Writing Systems And Calligraphy Of The World

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The beauty of typography has no borders. While most of us work with the familiar Latin alphabet, international projects usually require quite extensive knowledge about less familiar writing systems from around the world. The aesthetics and structure of such designs can be strongly related to the shape and legibility of the letterforms, so learning about international writing systems will certainly help you create more attractive and engaging Web designs.

Pick any language you like: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, maybe Nepali? Each is based on a different writing system, which makes it interesting to figure out how they work. Today, we’ll cover five categories of writing systems. This may sound tedious and academic, but it’s not. If you take the time to understand them, you’ll find that they all give us something special. We’ve tried to present at least one special feature of each language from which you can draw inspiration and apply to your own typography work. We’ll cover: East Asian writing systems1, Arabic2 and Indic scripts (Brahmic)3. If you are interested, we will cover Cyrillic, Hebrew and other writing systems in the next post.

East Asian Writing Systems

Obviously, the Chinese uses Chinese characters (where they are known as hanzi). But Chinese characters are also used in various forms in Japanese (where they are known as kanji) and Korean (hanja). In this section, we will look at four East Asian writing systems: Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Chinese Characters

Chinese characters are symbols that do not comprise an alphabet. This writing system, in which each character generally represents either a complete one-syllable word or a single-syllable part of a word, is called logo-syllabic. This also means that each character has its own pronunciation, and there is no way to guess it. Add to this the fact that being literate in Chinese requires memorizing about 4,000 characters and you’ve got quite a language to learn. Fortunately for us, we don’t need to learn Chinese in order to appreciate the beauty of its writing.

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Because many commonly used Chinese characters have 10 to 30 strokes, certain stroke orders have been recommended to ensure speed, accuracy and legibility in composition. So, when learning a character, one has to learn the order in which it is written, and the sequence has general rules, such as: top to bottom, left to right, horizontal before vertical, middle before sides, left-falling before right-falling, outside before inside, inside before enclosing strokes.

The Eight Principles of Yong

The strokes in Chinese characters fall into eight main categories: horizontal (一), vertical (丨), left-falling (丿), right-falling (丶), rising, dot (、), hook (亅) and turning (乛, 乚, 乙, etc.). The “Eight Principles of Yong” outlines how to write these strokes, which are common in Chinese characters and can all be found in the character for “yǒng” (5, which translates as “forever” or “permanence”). It was believed that practicing these principles frequently as a budding calligrapher would ensure beauty in one’s writing.

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Four Treasures of the Study

“Four treasures of the study” is an expression that refers to the brush, ink, paper and ink stone used in Chinese and other East Asian calligraphic traditions. The head of the brush can be made of the hair (or feather) of a variety of animals, including wolf, rabbit, deer, chicken, duck, goat, pig and tiger. The Chinese and Japanese also have a tradition of making a brush from the hair of a newborn, as a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir for the child.

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Seal and Seal Paste

The artist usually completes their work of calligraphy by adding their seal at the very end, in red ink. The seal serves as a signature and is usually done in an old style.

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Horizontal and Vertical Writing

Many East Asian scripts (such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean) can be written horizontally or vertically, because they consist mainly of disconnected syllabic units, each conforming to an imaginary square frame. Traditionally, Chinese is written in vertical columns from top to bottom; the first column on the right side of the page, and the text starting on the left.

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In modern times, using a Western layout of horizontal rows running from left to right and being read from top to bottom has become more popular. Signs are particularly challenging for written Chinese, because they can be written either left to right or right to left (the latter being more of a traditional layout, with each “column” being one character high), as well as top to bottom.

Different Styles

In Chinese calligraphy, Chinese characters can be written in five major styles. These styles are intrinsic to the history of Chinese script.

Seal script is the oldest style and continues to be widely practiced, although most people today cannot read it. It is considered an ancient script, generally not used outside of calligraphy or carved seals, hence the name.

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In clerical script, characters are generally “flat” in appearance. They are wider than the seal script and the modern standard script, both of which tend to be taller than wider. Some versions of clerical are square, and others are wider. Compared to seal script, forms are strikingly rectilinear; but some curvature and influence from seal script remains.

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The semi-cursive script approximates normal handwriting, in which strokes and (more rarely) characters are allowed to run into one another. In writing in the semi-cursive script, the brush leaves the paper less often than with the regular script. Characters appear less angular and rounder. The characters are also bolder.

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The cursive script is a fully cursive script, with drastic simplifications and ligatures, requiring specialized knowledge to be read. Entire characters may be written without lifting the brush from the paper at all, and characters frequently flow into one another. Strokes are modified or eliminated completely to facilitate smooth writing and create a beautiful abstract appearance. Characters are highly rounded and soft in appearance, with a noticeable lack of angular lines.

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The regular script is one of the last major calligraphic styles to develop from a neatly written early-period semi-cursive form of clerical script. As the name suggests, this script is “regular,” with each stroke written slowly and carefully, the brush being lifted from the paper and all strokes distinct from each other.

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Japanese

A rather different writing system is Japanese, which is syllabic, meaning that each symbol represents (or approximates) a syllable, combining to form words. No full-fledged script for written Japanese existed until the development of Man’yōgana (万葉仮名), an ancient writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language. The Japanese appropriated Kanji (derived from their Chinese readings) for their phonetic value rather than semantic value.

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The modern kana systems, Hiragana and Katakana, are simplifications and systemizations of Man’yōgana. Thus, the modern Japanese writing system uses three main scripts: Kanji, which is used for nouns and stems of adjectives and verbs; Hiragana, which is used for native Japanese words and written in the highly cursive flowing sōsho style; and Katakana, which is used for foreign borrowings and was developed by Buddhist monks as a shorthand. In Japan, cursive script has traditionally been considered suitable for women and was called women’s script (女手 or onnade), while clerical style has been considered suitable for men and was called men’s script (男手 or otokode).

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The three scripts are often mixed single sentences.

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As we can see, the modern kana systems are simplifications of Man’yōgana. It is interesting to see how they have been simplified.

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Development of hiragana from man’yōgana.

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Katakana, with man’yōgana equivalents. (The segments of man’yōgana adapted into katakana are highlighted.)

Korean Squares

Korean is itself a very different writing system. It uses Hangul, a “featural” writing system. The shapes of the letters are not arbitrary but encode phonological features of the phonemes they represent.

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Hangul has existed since the middle of the 15th century (approximately 1440). But tradition prevailed, and scholars continued to use Classical Chinese as the literary language, and it was not until 1945 that Hangul became popular in Korea.

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Jamo (자모; 字母23), or natsori (낱소리), are the units that make up the Hangul alphabet. “Ja” means letter or character, and “mo” means mother, suggesting that the jamo are the building blocks of the script. When writing out words, signs are grouped by syllables into squares. The layout of signs inside the square depends greatly on the syllable structure as well as which vowels are used.

initial medial
initial
medial
initial med.
2
med. 1
initial medial
final
initial
medial
final
initial med.
2
med.
final
initial medial
final 1 final 2
initial
medial
final 1 final 2
initial med.
2
med.

We won’t get into the detailed rules, but here is an example for inspiration:

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Vietnamese Rotation

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The Vietnamese writing system in use today (called Chữ Quốc Ngữ) is adapted from the Latin alphabet, with some digraphs (i.e. pairs of characters used to write individual phonemes) and nine additional diacritics (accent marks) for tones and certain letters. Over the course of several centuries—from 1527, when Portuguese Christian missionaries began using the Latin alphabet to transcribe the Vietnamese language, to the early 20th century, when the French colonial administration made the Latin-based alphabet official—the Chinese character-based writing systems for Vietnamese gradually became limited to a small number of scholars and specialists.

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However, the Chinese philosophy still exerts a strong influence. The stylized work above is by painter Tran Dat, who introduced a harmony between the shapes of Chinese and Vietnamese characters. If you rotate the first image 90 degrees counter-clockwise, you can make out the Vietnamese words. It is meant to be displayed vertically so that it appears as ancient Chinese text at first.

Arabic

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Here we’ll explore the beauty of Arabic, which has many styles and techniques. The Arabic alphabet was developed from the Nabataean script (which was itself derived from the Aramaic script) and contains a total of 28 letter. These 28 letters come from 18 basics shapes, to which one, two or three dots are added, above or below the letter. Arabic uses a writing system that we haven’t seen yet: an abjad, which is basically an alphabet that doesn’t have any vowels—the reader must supply them.

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Contextual Shaping

The shape of these letters changes depending on their position in the word (isolated, initial, medial or final). Here, for example, is the letter kaaf:

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Diacritics

The Arabic script is an impure abjad, though. Short consonants and long vowels are represented by letters, but short vowels and long consonants are not generally indicated in writing. The script includes numerous diacritics, which serve to point out consonants in modern Arabic. These are nice and worth taking a look at.

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Alif as a Unit of Proportion

Geometric principles and rules of proportion play an essential role in Arabic calligraphy. They govern the first letter of the alphabet, the alif, which is basically a straight vertical stroke.

  • The height of the alif varies from 3 to 12 dots, depending on the calligrapher and style of script.
  • The width of the alif (the dot) is a square impression formed by pressing the tip of the reed pen to paper. Its appearance depends on how the pen was cut and the pressure exerted by the fingers.
  • The imaginary circle, which uses alif as its diameter, is a circle within which all Arabic letters could fit.

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Different Styles

Arabic script has many different styles—over 100 in fact. But there are six primary styles, which can generally be distinguished as being either geometric (basically Kufic and its variations) and cursive (Naskh, Ruq’ah, Thuluth, etc.).

Kufi (or Kufic) is noted for its proportional measurements, angularity and squareness.

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Tuluth means “one third,” referring to the proportion of the pen relative to an earlier style called Tumaar. It is notable for its cursive letters and use as an ornamental script.

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Nasakh, meaning “copy,” is one of the earliest scripts with a comprehensive system of proportion. It is notable for its clarity for reading and writing and was used to copy the Qur’an.

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Ta’liq means “hanging,” in reference to the shape of the letters. It is a cursive script developed by the Persians in the early part of the 9th century AD. It is also called Farsi (or Persian).

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Diwani was developed by the Ottomans from the Ta’liq style. This style became a favorite script in the Ottoman chancellery, and its name is derived from the word “Diwan,” which means “royal court.” Diwani is distinguished by the complexity of lines within letters and the close juxtaposition of letters within words.

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Riq’a is a style that evolved from Nasakh and Thuluth. It is notable for the simplicity and small movements that are required to write in it, thanks to its short horizontal stems, which is why it is the most common script for everyday use. It is considered a step up from the Nasakh script, which children are taught first. In later grades, students are introduced to Riq’a.

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Teardrop-Shaped Composition

Here is an animation showing the composition of the Al Jazeera logo:

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Bi-Directionnality

When left-to-right text is mixed with right-to-left in the same paragraph, each text should be written in its own direction, known as “bi-directional text.”

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Material Used

In case you want to try, you’ll want to know what material to use. There is a lot of typical tools, such as brush pens, scissors, a knife to cut the pens and an ink pot. But the traditional instrument of the Arabic calligrapher is the qalam, a pen made of dried reed or bamboo. “The traditional way to hold the pen,” wrote Safadi in 1987, “is with middle finger, forefinger and thumb well spaced out along the [pen’s] shaft. Only the lightest possible pressure is applied.”

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As for the ink, you have many options: black and brown (often used because their intensity and consistency can be varied greatly) as well as yellow, red, blue, white, silver and gold. The important thing is that the greater strokes of the composition be very dynamic in their effect.

A Few Techniques

The development of Arabic calligraphy led to several decorative styles that were intended to accommodate special needs or tastes and to please or impress others. Here are a few outstanding techniques and scripts.

Gulzar is defined by Safadi (1979) in Islamic calligraphy as the technique of filling the area within the outlines of relatively large letters with various ornamental devices, including floral designs, geometric patterns, hunting scenes, portraits, small script and other motifs. Gulzar is often used in composite calligraphy, where it is also surrounded by decorative units and calligraphic panels.

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Maraya or muthanna is the technique of mirror writing, where the composition on the left reflects the composition on the right.

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Tughra is a unique calligraphic device that is used as a royal seal. The nishanghi or tughrakesh is the only scribe trained to write tughra. The emblems became quite ornate and were particularly favored by Ottoman officialdom.

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In zoomorphic calligraphy, the words are manipulated into the shape of a human figure, bird, animal or object.

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Sini

Sini is a Chinese Islamic calligraphic form for the Arabic script. It can refer to any type of Chinese Islamic calligraphy but is commonly used to refer to one with thick tapered effects, much like Chinese calligraphy. It is used extensively in eastern China, one of whose famous Sini calligraphers is Hajji Noor Deen45.

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Perso-Arabic Script: Nasta’liq Script

The predominant style in Persian calligraphy has traditionally been the Nasta’liq script. Although it is sometimes used to write Arabic-language text (where it is known as Ta’li, with Farsi used mainly for titles and headings), it has always been more popular in Persian, Turkic, and South Asian spheres. It is extensively practiced as a form of art in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nasta’liq means “suspended,” which is a good way to describe the way each letter in a word is suspended from the previous one (i.e. lower, rather than on the same level).

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The Perso-Arabic script is exclusively cursive. That is, the majority of letters in a word connect to each other. This feature is also included on computers. Unconnected letters are not widely accepted. In Perso-Arabic, as in Arabic, words are written from right to left, while numbers are written from left to right. To represent non-Arabic sounds, new letters were created by adding dots, lines and other shapes to existing letters.

Indic Scripts (Brahmic)

The Indic or Brahmic scripts are the most extensive family of writing systems that we haven’t looked at yet: abugidas. An abugidas is a segmental writing system which is based on consonants and in which vowel notation is obligatory but secondary. This contrasts with an alphabet proper (in which vowels have a status equal to that of consonants) and with an abjad (in which vowel marking is absent or optional).

Indic scripts are used throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia and parts of Central and East Asia (e.g. Hindi, Sanskrit, Konkani, Marathi, Nepali, Sindhi and Sherpa). They are so widespread that they vary a lot, but Devanagari is the most important one.

Devanagari Ligatures and Matra

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Hindi and Nepali are both written in the Devanāgarī (देवनागरी) alphabet. Devanagari is a compound word with two roots: deva, meaning “deity,” and nagari, meaning “city.” Together, they imply a script that is both religious and urban or sophisticated.

To represent sounds that are foreign to Indic phonology, additional letters have been coined by choosing an existing Devanagari letter that represents a similar sound and adding a dot (called a nukta) beneath it. It is written from left to right, lacks distinct letter cases and is recognizable by a distinctive horizontal line running along the tops of the letters and linking them together.

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In addition, a few other diacritics are used at the end of words, such as the dots illustrated below and the diagonal line, called virama, drawn under the last letter of a word if it is a consonant.

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One interesting aspect of Brahmic and in particular of Devanagari here is the horizontal line used for successive consonants that lack a vowel between them. They may physically join together as a “conjunct,” or ligature, a process called samyoga (meaning “yoked together” in Sanskrit). Sometimes, the individual letters can still be discerned, while at other times the conjunction creates new shapes.

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Here is a close-up of a nice ligature, the ddhrya ligature:

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A letter in Devanagari has the default vowel of /a/. To indicate the same consonant followed by another vowel, additional strokes are added to the consonant letter. These strokes are called matras, or dependant forms of the vowel.

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Thai Stacking Diactritics

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The writing system of Thai is based on Pali, Sanskrit and Indian concepts, and many Mon and Khmer words have entered the language.

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To represent a vowel other than the inherent one, extra strokes or marks are added around the basic letter. Thai has its own system of diacritics derived from Indian numerals, which denote different tones. Interestingly, like many non-Roman scripts, it has stacking diacritics.

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Tibetan Mantras

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Image credit59

The form of Tibetan letters is based on an Indic alphabet of the mid-7th century. The orthography has not altered since the most important orthographic standardization, which took place during the early 9th century. The spoken language continues to change. As a result, in all modern Tibetan dialects, there is a great divergence of reading from the spelling.

The Tibetan script has 30 consonants, otherwise known as radicals. Syllables are separated by a tseg , and because many Tibetan words are monosyllabic, this mark often functions almost as a space.

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As in other parts of East Asia, nobles, high lamas and persons of high rank were expected to have strong abilities in calligraphy. But the Tibetan script was done using a reed pen instead of a brush. As for a mantra, it is a sound, syllable, word or group of words that is considered capable of “creating transformation.”

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The use of mantras is widespread throughout spiritual movements that are based on or off-shoots of practices from earlier Eastern traditions and religions. The mantras used in Tibetan Buddhist practice are in Sanskrit, to preserve the original mantras. Visualizations and other practices are usually done in the Tibetan language.

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Vajrasattva mantra in Tibetan.

Summary

So what should you take away from this article? We have seen that Arabic and Chinese calligraphy have many different scripts variations. From geometric to cursive to regular script, there is no such thing as one calligraphic style for a language.

Sometimes there is even no such thing as one script per language. This is why Japanese is interesting: it is written in three different scripts that mix nicely. The construction of the Korean language is also fascinating: characters are grouped into squares that create syllables. Writing systems are ultimately diverse in construction, which makes them so interesting.

Many languages also have various components that can be used in our typography. Arabic and Thai, among many others, have a large system of diacritics. Arabic has a decorative aspect. Ligatures are directly related to our Latin alphabet but can be quite elaborated in such scripts as Devanagari.

You could do a lot to spice up your own designs. Did you catch the red Chinese seal, which contrasts with the usual black ink. Have you thought of rotating your fonts to give them a whole new look, as Vietnamese calligraphers do? What about the Arabic teardrop-shaped writing? If you missed all of this, you have no choice but to scroll back up and take a closer look.

Bonus: How to Integrate These Languages on a Website?

Working with foreign languages in international design projects can get a bit tricky. Obviously, studying the specifics of the language that you are supposed to work with will help you better anticipate user’s needs and avoid embarassing problems or misunderstandings. Tilt.its.psu.edu63 presents general guidelines for integration of various international languages in websites.

Licensing

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia articles (“Hindi64“,”Chinese Script Styles65“, “Four Treasures of the Study66“, “Hangul67“); it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA)68. You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

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Footnotes

  1. 1 #eastasian
  2. 2 #arabic
  3. 3 #indic
  4. 4 http://www.flickr.com/photos/p_h/2199524538/
  5. 5 http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E6%B0%B8
  6. 6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Principles_of_Yong
  7. 7 http://www.cartridgesave.co.uk/news/the-story-of-ancient-chinas-love-affair-with-inkstones/
  8. 8 http://www.flickr.com/photos/kobucha/2931521265/in/photostream/
  9. 9 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_calligraphy_scheme_02-en.svg
  10. 10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_calligraphy_scheme_03-en.svg
  11. 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seal_Eg.png
  12. 12 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Clerical_Eg.png
  13. 13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Semi-Cur_Eg.png
  14. 14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cur_eg.svg
  15. 15 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Regular_Eg.png
  16. 16 http://www.flickr.com/photos/dezeneandjoyel/4036646164/
  17. 17 http://www.ancientscripts.com/japanese.html
  18. 18 http://www.cns.atr.jp/~kmtn/
  19. 19 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man%27y%C5%8Dgana
  20. 20 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man%27y%C5%8Dgana
  21. 21 http://www.flickr.com/photos/graceepannnda/3702031739/
  22. 22 http://www.ancientscripts.com/korean.html
  23. 23 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanja
  24. 24 http://www.microsoft.com/typography/OpenType%20Dev/hangul/intro.mspx
  25. 25 http://www.flickr.com/photos/heatherlyn/4462317132/
  26. 26 http://www.flickr.com/photos/31639398@N00/403053499/
  27. 27 http://www.flickr.com/photos/cakehole/2628726857/
  28. 28 http://www.myeasyarabic.com/site/what_is_arabic_alphabet.html
  29. 29 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/calligraphy201.jpg
  30. 30 http://ilovetypography.com/2009/01/24/on-diacritics/#
  31. 31 http://www.oweis.com/
  32. 32 http://www.oweis.com
  33. 33 http://www.oweis.com
  34. 34 http://www.oweis.com
  35. 35 http://www.oweis.com
  36. 36 http://www.oweis.com
  37. 37 http://www.oweis.com
  38. 38 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Al_jazeera_Calligraphy_Animation.gif
  39. 39 http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_id=nrsi&item_id=CmplxRndExamples
  40. 40 http://www.flickr.com/photos/asadnaqvi/3858979027/
  41. 41 http://nasir-eclectic.blogspot.com/2010/04/miracles-islamic-perspective-in-brief.html
  42. 42 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:POTD_protected/2009-10-24
  43. 43 http://reference.findtarget.com/search/Ottoman%20Empire/
  44. 44 http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/eastwest/rooms/room25.htm
  45. 45 http://www.hajinoordeen.com/index.html
  46. 46 http://www.hajinoordeen.com/gallery-nonscroll.html
  47. 47 http://www.flickr.com/photos/arabictattoo/3145380418/
  48. 48 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianwatkinson/2317988116/
  49. 49 http://www.ancientscripts.com/devanagari.html
  50. 50 http://www.ancientscripts.com/devanagari.html
  51. 51 http://www.ancientscripts.com/devanagari.html
  52. 52 http://www.ancientscripts.com/devanagari.html
  53. 53 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/calligraphy75.png
  54. 54 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Devanagari_matras.png
  55. 55 http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincevarga/3499861259/
  56. 56 http://www.ancientscripts.com/thai.html
  57. 57 http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_id=nrsi&item_id=CmplxRndExamples
  58. 58 http://www.flickr.com/photos/integralfocus/71959548/
  59. 59 http://www.visiblemantra.org/vajrasattva.html
  60. 60 http://www.ancientscripts.com/tibetan.html
  61. 61 http://www.tibetanlife.com/tibetantattoos.html
  62. 62 http://www.visiblemantra.org/vajrasattva.html
  63. 63 http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/international/bylanguage/
  64. 64 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindi
  65. 65 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_script_styles
  66. 66 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Treasures_of_the_Study
  67. 67 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul
  68. 68 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:CCBYSA

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Jessica Bordeau is a soon-graduated student whose primary interests are Photography and Media.

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  1. 1

    This is an amazingly detailed and well researched article. Arabic is an amazing language, both lingustically and aesthetically. I’m glad it was featured in this article. I hope there are more, similar articles soon.

  2. 2

    Wow, amazing. Also a nice animation of the Al-Jazeera logo to understand better Arabic calligraphy… which is kind of impossible to read and looks more like a drawing if you don’t know the language/letters.

  3. 3

    Very cool and informative post. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese and it’s been a lot of fun learning their writing styles.

  4. 4

    Very interesting read!

  5. 5

    Wow, amazing post! Thanks!

  6. 6

    rawillustration

    May 18, 2010 10:44 am

    Exceptional post. Most people don’t realize how graceful or beautiful the calligraphic stance of each stroke/style is in the typography of India, Asia, and some North American tribes.
    Very well executed. Please continue with the Cyrillic languages as a follow up!

    • 7

      thats right..very informative article….just a slight addon…Marathi is also uses”Devnagri” indian script..

  7. 8

    WOW!
    That was some intensive knowledge :)
    Although Arabic is my mother tongue, I found interesting information about Arabic here..
    Thank you very much.. I had a lot of fun reading this post..

  8. 9

    I like this kind of artcle, detailed and relevant. Thank you !

  9. 10

    Unique Post! Can always count on good topics from you guys.

  10. 11

    Miguel Carvajal

    May 18, 2010 11:01 am

    Fascinating article, very detailed. Thank you!

  11. 12

    greatest article in smashing mag

  12. 13

    My favorite script by far is Mongolian… So beautiful and fantastical looking…

  13. 16

    dear Jessica,

    I think you missed one
    there’s other transcript lived in Indonesia – in the middle of Java
    it’s called “Aksara Jawa” = Javanese Transcript (in English) – also called as = “Hanacaraka”
    if you want a full information about this Javanese Transcript
    please have a look to this Wikipedia (the indonesian article is the complete one, i guarantee)

    this article written in Bahasa Indonesia
    http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aksara_Jawa

    this one written in English
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Javanese_script

    might it useful for your reference :) i hope

    kind regards

    • 17

      Javanese Akçara is hardly used nowadays. Pity the Indonesian govt does not encourage their own cultural heritage as part of local curiculum.
      Also applies to Balinese, Sundanese and any other local dialect, they’re all facing extinctions

      • 18

        Yes, you’re right. Local written language is going extinct in Indonesia. However, the spoken dialect is still widely used.

        • 19

          Its true that ‘Indonesia local written language’ is facing extinction, but Indonesia govt try their best to maintain the language and culture in each part of province. We actually have to study ‘Local Language’ until Junior high school and difference province have different curriculum for their Local Language. Bare in mind that they have almost more than 70 dialect and language to maintain.

          • 20

            +1 thx David, nice elaboration

            @Chris, you are wrong if you think that we dont study it at school
            come here I’ll take you to the schools and see :)

      • 21

        Tapi ane tetep cinta Indonesia, gan!

  14. 22

    Great article! Would like to see more of this kind of stuff. It’s nice to get the basic idea on how different languages are written, definitely something I hadn’t considered beyond “how the hell does anyone read this stuff” :)

  15. 23

    Such an interesting article! Hard to find a piece of this quality even in these days on the internet. My thumbs will stay up for the upcoming day, I think !

  16. 24

    Very inspiring. Congrats to the author.

  17. 25

    all respect to that article
    very good :)

  18. 26

    very beautiful writing . It is ART !

  19. 27

    Very interesting, a great study.. congrats the author :)

  20. 28

    This is a great post. Kind of puts typesetting into perspective.

  21. 29

    Thank you, this is a great article.

  22. 30

    Fascinating post. Great work.

  23. 31

    Thank you for an enlightening read, I always found languages and writing systems to be fascinating.

  24. 32

    Yes, please I’d like to see hebrew and cyrillic too!!
    This is great for a number of series

  25. 33

    This is so awesome! Thanks for researching!

  26. 34

    amazing article. good work

  27. 35

    In the very early 80’s a good friend asked me if there was a way to create an Arabic word processor for him. Although my initial reaction was to say ‘Of course not!’ I soon fell in love with the typography of Ta’liq and related forms of Farsi. Your article was an extremely pleasant reminder of those days— thank you!

    –hsm

  28. 36

    … +1 to the previous comments… so let’s just say:
    “Thank You for this amazing article”
    (on all levels: subject, research… complete)

  29. 37
  30. 39

    Impressive!

  31. 40

    What about Hebrew?

  32. 41

    Possibly the best article on SM so far. Not that useful to me personally, but very interesting, informative, well written and superbly illustrated!

  33. 42

    Outstanding! Your article is amazingly well-researched and beautifully composed. :)

  34. 43

    great post!!! that is thinking out side the box!!

  35. 44

    It’s a Art. all typography is amazingly beautiful.

  36. 45

    great article, thanks for posting!

  37. 46

    This is fantastic. You’ve broached a topic I’ve always wondered about but hardly knew where to start.

    – Bryan

    (@smashing magazine – these are the kind of posts that keep me coming here)

  38. 47

    The picture for the Chinese “regular script” is a little misleading. All four of those characters are in regular script. The difference between them is the character set, not script, as the left characters are Traditional Chinese and the right characters are Simplified Chinese. Many Simplified characters did evolve from cursive scripts, however, so that might be worth mentioning.

    All that aside, though, very nice article.

  39. 48

    Really nicely done — what a great article!

  40. 49

    the sinhalese alphabet, Sri Lanka, is quite spectacular.

  41. 50

    Fascinating article and really impressive.

    Hoping similar articles about western writing system.

    Great Work! Keep going~

  42. 51

    Very cool. Georgian is also very interesting.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_alphabet

  43. 52

    Completely amazing, incredible post. Top 5 favorite blog posts of all time. Been waiting for something like this for YEARS! And not just a gloss like so many (not smashingmag) blog posts trying to get a few ‘views. This is truly an epic essay!

    Rock on and thanks so much for sharing!

  44. 53

    We had chinese calligraphy as a subject during my elementary school days and it was really fun!
    We used black ink and a brush to write chinese words (cursive, semi-cursive form.)

  45. 54

    Fantastic post. It is Art. A wonderful art. Congratulations.

  46. 55

    Wow! This is great post.!
    After lurking for 2 years I had to comment.
    Thanks

  47. 56

    Fantastic post. Appreciate your effort for putting it together.

  48. 57

    Does anyone know source of that Japanese article clipping with a picture of a guy? I’m trying to find it but the link doesn’t lead me to it.

    • 58

      It is from the Mainichi Shinbun (a Japanese newspaper), 1999.10.18.

      Click on the article and you are taken to http://www.cns.atr.jp/~kmtn/
      Then click on the PDF link on the left. That takes you to a page that includes “Media Coverage” at the bottom. When you click on the link “Mainichi Shinbun (Japanese newspaper), October 18, 1999″ the article appears.

  49. 59

    Thank you!
    Any books sources for this article (the Arabic Script in particular)?

  50. 60

    Very nicely written indeed – exceedingly informative as well! THIS level of article quality is why I come to Smashing Magazine repeatedly! I especially enjoyed the summary at the end – tied up the article nicely! Someone asked about Hebrew – nice catch – any reason it was omitted?

  51. 61

    Wow, superb article! Very informative. Hope you can cover South Indian (Dravidian) languages sometime in the future.

  52. 62

    I’m happen to be a Chinese. I’m afraid the author of this article should be more careful in fields she’s not familiar with. For example, actually the character “YONG” has only 5 strokes – 1, 234, 56, 7, and 8.

    • 63

      (I’m so into this article that I’m actually replying comments on behalf of the author lol)

      Indeed, the character ‘永’ has only 5 strokes (笔划) from Chinese character building perspective. But from the calligraphy’s perspective, it has all 8 calligraphy components in it (thus, the Eight Principles of Yong 永字八法), which makes it a perfect character to demonstrate the essence of Chinese calligraphy.

  53. 64

    Wonder if there’s political agenda behind application of Tibetan script on web platform.
    :p

  54. 65

    Great article! I agree btw, Hebrew, like that seen in a Torah (when official and written on parchment) is a great art form. When I was a little kid, I remember going on a field trip to see a rabbi whose job it was to duplicate an entire Torah by hand. I think I recall him saying that if he makes one error the entire thing is ruined. It’s 300,000 characters long!

    I guess if we’re going back to Hebrew why not venture into it’s base Aramaic, or even farther to Phoenician. Although, in my opinion they don’t look as ornate.

  55. 66

    wonderful article. wonderful

  56. 67

    This shit sucks!!! why in the hell will we ever put shit crap like this specially that indian fag shit in web design!!!

    improve yourself smashing magazine!!!!

    • 68

      why do you even bother attempting design? you obviously have no appreciation for art, creativity and skill that goes into some of these character sets…

      your comment probably would have seemed more intelligent had you of just written “FIRST!!!” and nothing else.

    • 69

      Guillaume Pelletier

      May 19, 2010 8:08 am

      Let me try to put this in words of your own language. *ahem*

      @Wdom: You’re a fucking (?!!!) ethnocentrist idiot (!!!), suck shit fag, fag shit shit!!?!

      Well, at least I tried.

  57. 70

    Only one word: AWESOME!!!

  58. 71

    Very Nice Information.
    But one thing. Farsi have some different character . Its look like Japanese and Chinese .For foreign Japanese and Chinese is look like but Actually is different. Farsi and Arabic is too.

  59. 72

    How you’ve brushed through the Korean script is somewhat embarrassing, knowing the depth and science hidden behind the Korean script, aka Hangeul. You can get much more detail from the Hangeul Museum. It could be somewhat deceiving seeing how the typographical fonts used for the Korean script show similar brush strokes to Chinese and Japanese characters, but looks can be deceiving. Here is just a scratch on the surface of Hangeul: 1. DOT represents heaven, HORIZONTAL LINE represents earth, and VERTICAL LINE represents human. 2. The oriental philosophy of Yin and Yang plays the central part with this script, and the inventor of Hangeul himself, King Sejong, wrote in great depth about the philosophical underpinnings of Hangeul script. For example, a dot under a horizontal line (a vowel sound “u,” pronounced woo) signifies yang, or positive, and the dot above the horizontal line (a vowel sound “o,” pronounced oh) signifies yin, or negative. So, the word for water (ㅁ + ㅜ + ㄹ = 물, pronounced mul) is a “positive” word, where as the word for rock (ㄷ + ㅗ + ㄹ = 돌, pronounced dol) is a “negative” word. You would have to first understand the concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy and many of the concepts that the Book of Change (aka I-Ching) deals with to grasp what all this means. So, that’s just a scratch on the philosophical aspect of Hangeul. And there are many books on the scientific aspect of Hangeul. The script is probably the easiest to learn among all of scripts in the world, so a reasonably intelligent person can easily start reading Korean within a couple of days (one of my friends actually did this) although understanding it may prove much difficult. The grammar is very similar to Japanese, by the way.

    • 73

      Thank you for the additional info on Korean characters. I was born there, but unfortunately do not speak the language. I would love to learn some day.

  60. 74

    Wow! Very Great post!

    Welcome to learn Chinese!

    欢迎大家来学汉语。

  61. 76

    Its fresh completely

    out of the clutter.
    opened the brain

  62. 77
  63. 78

    Wonderful post..!

  64. 79

    Fantastic piece. Many thanks. Very very informative as well as visually exiting.

  65. 80

    very nice article. I’ve start reading Qur’an and I found this article very helpful. Thank you!

  66. 81

    Great article, thanks. It is funny how these written texts have failed a number of countries moving into the technological age, one of the reason japanese smartphones are so technologically advanced, but backwards in many way, due to the difficulty in producing their language on a screen. This is were English exceled.

  67. 82

    Wow, superb article! Very informative.

  68. 83

    Well done author! A brilliant well researched post. Thank you, I really enjoyed it!

  69. 84

    Possibly one of the best articles I’ve ever read. Well thought out, well researched. Well done!

  70. 85

    Absolutely amazing….great post.Some amazing stuff in here,really good info here,thanks for sharing.

  71. 86

    Amazing article. Thanks.

  72. 87

    中国元素,非常好~

  73. 88

    Fantastic article. Thank you!

  74. 89

    arabic is an Ape language, they are 500years before apes:D

    • 90

      It is amazing watching people who are full of ugly hate and can not put their hate aside for even a second to enjoy such a beautiful article. Whether you like it or not Arabic is one of the world’s most advanced languages with beautiful writing scripts and the Arabic calligraphy is world famous. It is highly developed into an very sophisticated art form that adorn thousands of buildings and mosques world wide. The development of this art form stems from the strict Islamic prohibition on drawing of any live creatures. This lead Muslim artists and calligraphers pour their hearts and talents into refining the art of Arabic calligraphy to the point that you can literally paint with Arabic letters. The are abundant examples online to get acquainted with the beauty of the Arabic Islamic calligraphy but I suppose that your blind hate will never let you enjoy the good things in life. Get over yourself.

      • 91

        @ Joe – good job, but you know that Kenji is just a typical Troll.

        That is how life/humanity is: Some folks care about knowledge, cultures, animals, life and learning. While others only ridicule and bully – masking the fact that they have nothing intelligent to add, thereby trying to hide their immature insecurities.

        Don’t let them get under your skin Joe, they truly thrive off of goading others into a reaction.

        How do I know all of this? I recognize this behavior from within my own past. I was much like this until I grew up and starting appreciating the value of life and knowledge.

  75. 92

    Wow! They really look so artistic! :) Thanks for sharing.

  76. 93

    Very Very detailed information about the Calligraphy and Writing Systems. Thanks for the brilliant article.

  77. 94

    Google Fonts API??

    Talking of Typography, you appear to be using some rather cool (and very very new) google trickery with your headings for this article! Google Fonts?

    http://www.storm-consultancy.com/blog/design/newsworthy-bits/google-getting-into-the-web-fonts-game/

  78. 96

    Hi, I want to share some of my Flickr photos with all of you. They’re in a set called “Typography+Calligraphy”. Hope you like them!
    alturl.com/29gp

  79. 97

    I found this fascinating and read it from top to bottom. Thank you for opening my eyes to all the intricate differences and possibilities!

  80. 98

    Wow. Great Article. I Like the arabic calligraphy a lot. It was good to read about the calligraphy in detail.

  81. 99

    Bloody fantastic stuff!

  82. 100

    So interesting! But I want to know which of these different language writings is the oldest and perchance the origin?

    • 101

      Among Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages, Chinese writing is the oldest and is the foundation where Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese writings develop, although Korean and Vietnamese have largely depreciated the use of Chinese writings.

      Not sure about Arabic and Indic though.

      • 102

        Arabic is eventually from archaic semetic and ugeritic, as is Hebrew. If you look at the most ancient Semetic writings, you’ll find that all the letters (basically) have exact corespondents with Arabic. I don’t know much Arabic, but all semetic languages are beautiful, both in writing and in speech and meaning.

      • 103

        In Korean, the Chinese script, known as hanja, is going through a sort of permanent resurgence thanks to the economic boom that China has been experiencing. But the use of hanja in Korea has gone through a lot of turbulence. Starting back in 1960s, whenever an ultra-nationalist would be in power at the Ministry of Education, the hanja curriculum would be removed in its entirety from schools for few years and then make a comeback with the change of the government. But this type of thing happened at least in two occasions, so Korea has at least a couple slices of the population that are somewhat ignorant of hanja. As you can probably gather from this fact, there are largely two camps: one that favors a continued integration of hanja in Korean writing (which I support) akin to how Japanese katas are integrated with kanji, and another that favors a complete disuse of hanja. I personally opine that it is foolish to stop using hanja when more than 60% of vocabularies in Korean language are loanwords from Chinese, and hanja is the most accurate way to distinguishing a word apart from inductively determining meaning in a given context.

        If I’m not mistaken, I think Vietnamese, as a people group, are no longer familiar with the Chinese script (known as Hán tự and Chữ nôm). One of my Vietnamese friends told me that his grandfather was familiar with the script, so I guess it is still practiced as a study by some.

  83. 104

    Thank you.

  84. 105

    This must be on of the most awesome articles i’ve ever had the plesure to read here.

  85. 106

    SUPERB article. Non-roman typography is FAR too often overlooked!

  86. 107

    Very detailed article! Amazing!

  87. 108

    really inspiring article

  88. 109

    That was an interesting article. Thanks!

  89. 110

    Interesting and impressive article. Must have been through lots of research. There are indeed a lot of interesting bits of beauty and artistic value in non-Latin based typography that are inspiring but not many has realized that. I believe this article has indeed opened eyes and minds of many.

    One thing that I would like to point out is that the use of Kanji in Japanese today is mainly based on the semantic value of the Chinese character. The usage based on phonetic value (i.e. Manyogana system) has been depreciated since the adoption of Hiragana and Katakana.

  90. 111

    amazing article. extensive details and impossible reesarch. hats off!!

  91. 112

    I would have liked to have seen Hebrew with the cursive version. It is beautiful. You could even have gone into the middle semetic or archaic semetic. Beauty.

  92. 113

    Amazing post, thank you!

  93. 114

    It’s great that you included all the eastern calligraphy in this post, but somehow failed to include the Mongolian Uighur script, which can I say is one of the most beautiful ancient scripts.

  94. 115

    Best article I’ve seen on smashing in months!!!!
    Thankyou so much

  95. 116

    Sue-on-the-farm

    May 19, 2010 5:27 am

    I’d love to see Aboriginal systems included in the next article as well. Inuktitut [Canadian Arctic] looks most like Tibetan script.

    http://www.gov.nu.ca/english/font/

    http://www.nehiyo.com/

    http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/about/publication/aboriginal/index.shtml

  96. 117

    Why no Hebrew? :( Look at the oldest book in history, the Bible, even if you can read it, it is just amazing for a type lover to browse through. I can read it so its double the pleasure :)

    • 118

      Guillaume Pelletier

      May 19, 2010 8:14 am

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Bible is not nearly the oldest book in history. Nor is it just one book; it’s more complicated than that.

  97. 119

    Excellent article.

    Further research can lead it to be your Bachelor thesis.

  98. 120

    Sean McCambridge

    May 19, 2010 6:33 am

    My head just exploded b/c it is so full of new information. That was fun!

  99. 121

    good stuff if not too simplified

  100. 122

    Some Chinese are derived from object shapes, such as moon, sun, water, fire, rain, horse, etc.

    Fore more information, take a look at the following link:

    http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Chinese_character

  101. 123

    Mohamed-Ikbel Boulabiar

    May 19, 2010 7:07 am

    Impressive article with all these Arabic elements.

    Don’t forget to search for photos and videos like this one :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtPwwvoQTzw

  102. 124

    Thanks for sharing with everybody how beautiful the Chinese charactors are! They are incredible!

  103. 125

    Bravo! barely see such a wonderful article. It brings me a lot good memory in learning Chinese Calligraphy and Seal.

    Nicely done!

  104. 126

    Very well written! Enjoyed reading it.

  105. 127

    Thanks, great article!! :-) looking forward for the others

  106. 128

    哦,居然还有这么详细的介绍,不错不错.

    wow

  107. 129

    Wonderful article! Thanks a lot!
    But I just can’t understand why there is isn’t much said about Persian calligraphy. Not the one used to write Islamic-Arabic content, but the ones used to make artworks of love poems. Along with Hanja, those are the most beautiful pieces of calligraphy I’ve ever seen. Take a look here:

  108. 130

    Asela de Saram

    May 19, 2010 8:17 am

    Fantastic article… Thank you Smashing Mag & Jessica for a great insight into the beauty of typography world-over.

    Most of these language have been around for thousands of years and my own mother-tongue which is Sinhala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinhala_language) which evolves from Sanskrit has further developed into more variations over-time.

    Thanks again…

  109. 131

    This is a beautiful article. Very well written!

  110. 132

    Wooooooow!!!!!!!!!

    That was an amazing post to read!!!!!! Wonderful research done!!!!

    Wishes for more posts like these unexpected wonders!!!!!!!

  111. 133

    wow. nice article. smash you did it again ;) thnks 4 share something like these.

  112. 134

    Fantastic article! I liked all of it. Very informative and it’s nice to think of letters in a completely different way. Thanks!

  113. 135

    Tulsi Dharmarajan

    May 19, 2010 10:53 am

    Well done! A most informative article about the various calligraphic styles!

  114. 136

    Kartlos Tchavelachvili

    May 19, 2010 10:59 am

    The Georgian typography is also unique, check it out: ქართლოს ჩაველაშვილი .

  115. 137

    wooow !

    ممنون برای این مقاله مفید :)

    amazing post to read

  116. 138

    Excellent Article. Great info on Arabic. Look forward to more …

  117. 139

    Fantastic article – and beautiful too!

  118. 140

    Great article! Please add more scripts. Hebrew, Greek, Russian?
    I’d also like to see your point of view on Latin/Roman, as there must be many surprises to be found there as well.
    For instance, did you know that the Italian aphabet has only 21 letters?

    —-

    Some details that might be helpful to your research:

    “Each [Mandarin] character has its own pronunciation, and there is no way to guess it.”
    There are relations between characters and the way they sound.
    Mandarin words have “sound families”. Many characters contain indications of what “sound family” they belong to, making it easier to remember (or guess) their pronunciation.

    “The Japanese appropriated Kanji (derived from their Chinese readings) for their phonetic value rather than semantic value.”
    I don’t think that’s true, at least not completely. I can read (not pronounce) many Japanese words, based on knowledge of Chinese characters, and could probably communicate a bit through writing.
    You have to be careful though, for example 手纸 (hand+paper) means “letter” in Japanese, but “toilet paper” in Chinese :-o

    —-

    I’m a Dutch graphic designer learning Standard Mandarin, which is written in simplified script (简体, jǐantǐ, “simple form”) as opposed to tranditional script (繁体, fántǐ, “elaborate form”).

    The difficulty of (written) Chinese to non-Chinese learners is overrated, in my experience.

    – There’s a logical system to characters, although it might not be recognizable just from looking.
    – Writing characters it is not as time-consuming as it may look. I compared, and you often use a similar amount of “pen-strokes” to write similar sentences in English and (simplified) Chinese.
    – Chinese is a very efficient language: I was taught you generally use 53% of the amount of words you need to say something in English.
    – Chinese has a rather simple grammar (e.g. no conjugations of verbs; a very efficient system to express present, past, future).
    – As for the tones, to me they seem related to the stressing of syllables that occurs in Western languages.

    Chinese is a language, and therefore has to be usable by its very nature ;-)

  119. 141

    What has happened to the y’s and g’s in the titles? Is this the new droid font?
    Don’t look right.

  120. 142
  121. 143

    看来我们汉字还是蛮不错的,其实也就是对于字体来说,我们汉字可以延展出很多边,很多弯。。。。这里的山路十八弯。

  122. 144

    very well researched, but you must not forget about javanesse writing systems called hanacaraka. it shares the same beauty and complexity as chinesse hanji or japanesse kanji. but anyway it’s superb article,..well done

  123. 145

    Beautiful Post!

  124. 146

    have you searched for alibata of philippines scripts?
    I suggest you look for it, its so rare though.

  125. 147

    As a calligrapher, I found this post interesting and stimulating as it brings together the different scripts to show their roots and flowers.
    However, not enough exposure is given to Hindi – named Devnagiri – in this article. This script is the basis for over 30 scripts in India ranging from Gurumukhi in the North to Tamil in the South and many in between like Marathi and Gujarati. Nepali is mentioned but it is not a major language or script if one compares it to the number of people who speak, read and write the regional languages of India.

    • 148

      Kul Bhushan,

      No, Devanagari is not the basis for Gurumukhi, Tamil or any south indian/Eastern scripts. Brahmi is the basis for both Devanagari and other indic scripts. Devanagari and Gurumukhi belongs to two different sub branches of northen Brahmic. Tamil, other Dravidian scripts and Eastern scripts (Balinese, Burmese etc.) belongs to southern brahmic branch. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmic_family_of_scripts

    • 149

      Hey, Kul What makes you think that Nepali is not significant. More than 95% here at Nepal speak Nepali. It is more purer in regard to Sanskrit than Arabic influenced Hindi. And Nepali language use pure Devanagari from Sanskrit no the one like of Hindi in which unnecessary dots are added like ख ख़ . Haha.

    • 150

      Devanagari is not the same as Hindi. Hindi is a language based on Urdu, Sanskrit and Persian along with many more AND it is written in Devanagari script. Arabic script is different from the Arabic language just as Latin is different from Latin text. English uses the Latin letter , so does french, and Spanish; Greek uses the old Greek letters like alpha and beta, kappa, lambda, epsilon, mu, nu, phi etc. Urdu uses the Arabic script like many other languages; even Israel is wondering about using the Arabic script to write the second script of Hebrew.

      Hindi was created after independece using the commenly called Hindustani which was a mixture of common indian languages including Urdu.

  126. 151

    Great post!

  127. 152

    Please continue with Cyrillic and Hebrew!:)

  128. 153

    One of the most interesting posts you guys posted lately! Thanks!

  129. 154

    WOW

    This is the most interesting article i have EVER read. I’m reading it two days and still excited. I would buy a book if it would be more detailed. I wonder how could you get so many info – it is afaik not easy to understand the basic principes of each writing system so writing this must mean to understand them all. And for “western” people with no deep knowledge of at least one of those completely different system, it is imho impossible to understand it at all. WOW

  130. 155

    Excellent Article! Well written, excellent research and presentation. I personally would love to see this work continued and available as a complete resource.

  131. 156

    a very informative article and well put together.. i was surprised to see one of my tattoo designs as an example of Tibetan calligraphy, you may find some better examples of Tibetan calligraphy and its various different styles here:

    http://www.tashimannox.com

    Please use the images as long as they are credited to me.

    with thanks.

  132. 157

    Great article… and yes please, we want another one with Hebrew and Cyrillic!! :-)

  133. 158

    Hebrew would make a good addition to the list; you might want to explore its paleographic forms, through to cursive and print, and of course (the semi-cursive) Rashi script.

  134. 159

    oh very interesting and lots of stuff i didnt know <3

  135. 160

    Webton Webdesign

    May 20, 2010 5:06 am

    Fantastic article… Thank you Smashing Mag & Jessica for a great insight into the beauty of typography world-over.

  136. 161

    This is awesome !!

    Well simply, NON-roman typographic languange ARE awesome !! ALL OF THEM !!

  137. 162

    Impressive !!!
    to think that this Art had been established hundred of years ago is just amazing.
    some website’s design are excellent, but I think that this is even greater.
    thank you.

  138. 163

    Something really cultural
    thanx u from Mexico for sharing this amazing information

  139. 164

    Fantastic article!! Some pieces are absolutely beautiful. It’s a mix between art and design

  140. 165

    Very good and detailed article! One of the best in the last weeks I’ve read. Bookmarked!!

  141. 166

    A good article !i’d like to learn chinese , that’s really wonderful !

  142. 167

    Compared to these amazingly beautiful writings, the Latin letters seem sooo boring…

  143. 168

    That’s a quality article!

  144. 169

    A very informative and interest red. Thanks

  145. 170

    of the written languages i saw in india, my favorite is malayalam. it’s the loopiest!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Malpublicinfoboard.JPG

  146. 171

    I wish the discussion of Chinese writing had mentioned radicals. I think it’s important to note that many characters are made from smaller, common components that hint at meaning and pronunciation.

  147. 172

    Franchement Jess, l’article est ouf, respect le boulot.

    awesome !

  148. 173

    I am waiting for the next Article, can’t wait to see the Hebrew writing system!!
    Very Interesting article BTW!

  149. 174

    还是汉字最美~~~

  150. 175

    Pretty cool article! You’ve done a lot of research!

  151. 176

    skechers shape ups

    May 21, 2010 11:35 pm

    i like yours

  152. 177

    skechers shape ups

    May 21, 2010 11:37 pm

    asdasd

  153. 178

    Informative and interesting article.

    One thing that disappointed me was the lack of proper citations to the information sources. As far as I could find by googling, this article has (at least) several copy-pasted phrases, which seems to be taken from the English Wikipedia: http://bit.ly/aEabbo , http://bit.ly/cTfRID .

    I believe that indicating sources will improve this article by removing possible copyright infringements, and by providing further information to the readers.

  154. 179

    what about mexican???

  155. 180

    Sieben und Achtzig

    May 22, 2010 2:49 am

    Jesus, this is more a book than an article! Thanks for researching and collecting all this information, outstandig job!

  156. 181

    A wonderful post about Asian culture.
    And welcome to my blog:http://www.x-berry.com

  157. 182

    Happy to see such an interesting article.

    And the calligraphy is what I love most.

    In China, nearly all the children are asked to learn calligraphy, but it’s of significance.

    笑~ 汉语欢迎你!

  158. 183

    it is interested post, I liked it too much, specially with Arabic font styles, thanks a lot

  159. 184

    Excellent article, very thorough. You showed so much of the beauty in the history of these languages. Thank you!

  160. 185

    This is a really great article. It’s obviously meant to be a survey, so the simplification of the topics is understandable. I definitely want to find out more about these systems, and this article inspired me to do so.

    I could see a whole series of articles, each concentrating on one particular script/language. All in all, very educational.

  161. 186

    我爱汉字

  162. 188

    This is a fantastic article. Completely unexpected but totally awesome!! I learned so much!

    I hope there’s a follow up article, I’d love to learn about Cyrillic or Hebrew writing systems, for example.

  163. 189

    Wow! One of the best articles I’ve ever read – so much information in a great way presented. Hope it isn’t the last article about this subject.
    Congratulations!

  164. 190

    上面說愛漢字的,改打繁體怎麼樣?

    Thank you for this wonderful post covering most part of Asia!

    Pray do cover Cyrillic, Helenic, Georgian scripts too!

  165. 191

    A friend drew my attention to this interesting article because I run a calligraphy website which focuses on Indic and Tibetan script. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the author had taken the Tibetan mantra image from my website without bothering to ask me. Compare the original here: http://www.visiblemantra.org/vajrasattva.html

    Apparently Jessica Bordeau takes seriously her own opening sentence: “The beauty of typography has no borders.”

  166. 194

    Well said article, very rich. My favourites are arabic and japanese.

  167. 195

    Great article! But I think you’ve missed the most beautiful Persian script: Shikasta Nastaʿlīq. Take a look at this sample from wikipedia or this one which I’ve found using Google Image Search and other ones you can find using google.

  168. 196

    Arabic is so beautiful. Its amazing how many styles there are!

    I loved the Chinese/Arabic mix one.

  169. 197

    This is a wonderful article. There are actually excellent calligraphic examples of another middle-eastern abjad. Hebrew has some fascinating variants because so many holy texts are written in Hebrew. There are a variety of different types of scripts such as Rashi script which are unique and distinct.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_alphabet
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursive_Hebrew
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashi_script

    The evolution of the written language is quite evident and would be an excellent addition to this article as it can be compared to the equally-beautiful Arabic.

  170. 198

    This is an incredibly well research and written article. Thank you so much for posting. All writing is beautiful in its own way.

  171. 199

    very interesting. too bad you haven’t done anything about hebrew

  172. 200

    Imaging solving this on a mobile device… These letters really require some space!

  173. 201

    Wonderful article, one of the clearest and best I’ve seen on SM.

  174. 202

    汉字文化底蕴深厚。

  175. 203

    Excellent and very interesting article!!!!!! Congratulations!!!

  176. 204

    喜欢中国书法

  177. 205

    What a fantastic article – very inspirational!
    Great read, with super visuals!
    Really nice to read a quality article.
    Love your work!: )

  178. 206

    WoW! Thanks for your great post.
    Have you heard about Sri Lanka? Its a small tropical island on Indian ocean. Like most of the Asian countries we have our own distinctive history. Our main language is Sinhalese and its very circular shaped and unique ;) and you forget to mention Tamil calligraphy too. They have their own style different from Hindu calligraphy.

    Thanks again for your commitment.

  179. 207

    Great post!
    The “arabic lion” literally stunned me. Someone knows what it says maybe?

  180. 208

    哈哈 永远 forever 解释的不错

  181. 209

    Thanks for the great read, and pretty comprehensive (in my eyes) on the arabic part. In that sense: 他の言語の活字についてもとても読みたいです。

  182. 210

    Thanks for posting, this is a very inspirational article.

    A small glitch with the Chinese portion of the article, though.

    On all of the examples you have been showing the style on the right, comparing to the “regular style” on the left, with the exception of the last example. On the last example, you were showing “regular style” in traditional Chinese on the left and the “regular style” in simplified Chinese on the right. I don’t understand the logic behind this inconsistency. It it was done intentionally, it was not explained.

    If it was an unintentional error, this can be corrected easily by repeating the characters for “regular style” or「楷書」 on both the left and the right. This will make that a consistent comparison through out.

    If it was supposed to be there to explain the difference in letter form between traditional and simplified Chinese, you might want to clarify.

    Thanks!

  183. 211

    Very detailed, informative and useful article.

  184. 212

    One of the best… detailed article i have ever came across over web…

    great post.. thanks a ton for sharing.. :)

  185. 213

    Nice and detailed article. good to see all ancient langauges. but any details about dravidian language. it was also great old human language. Is there is any article in your site going to come about dravidian langauge THAMIZH or TAMIL?

  186. 214

    wow, what an inspiring article, thanks a lot..

  187. 215

    this is such an amazing compilation of examples, knowledge and design gorgeousness. mind blowing. Smashing

  188. 216

    Thanks for this great information,i love web designing although i had no idea on how to go about it.Great work.

  189. 217

    Amila J Wijesooriya

    November 17, 2010 5:10 pm

    What a wonderful article, I found out another cool Writing Systems which has cool calligraphic look if u can find some images please add it in here or in ur future article, Its call Sinhala origine from Sri lanka
    examples : http://karava.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Sinhala_Art.3644209.JPG

  190. 218

    Very good imformative .Tank you

  191. 219

    What you called “Ta’liq” is actually “Nasta’liq”. “Ta’liq” style of calligraphy is different. Nasta’liq is a later-development of Ta’liq which combines certain elements of Naskh style with Ta’liq.

  192. 220

    Wow.! What amazing news..very good information.Keep it up..

  193. 221

    very beautiful writing . It is ART ! graphik-tools.de/

  194. 222

    Very nice article. Gives a basic idea about all scripts. Thanks

  195. 223

    Kulbushan – How and where did you deduce that Tamil was from Devanagiri script?

  196. 224

    For me, I feel that Arabic is the most beautiful. I think the sometimes long, sometimes short letters, and the blending into each other, is all extremely stunning!
    Some good examples of this can be found at http://www.learn-how-to-speak-arabic.com

  197. 225

    V. Nice we can learn moor things from yours.

    Thanks.

  198. 226

    ‘These strokes are called matras, or dependant forms of the vowel.’

    After this line the visual placement of Devanagari matras are wrong.
    Please correct it or remove it. It will lead people to incorrect information. I appreciate the attempt of providing the information.

  199. 227

    Text on devanagari typography and the visuals have lots of mistakes. I am very curious to know what do you mean by the comment “lacks distinct letter cases” ??

  200. 229

    This is a great overview article of all the scripts, and that is really cool when it comes to the Al-Jazeera logo.

    As for the Chinese and Japanese Calligraphy section you can find a lot more information and examples here http://www.beyondcalligraphy.com/calligraphy_styles.html

    Also Thank you for taking the time to write it, as i have never heard of Sini which seems like something i should follow-up.

  201. 230

    Hey, AMAZING article!
    I speak and write arabic and was puzzled to read that we use the western numbers. We have our own numbers ( that actually are the ancestors of the numbers used in the english language). And we write them from right to left too.
    http://www.salamcards.com/images/arabic-numbers.jpg

    • 231

      Arabic numerals came from Indian numerals. They are simply called arabic due to the mere fact that the European scholars first learnt about them from Arabic texts.

      However the Originator (or Ancestors, as u put it) of modern numbering system are the Hindus, NOT Arabs.

    • 232

      I should point out that both Western numbers (Hindu-Arabic, 0123456789) and Eastern Arabic number (٠‎ – ١‎ – ٢‎ – ٣‎ – ٤‎ – ٥‎ – ٦‎ – ٧‎ – ٨‎ – ٩) are used when writing Arabic. The usage of one kind of numbers or the other depends on the region, the former are usually used in Africa while the latter are more commonly seen in the Middle East.

    • 233

      I speak and write arabic and was puzzled to read that we use the western numbers. We have our own numbers ( that actually are the ancestors of the numbers used in the english language). And we write them from right to left too.
      http://www.arab-clavier.com/

  202. 234

    Hello there, This is a fantastic article!! thank you for it!
    I also had a question: i wonder if you would please be able to email me the arabic calligraphic writing of the word “love”? it’s for a tattoo. I truly would be grateful to you!
    Thank you!! :)
    with Metta.

    • 235

      Thank you for writing this very good article! I finally have a chance to get some insight the easy way into east asian and indic script, while I’m happy about your explanation of Farsi, its relation and its differences to Arabic and so on.
      Last week I stood on a hospital entrance carpet greeting visitors in many languages, but the arabic and persian words for welcome were sadly funny, the letters standing in reversed order, and detached from each other, which made them completely gaga. While I found it very kind of the hospital to make this effort, I was disappointed that our fellow designer had made no effort to have someone check the results. The problem stems from using the letters, but not the right-to-left paragraph mode. Actually Photoshop – at least the european version – is the one who is unable to do it right (to left). You copy a correctly written persian word from a text editing programm, when you paste in within Photoshop, it becomes useless and wrong. I usually grab a large-sized screenshot of the word from a Word document, then paste and manipulate it as an image. But this is tedious and stupid.
      Does anyone know a good solution to this?

      • 236

        Seems like Photoshop is unable to do this, but CorelDRAW understands arabic correctly (I tried in X4 version). So if you don’t need to represent lots of text but simply a few words – type (or copy-paste) it in CorelDRAW and then export as *EPS file. Don’t forget to convert font to curves. You’ll get a vector layout which you can easily work with in Photoshop

        that’s not a good solution, though

  203. 237

    Your article shows extensive research. However, it gives too much space to Chinese calligraphy compared with all the others. The Japanese system deserves more attention as it is more well known globally and is also very artistic. Finally, the Hindi Devnagiri script has been dismissed very briefly. First, it is based on Sanskrit system devised over 5,000 years ago. Second, its phonetic foundation has hardly been mentioned. Finallly, the word NUKTA is pure Arabic and is not found in Hindi. The correct Hindi word is BINDU.

  204. 239

    There are some crucial things about Korea’s Hangul which could have made it to the article. I think they are pretty important when you talk about writing systems and typography of Korea:

    The alphabet has very specific order that reveals its scientific-like beauty, but since the illustration used in the article does not correspond to that collation, it conceals the whole point:
    – 14 basic consonants (10 fundamental and 4 aspirated versions of fundamental jamos with derived symbols: g/kh ㄱ/ㅋ, d/th ㄷ/ㅌ, b/ph ㅂ/ㅍ, j/ch ㅈ/ㅊ)
    – 6 basic vowels (a ㅏ, eo ㅓ, o ㅗ, u ㅜ, eu ㅡ, i ㅣ); look how similar they are!
    – 4 iotized vowels (yaㅑ, yeo ㅕ, yo ㅛ, yu ㅠ); just an additional stroke to a basic vowel…
    – that makes 24 basic characters of Hangeul [jamo] (illustration shows around 40)

    – additional 5 tensed consonants are created from basic consonants by doubling them (g ㄲ, d ㄸ, b ㅃ, s ㅆ, j ㅉ)
    – additional 11 diphthongs are created from basic vowels by combining or iotizing them (i.e. weo/wo = u + o: ㅝ = ㅜ + ㅓ)
    – additional 11 consonant clusters are created from basic consonants (i.e. bs = b +s: ㅄ = ㅂ + ㅅ); since they are used as the last part of a square syllable the pronunciation of one or both sounds varies as they often interact with a next syllable.

    Additional notes:
    – a syllable never starts with a vowel, but must follow a consonant (including ㅇ, which can be mute or interact with a batchim (final consonant) of a previous syllable.
    – a syllable contains from 2 (consonant + vowel) to 6 letter (i.e. tensed consonant + vowel diphthong + consonant cluster).
    – there are spaces and punctuation used with hangul.
    – while writing the one should follow the stroke order of each jamo.
    – handwritten Hangul usually exists in two forms: regular (corresponding to basic forms) and semi-cursive script (that looks very close to Chinese semi-cursive writing).
    – in modern days Hangul’s syllable blocks are always written from left to right, but traditional writing may include texts using right-to-left or top-to-bottom (but never bottom-to-top) positioning.
    – each square can be spelled letter-by-letter [jamo-by-jamo], but since they are grouped into syllables and their visual structure is very simple, reading is much more effective and faster because readers focus on syllables, not individual jamo.

  205. 240

    Matthew DeBlock

    May 14, 2012 11:08 am

    Awesome post, great pics :)

    you may like Dscript as well, a way to “import” the styles and looks of asian calligraphy into western langauges(Dscript works with any alphabet”

    http://dscript.ca

  206. 241

    this is brilliant.

  207. 242

    What about Javanese??

  208. 243

    Great post! Thanks for sharing it with us. Do you have by chance a PDF of this article? I really would like to keep a clean copy of the different alphabets. Best regards.

  209. 244

    Amazing article!

    Greetings from Brazil!

  210. 245

    I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I would like to share with you this web site to write in Arabic http://www.clavierenarabe.info/arabic-keyboard.html – I think it complements your article. and again thank you for your effors :)

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