List of writing systems

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Writing systems of the world today.

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; 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[edit]

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.[1] 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.

There are also symbol systems used to represent things other than language, or to represent constructed languages. Some of these are:

Linear B also incorporates ideograms.

Logographic writing systems[edit]

In logographic writing systems, glyphs represent words or morphemes (meaningful components of words, as in mean-ing-ful) rather than phonetic elements.

No logographic script is composed solely of logograms. All contain graphemes that 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 that 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, whereas 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[edit]

Syllable-based logographies[edit]


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

Semi-syllabaries: Partly syllabic, partly alphabetic scripts[edit]

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").

Segmental scripts[edit]

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.

True alphabets[edit]

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

Linear nonfeatural alphabets[edit]

Writing systems used in countries of Europe.[note 1]
  Greek & Latin
  Latin & Cyrillic
  Latin & Armenian

Linear alphabets are composed of lines on a surface, such as ink on paper.

Featural linear alphabets[edit]

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.

Linear alphabets arranged into syllabic blocks[edit]

Manual alphabets[edit]

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.

Other non-linear alphabets[edit]

These are other alphabets composed of something other than lines on a surface.


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, however the term is derived from the first characters of the abugida in Ge'ez: አ (A) ቡ (bu) ጊ (gi) ዳ (da) — (compare with alphabet). Unlike abjads, the diacritical marks and systemic modifications of the consonants are not optional.

Abugidas of the Brāhmī family[edit]

A Palaung manuscript written in a Brahmic abugida

Other abugidas[edit]

Final consonant-diacritic abugidas[edit]

In at least one abugida, not only the vowel but any syllable-final consonant is written with a diacritic. That is, if representing [o] with an under-ring, and final [k] with an over-cross, [sok] would be written as s̥̽.

Vowel-based abugidas[edit]

In a few 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.

List of writing systems by adoption[edit]

Name of script Type Population actively using (in millions) Languages associated with Regions with predominant usage
Alphabet 4900+[2][note 2] Latin[note 3] and Romance languages (languages that evolved from Latin: Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian)
Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Nordic languages)[note 4]
Celtic languages (Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic)[note 5]
Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian)
Some Slavic languages (Polish, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Slovenian)
Uralic languages (Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian)
Malayo-Polynesian languages (Malaysian,[note 6] Indonesian, Filipino, etc.)
Turkic languages (Turkish,[note 7] Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Turkmen)
Some Cushitic languages (Somali, Afar, Oromo)
Bantu languages (for example: Swahili)
Vietnamese (an Austroasiatic language)[note 8]
Logographic 1340[2][note 9] Sinitic languages (Mandarin, Min, Wu, Yue, Jin, Gan, Hakka and others)
Japanese (Kanji)
Korean (Hanja)[note 10]
Vietnamese (Chu Nom obsolete)
Zhuang (Sawndip)
Eastern Asia, Singapore, Malaysia
Abjad or Abugida (when diacritics are used) 660+[2] Arabic (a Semitic language)
Several Indo-Iranian languages (Persian, Kurdish, Urdu, Punjabi (Shahmukhi in Pakistan), Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Kashmiri)
Some Turkic languages (Uyghur, Kazakh (in China), Azeri (in Iran))

Malay (in Brunei)

Middle East and North Africa, Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (Urdu co-official in some states), China (Xinjiang), Brunei (co-official)
Abugida 608+[2][note 11] Several Indo-Iranian languages (Hindi, Marathi, Konkani, Sindhi, Nepali, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Dogri etc.), Sino-Tibetan languages (Bodo, Newari, Sherpa etc.), Mundari (Austroasiatic language)
and others.
India, Nepal, Fiji[note 12]
Abugida 265[3][4] Some Indo-Iranian languages (Assamese, Bengali, Sanskrit, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Maithili, Rangpuri, Sylheti)
Some Sino-Tibetan languages (Meitei (officially called Manipuri), Rabha)
Santali (a Munda language)
Bangladesh and India (West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Andaman and Nicobar Islands)
Alphabet 250[citation needed] The majority of the Slavic languages (Bulgarian and Macedonian, Russian, Serbian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, others). Non-Slavic languages of the former Soviet Union, such as West- and East Caucasian languages (Abkhaz, Chechen, Avar, others), Uralic languages (Karelian, others), Iranian languages (Ossetic, Tajik, others) and Turkic language (Kyrgyz, Tatar, Azeri (formerly), and others). Southeast Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Mongolia, the Russian Far East
Syllabary 120[note 13] Japonic languages (Japanese and Okinawan) and Ainu Japan
Alphabet, featural 78.7[note 14] Korean (a Koreanic language) Korea (North and South), Jilin Province (China)
Abugida 74[note 15] Telugu (a Dravidian language) Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry (India)
Abugida 70[note 16][note 17] Tamil (a Dravidian language) Tamil Nadu (India), Puducherry (India), Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius
Abugida 48[note 18] Some Indo-Iranian languages (Gujarati, Kutchi, Vasavi, Sanskrit, Avestan) India,[note 19] Pakistan[note 20]
Abugida 45[note 21] Kannada (a Dravidian language) Karnataka (India)
Abugida 39[note 22] Burmese (a Lolo-Burmese language) Myanmar
Abugida 38[note 23] Malayalam (a Dravidian language) Kerala, Puducherry (India)
Abugida 38[note 24] Some Tai languages (Thai, Southern Thai and Lao (Isan)) and Northern Khmer (a Austroasiatic language) Thailand
Abugida 22[note 25] Punjabi (an Indo-Iranian language) Punjab (India)
Abugida 22[note 26] Lao (a Tai language) Laos
Abugida 21[note 27] Odia (an Indo-Iranian language) Odisha (India)
Abugida 18[note 28] Some Semitic languages from Ethiopia (Amharic and Tigrinya) Ethiopia, Eritrea
Abugida 14.4[note 29] Sinhalese (an Indo-Iranian language) Sri Lanka
Abjad or Abugida (when diacritics are used) 14[note 30] Hebrew (a Semitic language), Yiddish (a Germanic language) and other Jewish languages Israel, other regions with Jewish populations
Alphabet 12 Armenian Armenia
Abugida 11.4[note 31] Khmer (a Austroasiatic language) Cambodia
Alphabet 11[note 32] Greek (a Hellenic language) Greece, Cyprus, Southern Albania; worldwide for mathematical and scientific purposes
Abugida 5 Tibetic languages (for example: Dzongkha, Ladakhi and Balti) Tibet, Bhutan, India
Alphabet 4.5 Georgian and many other Kartvelian languages Georgia
Alphabet 2 Mongolian (a Mongolic language) Mongolia, Inner Mongolia
ꯃꯩꯇꯩ ꯃꯌꯦꯛ
Abugida 1.8[5] Meitei (officially termed as "Manipuri") (a Sino-Tibetan language) Manipur, Assam (Barak Valley), Tripura, Bangladesh (Sylhet Division), Myanmar (Kabaw Valley)
Abugida 0.66[6][7] Lepcha (a Sino-Tibetan language) Sikkim, India; parts of Nepal and Bhutan
ᑯᖾᖹ ᖿᐟᖻ ᓱᖽᐧᖿ
Abugida 0.54[citation needed] Inuktitut (an Inuit language), some Algonquian languages (Cree, Iyuw Iyimuun, Innu-aimun, Anishinaabemowin, Siksika), some Athabaskan languages (Dakelh, Dene K'e, Denesuline) Canada: Inuit Nunangat (Nunavut, Nunavik), Cree territories, St'aschinuw, Nitassinan, Anishinaabewaki, Denendeh, Blackfoot Country
Abugida 0.35 Maldivian (an Indo-Iranian language) Maldives
Most commonly an alphabet 130+ languages Worldwide

Undeciphered scripts and systems that may be writing[edit]

These 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. 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 many cases it is doubtful that they are actually writing. The Vinča symbols appear to be proto-writing, and quipu may have recorded only numerical information. There are doubts that Indus is writing, and the Phaistos Disc has so little content or context that its nature is undetermined.

Undeciphered manuscripts[edit]

Comparatively recent manuscripts and other texts written in undeciphered (and often unidentified) writing systems; some of these may represent ciphers of known languages or hoaxes.


Asemic writing is a writing-like form of artistic expression that generally lacks a specific semantic meaning, though it sometimes contains ideograms or pictograms.

Phonetic alphabets[edit]

This section lists alphabets used to transcribe phonetic or phonemic sound; not to be confused with spelling alphabets like the ICAO spelling alphabet. Some of these are used for transcription purposes by linguists; others are pedagogical in nature or intended as general orthographic reforms.

Special alphabets[edit]

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

Tactile alphabets[edit]

Manual alphabets[edit]

For example:

Long-Distance Signaling[edit]

Alternative alphabets[edit]

Fictional writing systems[edit]

For animal use[edit]

  • Yerkish uses "lexigrams" to communicate with non-human primates.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This maps shows languages official in the respective countries; if a country has an independent breakaway republic, both languages are shown. Moldova's sole official language is Romanian (Latin-based), but the unrecognized de facto independent republic of Transnistria uses three Cyrillic-based languages: Ukrainian, Russian, and Moldovan. Georgia's official languages are Georgian and Abkhazian (in Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia), the sparsely recognized de facto independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia use Cyrillic-based languages: Both republics use Russian. Additionally, Abkhazia also uses Abkhaz, and South Ossetia uses Ossetian. Azerbaijan's sole official language is Azerbaijani, but the unrecognized de facto independent republic of Nagorno-Karabakh uses Armenian as its sole language. Additionally, Serbia's sole official language is Cyrillic Serbian, but within the country, Latin script for Serbian is also widely used.
  2. ^ Difficult to determine, as it is used to write a very large number of languages with varying literacy rates among them.
  3. ^ alphabet originally created to this language
  4. ^ replaced the runic alphabet
  5. ^ replaced the Ogham
  6. ^ replaced the Arabic alphabet
  7. ^ replaced the Arabic script
  8. ^ replaced the Chu Nom
  9. ^ Based on sum of 1.335 billion PRC citizens with a 92% literacy rate (1.22 billion), and 120 million Japanese Kanji users with a near-100% literacy rate.
  10. ^ Hanja has been banned in North Korea and is increasingly being phased out in South Korea. It is mainly used in official documents, newspapers, books, and signs to identify Chinese roots to Korean words.
  11. ^ January 2017 estimate. 2001 census reported that languages with more than 1 million native speakers that use Devanagari had a total amount of native speakers of 631.5 million. The January 2017 population estimate of India is 1.30 times that of the 2001 census, and it was estimated that the native speakers of Devanagari languages increased by the same proportion, i.e. to 820.95 million. This was multiplied by the literacy rate 74.04% as reported by the 2011 census. Since the literacy rate has increased since 2011 a + sign was added to this figure.
  12. ^ Fiji Hindi is usually written in Latin script, but can be written in Devanagari script.
  13. ^ Based on Japanese population of roughly 120 million and a literacy rate near 100%.
  14. ^ Excluding figures related to North Korea, which does not publish literacy rates.
  15. ^ Based on 61.11% literacy rate in Andhra Pradesh (according to government estimate) and 74 million Telugu speakers.
  16. ^ Tamil Nadu has an estimated 80% literacy rate and about 72 million Tamil speakers.
  17. ^ Sri Lanka Tamil and Moor population that use Tamil script. 92% literacy
  18. ^ Based on 60.38 million population and 79.31% literacy rate of Gujarat
  19. ^ An estimated 46 million Gujaratis live in India with 11 Gujarati-script newspapers in circulation.
  20. ^ An estimated 1 million Gujaratis live in Pakistan with 2 Gujarati-script newspapers in circulation.
  21. ^ Based on 46 million speakers of Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Kodava, Badaga in a state with a 75.6 literacy rate. url=
  22. ^ Based on 42 million speakers of Burmese in a country (Myanmar) with a 92% literacy rate.
  23. ^ Spoken by 38 million people in the world.
  24. ^ Based on 40 million proficient speakers in a country with a 94% literacy rate.
  25. ^ Based on 29 million Eastern Punjabi speakers and 75% literacy rate
  26. ^ Based on 30 million speakers of Lao in a country with a 73% literacy.
  27. ^ Based on 32 million speakers of Odia in a country with a 65% literacy.
  28. ^ Based on 30 million native speakers of Amharic and Tigrinya and a 60% literacy rate.
  29. ^ Based on 15.6 million Sinhalese language speakers and a 92% literacy rate in Sri Lanka.
  30. ^ Hebrew has over 9 million speakers, including other Jewish languages and Jewish population outside Israel, where the Hebrew script is used by Jews for religious purposes worldwide.
  31. ^ Based on 15 million Khmer speakers with 73.6% literacy rate.
  32. ^ Most schoolchildren worldwide and hundreds of millions[citation needed] of scientists, mathematicians and engineers use the Greek alphabet in mathematical/technical notation. See Greek letters used in mathematics, science, and engineering


  1. ^ Halliday, M.A.K., Spoken and written language, Deakin University Press, 1985, p.19
  2. ^ a b c d "The World's 5 Most Commonly Used Writing Systems | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  3. ^ "Bengali alphabet, pronunciation and language".
  4. ^ "Assamese alphabet, pronunciation and alphabet". Retrieved 2020-09-24.
  5. ^ "Meitei". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2023-01-27.
  6. ^ "Lepcha". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
  7. ^ "Statement 1: Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues - 2011". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 2018-07-07.

External links[edit]