Skip to main content

Alphabets and Writing Systems

Every culture has its own way of interpreting language. Most languages use alphabets for writing which are based on the principle that a letter stands for a single sound of the spoken language. The Writing Systems can also be grouped together with alphabets although they are based on a different structure. Syllabaries, for example, have characters which are called syllabograms that represent specific syllables. Semanto-phonetic writing, on the other hand, is based on symbols that represent both sounds and meaning. There are also fictional alphabets that were made up by authors that can be categorised differently. These variations in languages are fascinating, and might help you understand more about the specific culture the alphabets have originated from.

Phonemic alphabet

A so-called 'true' alphabet consists of different letters representing the vowels and consonants of the language. The Greeks were the first ones to invent an alphabet like this by adapting the Phoenician alphabet by adding vowels. The Phoenician type alphabet is still used in some languages like Hebrew where the vowels are indicated by specific consonants.

There are about 18 phonemic alphabets that are currently in use, 8 that are used to a limited extent and about 29 that are no longer used. It doesn't sound like too many, but these alphabets are only templates for languages as almost every single one brings differences and changes to traditional alphabets. The most widely used and best known alphabets are Latin and Cyrillic, adaptations of which are being used for writing in many languages. The majority of other alphabets are only used for a single language or just a few.

Latin alphabet

The Latin alphabet, the one this page is written in, is by far the most widespread in contemporary world. Most of the technology produced today uses it, so you have to know the Latin alphabet when using a computer or a phone. The majority of internet sites and email addresses use Latin alphabet so computer users need to have at least a little knowledge of it.

Arabic alphabet

The writing system the Arabic language uses is a very interesting one, as it is written from right to left, which is very unusual for users of Latin and other European alphabets. Another major difference is that it only has letters for consonants, which makes it a Phoenician alphabet. The letters themselves look very similar to each other and are distinguished sometimes only by dots above or below. Arabic as a language is spreading around the world and becoming more and more important in the economical and political field, which makes it great for learning.


These writing systems are made out of symbols that represent syllables or moras which then make up words. A syllable is often made up of a consonant plus a vowel or a single vowel. Some of African, Chinese and Japanese languages use syllabaries as part of their alphabets.

Semanto-phonetic writing

The symbols represent both sound and meaning and as a result, these scripts usually have a large number of symbols, from hundreds to thousands. In some scripts like Chinese there is no upper limit of symbols. Pictograms and logograms are also categorised under semanto-phonetic writing with the former resembling the things they represent and latter representing parts of words or whole words. Ideograms, that also fall into this category, are symbols that graphically represent abstract ideas.

Fictional alphabets

Today there are a number of fictional writing systems that are used in books, films and video games. Theses are manufactured by an author. The most famous fictional alphabets are the ones created by J.R.R.Tolkien like Tengwar Elvish and Uruk runes. Another famous fictional language is Klingon which is used in Star Trek. And for Superman fans there is always the Kryptonian alphabet.

Other alphabets

There are more unusual or special alphabets which can exist in other mediums. Some of these are tactile alphabets like Braille, manual alphabets like fingerspelling, long-distance signaling like Morse code and more.