Writing Systems And Calligraphy Of The World


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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).


The three scripts are often mixed single sentences.


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

Development of hiragana from man’yōgana.

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.


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.


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

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


Vietnamese Rotation


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.


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.



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.


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:



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


Teardrop-Shaped Composition

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



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.”


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.”


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.


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


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.


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



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.


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).


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Thai Stacking Diactritics


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


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.


Tibetan Mantras

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.


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.”


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.

Vajrasattva mantra in Tibetan.


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.


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.



  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.

  1. 1

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

  2. 52

    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.

    • 103

      (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.

  3. 154

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

  4. 205

    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.

  5. 256

    wonderful article. wonderful

  6. 307

    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!!!!

    • 358

      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.

    • 409

      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.

  7. 460

    Only one word: AWESOME!!!

  8. 511

    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.

  9. 562

    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.

    • 613

      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.

  10. 664

    Wow! Very Great post!

    Welcome to learn Chinese!


  11. 766

    Its fresh completely

    out of the clutter.
    opened the brain

  12. 817


  13. 868

    Wonderful post..!

  14. 919

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

  15. 970

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

  16. 1021

    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.

  17. 1072

    Wow, superb article! Very informative.

  18. 1123

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

  19. 1174

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

  20. 1225

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

  21. 1276

    Amazing article. Thanks.

  22. 1327


  23. 1378

    Fantastic article. Thank you!

  24. 1429

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

    • 1480

      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.

      • 1531

        @ 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.

  25. 1582

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

  26. 1633

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

  27. 1684

    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?


  28. 1786

    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!

  29. 1837

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

  30. 1888

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

  31. 1939

    Bloody fantastic stuff!

  32. 1990

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

    • 2041

      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.

      • 2092

        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.

      • 2143

        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.

  33. 2194

    Thank you.

  34. 2245

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

  35. 2296

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

  36. 2347

    Very detailed article! Amazing!

  37. 2398

    really inspiring article

  38. 2449

    That was an interesting article. Thanks!

  39. 2500

    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.

  40. 2551

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

  41. 2602

    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.

  42. 2653

    Amazing post, thank you!

  43. 2704

    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.

  44. 2755

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

  45. 2806


    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.




  46. 2857

    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 :)

    • 2908

      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.

  47. 2959

    Excellent article.

    Further research can lead it to be your Bachelor thesis.

  48. 3010

    Sean McCambridge

    May 19, 2010 6:33 am

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

  49. 3061

    good stuff if not too simplified

  50. 3112

    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:



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