List of writing systems

This is a list of writing systems (or scripts), classified according to some common distinguishing features. There are about 4,000 languages that make use of an established writing system.[1]

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

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.[2] 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 and Asemic writing also incorporate ideograms.

Logographic writing systems

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

Note that no logographic script is 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

Syllable-based logographies


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

Semi-syllabaries: Partly syllabic, partly alphabetic scripts

In most of these systems, some consonant-vowel combinations are written as syllables, but others are written as consonant plus vowel. In the case of Old Persian, all vowels were written regardless, so it was effectively a true alphabet despite its syllabic component. In Japanese a similar system plays a minor role in foreign borrowings; for example, [tu] is written [to]+[u], and [ti] as [te]+[i]. Paleohispanic semi-syllabaries behaved as a syllabary for the stop consonants and as an alphabet for the rest of consonants and vowels. The Tartessian or Southwestern script is typologically intermediate between a pure alphabet and the Paleohispanic full semi-syllabaries. Although the letter used to write a stop consonant was determined by the following vowel, as in a full semi-syllabary, the following vowel was also written, as in an alphabet. Some scholars treat Tartessian as a redundant semi-syllabary, others treat it as a redundant alphabet. Zhuyin is semi-syllabic in a different sense: it transcribes half syllables. That is, it has letters for syllable onsets and rimes (kan = "k-an") rather than for consonants and vowels (kan = "k-a-n").

Segmental scripts

A segmental script has graphemes which represent the phonemes (basic unit of sound) of a language.

Note that there need not be (and rarely is) a one-to-one correspondence between the graphemes of the script and the phonemes of a language. A phoneme may be represented only by some combination or string of graphemes, the same phoneme may be represented by more than one distinct grapheme, the same grapheme may stand for more than one phoneme, or some combination of all of the above.

Segmental scripts may be further divided according to the types of phonemes they typically record:


An abjad is a segmental script containing symbols for consonants only, or where vowels are optionally written with diacritics ("pointing") or only written word-initially.

True alphabets

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

Linear nonfeatural alphabets

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

Featural linear alphabets

A featural script has elements that indicate the components of articulation, such as bilabial consonants, fricatives, or back vowels. Scripts differ in how many features they indicate.

Linear alphabets arranged into syllabic blocks

Manual alphabets

Manual alphabets are frequently found as parts of sign languages. They are not used for writing per se, but for spelling out words while signing.

Other non-linear alphabets

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 alphasyllabary regardless of whether the vowels look like diacritics or full letters. The vast majority of alphasyllabaries are found from India to Southeast Asia and belong historically to the Brāhmī family. The term abugida 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.

Alphasyllabary of the Brāhmī family

Other abugidas

Final consonant-diacritic abugidas

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

Vowel-based abugidas

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 scripts by adoption

Name of script Type Number of characters Population actively using (in millions) Languages associated with Regions with predominant usage
Alphabet 23 (classical)[5] 6120+[note 2] Latin and Romance languages (Italian, French, Franco-Provençal, Occitan, Catalan, Portuguese, Galician, Spanish, Rhaeto-Romance languages, Sardinian and Romanian), Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Nordic languages), Chinese (Mandarin Pinyin), Austronesian languages (Indonesian, Filipino, Malay, Polynesian languages), West and Southwest Slavic languages (including Polish), Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian), Niger-Congo languages (including Swahili, Yoruba, and Zulu), Turkish, Somali, Albanian, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Maltese, Finnic (including Estonian and Finnish) and Sami languages, others Worldwide
Logographic >50,000[6] 1340[note 3] Mandarin, Yue, Wu, Gan, Min, Hakka, Xiang, Jin, Pinghua, Huizhou and other Chinese languages (Chinese characters), Japanese (Kanji), Korean (Hanja),[note 4] Vietnamese (Chu Nom), Zhuang (Sawndip), Okinawan (Okinawan), Mulam China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia (Chinese Malaysians), Japan, South Korea, Indonesia (Chinese Indonesians), Hong Kong
Abugida 44[7] 820+[note 5] Angika, Awadhi, Bhili, Bhojpuri, Bodo, Chhattisgarhi, Dogri, Haryanvi, Hindi, Kashmiri, Konkani, Magahi, Maithili, Marathi, Mundari, Nepali, Newar, Pali, Rajasthani, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, others India (native in Hindi Belt, Goa, Maharashtra), Nepal
Abjad 28[8] 660+ Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Malayan (Jawi), Acehnese (Jawi), Uyghur, Kazakh (in China), Kurdish, Azeri (in Iran), Javanese (Pegon), Sundanese (Pegon), others Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan, India (7 states), China (Xinjiang), Brunei (co-official with Latin), Malaysia, Indonesia (religious uses only)
Abugida 28[10] 300[11] Sanskrit, Bengali, Assamese, Kokborok, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Khasi,[12] Meitei Manipuri, Hajong, Chakma,[13] Maithili (historical use), Angika (historical use), Sylheti and others. Bangladesh, and India (West Bengal, Mizoram, Jharkhand, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Andaman and Nicobar Islands)
Alphabet 33 (Russian)[14] 250 Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Macedonian, Belarusian, Kazakh, others Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Mongolia, the Russian Far East
Syllabary 46[15] 120[note 6] Japanese, Okinawan, Ainu, Palauan, other Japonic languages Japan
Abugida 53[16] 80[note 7] Javanese, Cirebonese, Madurese, Sundanese Indonesia (Central Java, East Java, Special Region of Yogyakarta, Cirebon, Cirebon Regency, Indramayu Regency), Javanese diaspora
Alphabet, featural 24[17] 78.7[note 8] Korean, Cia-Cia, Jeju North Korea, South Korea, and Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China, Indonesia (Baubau)
Abugida 60[18] 74[note 9] Telugu, Sanskrit, Gondi Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry (India)
Abugida 30 70[note 10][note 11] Tamil, Kanikkaran, Badaga, Irula, Paniya Tamil Nadu (India), Puducherry (India), Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius
Abugida 47[19] 48[note 12] Gujarati, Kutchi, Avestan, Bhili, Bhilori, Gamit, Chowdhary, Kukna, Bhili, Varli, Vasavi India,[note 13] Pakistan[note 14]
Abugida 51 (or 50 or 49)[20] 45[note 15] Kannada, Tulu, Kodava, Badaga, Beary, Sanketi, Konkani, Sanskrit Karnataka (India)
Abugida 26[21] 39[note 16] Burmese, Pali, Sanskrit Myanmar
Abugida 51[22] 38[note 17] Malayalam, Sanskrit, Paniya, Betta Kurumba, Ravula Kerala, Puducherry (India)
Abugida 68[23] 38[note 18] Thai, Northern Thai, Southern Thai, Northern Khmer, and Isan, Kelantan-Pattani Malay, Pali, Sanskrit, others Thailand
Abugida 44[24] 38[note 19] Sundanese, Bantenese, Baduy West Java and Banten (Indonesia)
Zhuyin Fuhao (a.k.a. Bopomofo)
ㄓㄨㄧㄣ ㄈㄨˊㄏㄠˋ
Alphabet, Semisyllabary 37 (plus four tone marks) 23 A phonetic transcription system used in Taiwan for Mandarin Chinese, studied mainly by schoolchildren. Taiwan
Abugida 35[25] 22[note 20] Sanskrit, Punjabi, Sant Bhasha, Sindhi Punjab (India)
Abugida 64[26] 21[note 21] Odia, others Odisha (India)
Abugida 30[27] 18[note 22] Ethiopian Semitic languages, Blin, Meʻen, Oromo, Anuak Ethiopia, Eritrea
Abugida 58[28] 14.4[note 23] Sinhala, Vedda Sri Lanka
Abjad 22[29] 14[note 24] Hebrew, Yiddish, other Jewish languages Israel
Alphabet 24[30] 13.4 Greek, others Greece, Cyprus, Southern Albania;
Alphabet 39[31] 12 Armenian, Lomavren Armenia
Abugida 35[32] 11.4[note 25] Khmer, Pali, others Cambodia


Abugida 20 (Toba Batak)[33] 8.5 Batak languages North Sumatra (Indonesia)
Abugida 23[34] 7.6 Buginese, Makassar, Mandar Indonesia (South Sulawesi and West Sulawesi)


Abugida 18 (basic)[35] 6 Balinese and Sasak (modified) Indonesia (Bali and Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara)
Abugida 30[36] 5 Tibetan, Dzongkha, Ladakhi, Sikkimese, Balti, Tamang, Sherpa, Yolmo, Tshangla Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Bhutan, and India (Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh)
Alphabet 33[37] 4.5 Georgian and other Kartvelian languages Georgia
Modern Yi
Syllabary 1165[38] 4 Nuosu Yi, other Yi languages Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture and Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture of China
Abugida 26[39] 2[note 26] Lao, Isan, others Laos
Alphabet 26[40] 2 Mongolian, Manchu (Manchu), Evenki (experimentally) China (Inner Mongolia)
Abjad 33[41] 1 Berber languages North Africa
Tai Le


Abugida 35[42] 0.72 Tai Nüa Yunnan (China)
New Tai Lue


Abugida 83[43] 0.55 Tai Lü Yunnan (China)
Abjad 22[44] 0.4 Syriac, Aramaic, Neo-Aramaic, Suriyani Malayalam, nothers West Asia
Abugida 24[45] 0.35 Maldivian Maldives
Abugida 14 (each of the 14 consonants has 6 modes depending on the vowel)[46] 0.035 Inuktitut, other Inuit languages Canada (North of Tree Line)
Syllabary 86[47] 0.02 Cherokee United States

Undeciphered systems that may be writing

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

A number of manuscripts exist which may be written in an invented writing system, a cipher of an existing writing system or may only be a hoax.


Asemic writing is generally meaningless, though it sometimes contains ideograms or pictograms.

Phonetic alphabets

This section lists alphabets used to transcribe phonetic or phonemic sound; not to be confused with spelling alphabets like the ICAO spelling alphabet.

Special alphabets

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

Tactile alphabets

Alternative alphabets

Fictional writing systems

For animal use

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

For sign languages

See also


  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. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. January 2017 estimate. 2001 census reported that languages with more than 1 million native speakers that use Devanagari had a total number 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 608.95 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.
  6. Based on Japanese population of roughly 120 million and a literacy rate near 100%.
  7. Since around 1945 Javanese script has largely been supplanted by Latin script to write Javanese.
  8. Excluding figures related to North Korea, which does not publish literacy rates.
  9. Based on 67% literacy rate in Andhra Pradesh (according to government estimate) and 74 million Telugu speakers.
  10. Tamil Nadu has an estimated 80% literacy rate and about 72 million Tamil speakers.
  11. Sri Lanka Tamil and Moor population that use Tamil script. 92% literacy
  12. Based on 60.38 million population and 79.31% literacy rate of Gujarat
  13. An estimated 46 million Gujaratis live in India with 11 Gujarati-script newspapers in circulation.
  14. An estimated 1 million Gujaratis live in Pakistan with 2 Gujarati-script newspapers in circulation.
  15. Based on 46 million speakers of Kannada language, Tulu, Konkani, Kodava, Badaga in a state with a 75.6 literacy rate. url=
  16. Based on 42 million speakers of Burmese in a country (Myanmar) with a 92% literacy rate.
  17. Spoken by 38 million people in the world.
  18. Based on 40 million proficient speakers in a country with a 94% literacy rate.
  19. Sundanese is predominantly written using the Latin alphabet. The number of people able to read the Sundanese script is considerably lower than 38 million.
  20. Based on 29 million Eastern Punjabi speakers and 75% literacy rate
  21. Based on 32 million speakers of Odia in a country with a 65% literacy.
  22. Based on 30 million native speakers of Amharic and Tigrinya and a 60% literacy rate.
  23. Based on 15.6 million Sinhala language speakers and a 92% literacy rate in Sri Lanka.
  24. 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.
  25. Based on 15 million Khmer speakers with 73.6% literacy rate.
  26. Based on 3 million speakers of Lao in a country with a 73% literacy.


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