and preceding 11. Ten is the base of the decimal numeral system, by far the most common system of denoting numbers in both spoken and written language. The reason for the choice of ten is assumed to be that humans have ten fingers (digits).


Arabic (Arabic: العَرَبِيَّة‎) al-ʻarabiyyah [alʕaraˈbijːa] (listen) or (Arabic: عَرَبِيّ‎) ʻarabī [ˈʕarabiː] (listen) or Arabic pronunciation: [ʕaraˈbij]) is a Central Semitic language that first emerged in Iron Age northwestern Arabia and is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in northwestern Arabia, and in the Sinai Peninsula. Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is derived from Classical Arabic.

As the modern written language, Modern Standard Arabic is widely taught in schools and universities, and is used to varying degrees in workplaces, government, and the media. The two formal varieties are grouped together as Literary Arabic (fuṣḥā), which is the official language of 26 states, and the liturgical language of Islam. Modern Standard Arabic largely follows the grammatical standards of Classical Arabic, and uses much of the same vocabulary. However, it has discarded some grammatical constructions and vocabulary that no longer have any counterpart in the spoken varieties, and has adopted certain new constructions and vocabulary from the spoken varieties. Much of the new vocabulary is used to denote concepts that have arisen in the post-classical era, especially in modern times. Due to its grounding in Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic is removed over a millennium from everyday speech, which is construed as a multitude of dialects of this language. These dialects and Modern Standard Arabic are described by some scholars as not mutually comprehensible. The former are usually acquired in families, while the latter is taught in formal education settings. However, there have been studies reporting some degree of comprehension of stories told in the standard variety among preschool-aged children. The relation between Modern Standard Arabic and these dialects is sometimes compared to that of Latin and vernaculars (or today's French, Czech or German) in medieval and early modern Europe. This view though does not take into account the widespread use of Modern Standard Arabic as a medium of audiovisual communication in today's mass media—a function Latin has never performed.

During the Middle Ages, Literary Arabic was a major vehicle of culture in Europe, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy. As a result, many European languages have also borrowed many words from it. Arabic influence, mainly in vocabulary, is seen in European languages, mainly Spanish and to a lesser extent Portuguese, and Catalan, owing to both the proximity of Christian European and Muslim Arab civilizations and 800 years of Arabic culture and language in the Iberian Peninsula, referred to in Arabic as al-Andalus. Sicilian has about 500 Arabic words as result of Sicily being progressively conquered by Arabs from North Africa, from the mid-9th to mid-10th centuries. Many of these words relate to agriculture and related activities. Balkan languages, including Greek and Bulgarian, have also acquired a significant number of Arabic words through contact with Ottoman Turkish.

Arabic has influenced many languages around the globe throughout its history. Some of the most influenced languages are Persian, Turkish, Spanish, Urdu, Kashmiri, Kurdish, Bosnian, Kazakh, Bengali, Hindi, Malay, Maldivian, Indonesian, Pashto, Punjabi, Tagalog, Sindhi, and Hausa, and some languages in parts of Africa. Conversely, Arabic has borrowed words from other languages, including Greek and Persian in medieval times, and contemporary European languages such as English and French in modern times.

Classical Arabic is the liturgical language of 1.8 billion Muslims, and Modern Standard Arabic is one of six official languages of the United Nations. All varieties of Arabic combined are spoken by perhaps as many as 422 million speakers (native and non-native) in the Arab world, making it the fifth most spoken language in the world. Arabic is written with the Arabic alphabet, which is an abjad script and is written from right to left, although the spoken varieties are sometimes written in ASCII Latin from left to right with no standardized orthography.


Bokmål (literally "book tongue") is an official written standard for the Norwegian language, alongside Nynorsk. Bokmål is the preferred written standard of Norwegian for 85% to 90% of the population in Norway. Unlike for instance the Italian language, there is no nationwide standard or agreement on the pronunciation of Bokmål.

Bokmål is regulated by the governmental Norwegian Language Council. A more conservative orthographic standard, commonly known as Riksmål, is regulated by the non-governmental Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature. The written standard is a Norwegianised variety of the Danish language.

The first Bokmål orthography was officially adopted in 1907 under the name Riksmål after being under development since 1879. The architects behind the reform were Marius Nygaard and Jacob Jonathan Aars. It was an adaptation of written Danish, which was commonly used since the past union with Denmark, to the Dano-Norwegian koiné spoken by the Norwegian urban elite, especially in the capital. When the large conservative newspaper Aftenposten adopted the 1907 orthography in 1923, Danish writing was practically out of use in Norway. The name Bokmål was officially adopted in 1929 after a proposition to call the written language Dano-Norwegian lost by a single vote in the Lagting (a chamber in the Norwegian parliament).The government does not regulate spoken Bokmål and recommends that normalised pronunciation should follow the phonology of the speaker's local dialect. Nevertheless, there is a spoken variety of Norwegian that, in the region of South-Eastern Norway, is commonly seen as the de facto standard for spoken Bokmål. In The Phonology of Norwegian, Gjert Kristoffersen writes that

Bokmål [...] is in its most common variety looked upon as reflecting formal middle-class urban speech, especially that found in the eastern part of Southern Norway [sic], with the capital Oslo as the obvious centre. One can therefore say that Bokmål has a spoken realisation that one might call an unofficial standard spoken Norwegian. It is in fact often referred to as Standard Østnorsk ('Standard East Norwegian').

Standard Østnorsk (Standard East Norwegian) is the pronunciation most commonly given in dictionaries and taught to foreigners in Norwegian language classes. Standard Østnorsk as a spoken language is not used and does not have any particular prestige outside South-Eastern Norway. All spoken variations of the Norwegian language are used e.g. in the Storting and in Norwegian national broadcasters such as NRK and TV 2, even in cases where the conventions of Bokmål are used. The spoken variation typically reflects the region the person grew up in.

Eggon language

Eggon (also Egon, Ero, Mo Egon, Hill Mada or Mada Eggon) ,formerly a Plateau language spoken in central Nigeria. It is a major language in Nasarawa State.

Flemish people

The Flemish or Flemings (Dutch: Vlamingen; Dutch pronunciation: [vlaːmɪŋɛn] (listen)) are a Germanic ethnic group native to Flanders, in modern Belgium, who speak Flemish, but mostly use the Dutch written language. They are one of two principal ethnic groups in Belgium, the other being the French-speaking Walloons. Flemish people make up the majority of the Belgian population (about 60%). Historically, all inhabitants of the medieval County of Flanders were referred to as "Flemings", irrespective of the language spoken. The contemporary region of Flanders comprises a part of this historical county, as well as parts of the medieval duchy of Brabant and the medieval county of Loon.


In typography, a glyph is an elemental symbol within an agreed set of symbols, intended to represent a readable character for the purposes of writing. Glyphs are considered to be unique marks that collectively add up to the spelling of a word or contribute to a specific meaning of what is written, with that meaning dependent on cultural and social usage.

Ipili language

Ipili is an Engan language of the East New Guinea Highlands in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.

There are two dialects, Porgera-Paiela and Tipinini. The latter is similar to Enga.

Missionary Terrance Borchard guided translation of the New Testament in the Paiela dialect. Working with the Ipili tribe they developed an alphabet and written language, previously spoken. He began the work in 1969 until his death in Aug. 2014.

Literacy work resulted.


Medefaidrin (Medefidrin), or Obɛri Ɔkaimɛ, is an artificial language and script created as a Christian sacred language by an Ibibio congregation in 1930s Nigeria. It has its roots in glossolalia ('speaking in tongues').

Speakers consider Medefaidrin to be a 'spirit language'. It was created by two leaders of the church, Michael Ukpong and Akpan Akpan Udofia. They report that the Holy Spirit revealed the words of the language to Ukpong, while Udofia wrote them down. At the time Ibibio was not a written language, and Udofia created a script to write Medefaidrin.

After finalizing the language in 1936, members of the church started a school in which children were instructed in Medefaidrin. This was not tolerated by the British colonial government, who closed the school that same year. Nonetheless, the language continued to be used for church activities, including liturgy and hymns, and for letters and written contracts between members. The language faded from use, but in 1986 Udofia began teaching it again in the church's Sunday school in Ididep. Old manuscripts in the script are in poor condition, and in the 21st century there has been some effort to preserve them.

In structure, the language is largely a relexification of English, though the semantics are closer to the native language of its users, Ibibio. Medefaidrin is a stress-accented rather than tonal language, though this may be changing under Ibibio influence. There are several consonant clusters that do not exist in English. (Ibibio has no consonant clusters.) The definite article is dei, and several prepositions alliterate or rhyme with their English equivalents: su "to", fra "from", nai "by", kin "in". Most words, however, resemble nothing in English or Ibibio, but appear to have been created without a specific underlying system. The morphology is not highly developed, but a few elements have been taken from English, such as the plural in -s (z?). The vigesimal numbering system, however, and the calendar, reflect Ibibio norms. The calendar year contains sixteen four-week months.The script has upper- and lower-case letters like the English alphabet, but the letters were invented and there is no systematic relationship between glyph and sound. There are a number of arbitrary digraphs, whose pronunciation cannot be determined from their component letters, again as in English.


The past is the set of all events that occurred before a given point in time. The past is contrasted with and defined by the present and the future. The concept of the past is derived from the linear fashion in which human observers experience time, and is accessed through memory and recollection. In addition, human beings have recorded the past since the advent of written language. The first known use of the word "past" was in the fourteenth century; it developed as the past participle of the middle english verb passen meaning "to pass."

Placeholder name

Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown in the context in which they are being discussed.

Russian manual alphabet

The Russian Manual Alphabet (RMA) is used for fingerspelling in Russian sign language.Like many other manual alphabets, the Russian Manual Alphabet bears similarities to the French Manual Alphabet. However, it was adapted to account for the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet found in the Russian written language. It is a one-handed alphabet. RMA includes 33 hand gestures, each of which corresponds to one letter in the Russian alphabet. There are no signs denoting punctuation or capitalization.In 2015, researchers at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia developed a software–hardware system that converted RMA gestures into textual form.


Semantics (from Ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, "significant") is the linguistic and philosophical study of meaning, in language, programming languages, formal logics, and semiotics. It is concerned with the relationship between signifiers—like words, phrases, signs, and symbols—and what they stand for in reality, their denotation.

In international scientific vocabulary semantics is also called semasiology. The word semantics was first used by Michel Bréal, a French philologist. It denotes a range of ideas—from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language for denoting a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection or connotation. This problem of understanding has been the subject of many formal enquiries, over a long period of time, especially in the field of formal semantics. In linguistics, it is the study of the interpretation of signs or symbols used in agents or communities within particular circumstances and contexts. Within this view, sounds, facial expressions, body language, and proxemics have semantic (meaningful) content, and each comprises several branches of study. In written language, things like paragraph structure and punctuation bear semantic content; other forms of language bear other semantic content.The formal study of semantics intersects with many other fields of inquiry, including lexicology, syntax, pragmatics, etymology and others. Independently, semantics is also a well-defined field in its own right, often with synthetic properties. In the philosophy of language, semantics and reference are closely connected. Further related fields include philology, communication, and semiotics. The formal study of semantics can therefore be manifold and complex.

Semantics contrasts with syntax, the study of the combinatorics of units of a language (without reference to their meaning), and pragmatics, the study of the relationships between the symbols of a language, their meaning, and the users of the language. Semantics as a field of study also has significant ties to various representational theories of meaning including truth theories of meaning, coherence theories of meaning, and correspondence theories of meaning. Each of these is related to the general philosophical study of reality and the representation of meaning. In 1960s psychosemantic studies became popular after Osgood's massive cross-cultural studies using his semantic differential (SD) method that used thousands of nouns and adjective bipolar scales. A specific form of the SD, Projective Semantics method uses only most common and neutral nouns that correspond to the 7 groups (factors) of adjective-scales most consistently found in cross-cultural studies (Evaluation, Potency, Activity as found by Osgood, and Reality, Organization, Complexity, Limitation as found in other studies). In this method, seven groups of bipolar adjective scales corresponded to seven types of nouns so the method was thought to have the object-scale symmetry (OSS) between the scales and nouns for evaluation using these scales. For example, the nouns corresponding to the listed 7 factors would be: Beauty, Power, Motion, Life, Work, Chaos, Law. Beauty was expected to be assessed unequivocally as “very good” on adjectives of Evaluation-related scales, Life as “very real” on Reality-related scales, etc. However, deviations in this symmetric and very basic matrix might show underlying biases of two types: scales-related bias and objects-related bias. This OSS design meant to increase the sensitivity of the SD method to any semantic biases in responses of people within the same culture and educational background.


Speech is human vocal communication using language. Each language uses phonetic combinations of a limited set of perfectly articulated and individualized vowel and consonant sounds that form the sound of its words (that is, all English words sound different from all French words, even if they are the same word, e.g., "role" or "hotel"), and using those words in their semantic character as words in the lexicon of a language according to the syntactic constraints that govern lexical words' function in a sentence. In speaking, speakers perform many different intentional speech acts, e.g., informing, declaring, asking, persuading, directing, and can use enunciation, intonation, degrees of loudness, tempo, and other non-representational or paralinguistic aspects of vocalization to convey meaning. In their speech speakers also unintentionally communicate many aspects of their social position such as sex, age, place of origin (through accent), physical states (alertness and sleepiness, vigor or weakness, health or illness), psychic states (emotions or moods), physico-psychic states (sobriety or drunkenness, normal consciousness and trance states), education or experience, and the like.

Although people ordinarily use speech in dealing with other persons (or animals), when people swear they do not always mean to communicate anything to anyone, and sometimes in expressing urgent emotions or desires they use speech as a quasi-magical cause, as when they encourage a player in a game to do or warn them not to do something. There are also many situations in which people engage in solitary speech. People talk to themselves sometimes in acts that are a development of what some psychologists (e.g., Lev Vygotsky) have maintained is the use in thinking of silent speech in an interior monologue to vivify and organize cognition, sometimes in the momentary adoption of a dual persona as self addressing self as though addressing another person. Solo speech can be used to memorize or to test one's memorization of things, and in prayer or in meditation (e.g., the use of a mantra).

Researchers study many different aspects of speech: speech production and speech perception of the sounds used in a language, speech repetition, speech errors, the ability to map heard spoken words onto the vocalizations needed to recreate them, which plays a key role in children's enlargement of their vocabulary, and what different areas of the human brain, such as Broca's area and Wernicke's area, underlie speech. Speech is the subject of study for linguistics, cognitive science, communication studies, psychology, computer science, speech pathology, otolaryngology, and acoustics.

Speech compares with written language, which may differ in its vocabulary, syntax, and phonetics from the spoken language, a situation called diglossia.

The evolutionary origins of speech are unknown and subject to much debate and speculation. While animals also communicate using vocalizations, and trained apes such as Washoe and Kanzi can use simple sign language, no animals' vocalizations are articulated phonemically and syntactically, and do not constitute speech.

Spoken language

A spoken language is a language produced by articulate sounds, as opposed to a written language. Many languages have no written form and so are only spoken. An oral language or vocal language is a language produced with the vocal tract, as opposed to a sign language, which is produced with the hands and face. The term "spoken language" is sometimes used to mean only vocal languages, especially by linguists, making all three terms synonyms by excluding sign languages. Others refer to sign language as "spoken", especially in contrast to written transcriptions of signs.In spoken language, much of the meaning is determined by the context. That contrasts with written language in which more of the meaning is provided directly by the text. In spoken language, the truth of a proposition is determined by common-sense reference to experience, but in written language, a greater emphasis is placed on logical and coherent argument. Similarly, spoken language tends to convey subjective information, including the relationship between the speaker and the audience, whereas written language tends to convey objective information.The relationship between spoken language and written language is complex. Within the field of linguistics the current consensus is that speech is an innate human capability, and written language is a cultural invention. However some linguists, such as those of the Prague school, argue that written and spoken language possess distinct qualities which would argue against written language being dependent on spoken language for its existence.Both vocal and sign languages are composed of words. In vocal languages, words are made up from a limited set of vowels and consonants, and often tone. In sign languages, words are made up from a limited set of shapes, orientations, locations movements of the hands, and often facial expressions; in both cases, the building blocks are called phonemes. In both vocal and sign languages, words are grammatically and prosodically linked into phrases, clauses, and larger units of discourse.

Hearing children acquire as their first language the language that is used around them, whether vocal, cued (if they are sighted) signed. Deaf children can do the same with Cued Speech or sign language if either visual communication system is used around them. Vocal language are traditionally taught to them in the same way that written language must be taught to hearing children. (See oralism.)

Standard German

Standard German, High German, or more precisely Standard High German, (German: Standarddeutsch, Hochdeutsch, or in Swiss Standard German Schriftdeutsch), is the standardized variety of the German language used in formal contexts, and for communication between different dialect areas. It is a pluricentric Dachsprache with three codified (or "standardized") specific regional variants: German Standard German, Austrian Standard German, and Swiss Standard German.

Regarding the spelling and punctuation, a recommended standard is published by the Council for German Orthography (formed in 2004) which represents the governments of all majority and minority German-speaking countries and dependencies. Adherence is obligatory not for everyday use but for government institutions including schools. For pronunciation, there is no official standards body but there is a long-standing de facto standard pronunciation ("Bühnendeutsch"), most commonly used in formal speech and teaching materials; it is similar to the formal German spoken in and around Hanover. Adherence to those standards by private individuals and companies, including the print and audio-visual media, is voluntary but widespread.

Tibetan script

The Tibetan script is an abugida used to write the Tibetic languages such as Tibetan, as well as Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Ladakhi, and sometimes Balti. The printed form is called uchen script while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umê script.

The script is closely linked to a broad ethnic Tibetan identity, spanning across areas in Tibet, Bhutan, India, Nepal. The Tibetan script is of Indic origin and it is ancestral to the Limbu script, the Lepcha script, and the multilingual 'Phags-pa script.

Tswana language

The Tswana language or Setswana is spoken in Southern Africa by about five million people. It is a Bantu language belonging to the Niger–Congo language family within the Sotho-Tswana branch of Zone S (S.30), and is closely related to the Northern and Southern Sotho languages, as well as the Kgalagadi language and the Lozi language.

Tswana is an official language and lingua franca of Botswana. The majority of Tswana-speakers are found in the north of South Africa, where four million people speak the language and an urbanised variety which is part slang and not the formal Setswana, known as Pretoria Tswana, is the principal language of that city. The three South African provinces with the most speakers are Gauteng (circa 11%) and Northern Cape

and North West (over 70%). Until 1994, South African Tswana people were notionally citizens of Bophuthatswana, one of the bantustans of the apartheid regime. The Setswana language in the Northwest Province has variations in which it is spoken according to the tribes found in the Tswana culture [Bakgatla, Barolong, Bakwena, Batlhaping, Bahurutshe, Bafokeng to name a few] the written language remains the same. Although Tswana is spoken mostly in South Africa and Botswana, a small number of speakers are also found in Zimbabwe and Namibia; respectively, an unknown number of people and about 10,000 people speak the language there.

World Orthography

The World Orthography (WO) is an alphabet and transcription system based on the Africa Alphabet and the International Phonetic Alphabet. In Daniel Jones’s 1948 Difference between Spoken and Written Language, an adaptation of WO for English is given with the letters a b c d ð e ə f g h i j k l m n ŋ o p r s ʃ t θ u v w x y z ʒ. The capitals of ð, ə, ŋ, ʃ, θ, and ʒ are: Ð (shaped like Ƌ), Ə, the Ŋ (shaped like large ŋ), Ʃ (shaped like sigma Σ), Θ, and straight-bottomed Ʒ (shaped like reversed sigma).

Written Chinese

Written Chinese (Chinese: 中文; pinyin: zhōngwén) comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Rather, the writing system is roughly logosyllabic; that is, a character generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation. Literacy requires the memorization of a great many characters: educated Chinese know about 4,000. The large number of Chinese characters has in part led to the adoption of Western alphabets as an auxiliary means of representing Chinese.Various current Chinese characters have been traced back to the late Shang Dynasty about 1200–1050 BC, but the process of creating characters is thought to have begun some centuries earlier. After a period of variation and evolution, Chinese characters were standardized under the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). Over the millennia, these characters have evolved into well-developed styles of Chinese calligraphy. As the varieties of Chinese diverged, a situation of diglossia developed, with speakers of mutually unintelligible varieties able to communicate through writing using Classical Chinese. In the early 20th century, Classical Chinese was replaced in this role by written vernacular Chinese, corresponding to the standard spoken language ("Mandarin"). Although most other varieties of Chinese are not written, there are traditions of written Cantonese, written Shanghainese and written Hokkien, among others.

Some Chinese characters have been adopted into writing systems of other neighbouring East Asian languages, but are currently used only in Japanese and to a lesser extent in Korean, as Vietnamese is now written using alphabetic script.

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