Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Writing Systems: Alphabet Abjad Logographic

World writing systems are classified by common distinguishing features. The useful name of the writing system is given first: alphabetic script, abjad script, or logographic script are the three writing systems discussed today.  Each writing system has distinguishing features.

ALPHABETIC : An alphabetic writing system uses letters, (basic sound units), to  represent sounds only without any reference to meaning.  Languages that fall under the alphabetic writing system have alphabets, which are the letters of a language, arranged in the order fixed by custom. The letters represent a phoneme. The alphabets are a system of characters or symbols representing sounds or things. String together letters (phonemes/sounds) and you make words. Words represent concepts and thoughts.

LOGOGRAPHIC: This writing system uses visual symbols to represent words, rather than phonemes to make up the word.

ABJAD: A writing system where symbols represent consonants, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel. The Abjad writing system is very similar to syllabary (syllabary: sets of syllables have values), in which there is one glyph (symbol or letter) for each consonant or consonant sound unit. Some languages that use abjads are Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Urdu. Abjad writing systems have alphabets where vowels are not indicated at all. The vowels are shown by diacritics (marks or symbols above each letter). All Abjad languages (except one) belong to the Semetic Language Family.

What is the difference between alphabetic and logographic writing system? A word such as cat, is represented by three letters C.A.T, each of these letters represents a sound. The sounds come together to make a word. The logographic writing system does not have a letter for every phoneme. When you think about my previous posts (Chinese alphabet, Japanese alphabet, Korean alphabet), technically speaking, these are not alphabets. Logographic writing systems have visual representations of words rather than phonemic representation of words. When you are looking at a Chinese word, keep in mind that you are looking at an image – you are not looking at sounds. When we learn English as children, one of the first things we are told in elementary school is that if we do not know a word, ‘sound it out.’ This is not the case in logographic writing systems, because the writing is pictures, not sounds. Therefore, in logographic writing, little children cannot ‘sound it out.’

What is the difference between abjad and logographic writing systems? Abjad languages are alphabetic. The markings represent sounds. This is different from logographic writing systems where the words are symbols and not a collection of sounds.

What is the difference between alphabetic writing and abjad writing? For one, alphabetic writing represents vowels in the form of letters. Each letter represents a sound. Abjad alphabets are consonants only. The vowels do not have their own letters, rather, the vowels are represented in markings above the letter. 

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