The Beauty Of Typography: Writing Systems And Calligraphy, Part 2

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The beauty of writing systems is that each has something unique from which to draw inspiration. Two weeks ago, in the first part of this article1, we covered Arabic and East-Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese) and a few Indic scripts (Devanagari, Thai and Tibetan).

We are now back for the second (and last) part, which is a bit different but just as interesting. You will see that some features of the languages presented here clearly correspond to our Latin-based system, while others are unfamiliar. The point of this second part is to complete our look at writing systems of the world and to think more generally about what they signify. We’ll cover the following:

Writing Systems Of The World

Before we get started, let’s take a moment to understand where everything fits in:

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Click on the image to see it full-size.

Figuring out how many languages are spoken in the world is hard, but estimates are at around 7000 languages and dialects, with hundreds of script for writing them down. Fortunately, the major writing systems fall into four broad categories:

  • Alphabetic
    As you probably know, an alphabet is a segmental writing system in which a standardized set of letters (graphemes) roughly represents phonemes. The word “alphabet” is derived from Alpha and Beta, the first two symbols of the Greek alphabet. Two types of alphabets are important in classifying writing systems:

    • Adbjad, which contains symbols for consonants only, or vowels optionally written with diacritics (e.g. Arabic and Hebrew).
    • Adbugida, whose basic signs denote consonants with inherent vowels. “Following” vowels other than inherent ones are denoted by diacritical marks or another systematic modification of the consonants (e.g. Devanāgarī).
  • Logographies
    In a logographic system, each character (logogram) represents a single complete grammatical word and is more precise than a morpheme (e.g. Chinese).
  • Syllabaries
    As the name suggests, in a syllabic system, characters represent or approximate syllables (or more precisely “moras”), which make up words. A symbol typically represents a consonant sound followed by a vowel sound, or a vowel alone (e.g. Japanese).
  • Featural
    A featural writing system represents finer details than an alphabet. Each symbol represents not a whole phoneme but rather the phonetic features that make up the phoneme, such as voicing or place of articulation (e.g. Korean).

Unluckily for us, most writing systems cannot be classified as purely one type. Indeed, many languages include several of these features. In English, for example, the clusters of phonemic letters are a complex match to their sounds.

End of parenthesis. I could go on, but then this would not be the article you signed up for. So, we’ll go back to our subject and start exploring the typographic beauty of languages. If you’re interested in this classification of fascinating writing systems, then this Wikipedia article8 is a great start.

Hebrew

Calligraphy82 in Hebrew and Cyrillic9

The Hebrew alphabet is a descendant of the Aramaic alphabet, which is itself a descendant of the Phoenician alphabet. Like Arabic, the Hebrew alphabet is an abjad in its traditional form (i.e. an alphabet consisting only of consonants), written from right to left. It has 22 letters, 5 of which have different forms at the end of a word (called “sofit”). The Hebrew alphabet has only one case, so capitalization is not used, and it is often called the “alefbet” because of its first two letters.

Calligraphy39 in Hebrew and Cyrillic10

Diacritics

Again like Arabic, modern Hebrew orthography includes several types of diacritics as aids to pronunciation. These are written above, below or inside the letter, in ways that do not alter the spacing of the line. Text containing these markings is referred to as “pointed” text and contains three types of marks:

  • The niqqud (points) are used most. They represent vowels or are used to distinguish between alternative pronunciations of several letters of the alphabet.
  • The geresh (indicating initialisms) and the gershayim (indicating acronyms) are diacritics that affect pronunciation. They are also used to denote Hebrew numerals but are not considered part of the niqqud.
  • The cantillation are accents that show how Biblical passages should be chanted and that sometimes function as punctuation.

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Letters are in black, points in red and cantillation in blue.

Fonts

12
The Hebrew letter ה (hei) in four fonts (from right to left): modern Hebrew block, modern Hebrew handwriting, Torah scroll writing, “Rashi” script.

Hebrew can be written in three main scripts:

  • Cursive Hebrew
    Used almost exclusively when handwriting in modern Hebrew13, because it is faster to write than traditional Hebrew.

    14

  • Rashi
    A semi-cursive script used in books for editorial insertions or biblical commentary. (Named after Rashi, one of the great medieval Jewish scholars and biblical commentators.)

    15

  • Block
    Used mostly in books. A stylized form of the Aramaic script.

    16

Gematria

In Hebrew, each letter is also used to denote numbers. One interesting thing about Hebrew is “Gematria,” the system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other. The best-known example is the Hebrew word “Chai” (meaning “life”), which is composed of two letters that add up to 18. For this reason, 18 is a spiritual number in Judaism, and many Jews give gifts of money in multiples of 18.

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The word “Chai” is composed of the two letters: Chet (ח) and Yod (י).

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There are 22 solid figures composed of regular polygons (5 Platonic solids, 4 Kepler-Poinsot solids and 13 Archimedean solids). Because the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, we can infer a correspondence between these two seemingly unrelated categories. The art of gematria is knowing which solid to associate with which letter.

This system is used to gain insight into related concepts and to find correspondence between words and concepts. According to most practitioners, there are several methods19 of calculating the numerical value of individual words and phrases. When converted to a number, a word or phrase can then be compared to another word or phrase, from which a similarity can be identified.

Calligraphy

Over 150 laws govern how the Hebrew alphabet can be written by a Jewish scribe. Needless to say, we won’t list them all here, but a few are below, including the standard for writing the letter “tsadi,” which consists of the letters Yud and Nun. For more information, this website20 is quite extensive.

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European Alphabets

In this part, we’ll cover the five modern European alphabetic scripts: Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Armenian and Georgian.

Latin

The basic modern Latin alphabet (containing 26 letters, possibly also used in combination with diacritics) is the best known of the Latin alphabets. The writing system is not only the most used in Europe but is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world today. Consequently, we have many Latin-derived alphabets.

22

Some languages have fewer than 26 letters, such as the Italian alphabet, which has only 21 letters (thanks to the person who pointed this out in a comment). Most Latin-derived alphabets use the basic 26 letters, plus extensions. Diacritics are the most common way to extend the alphabet, but not the only way, as we will now see.

1. Adding diacritics
One way to extend the basic alphabet is by adding diacritics to existing letters, a practice followed by most Latin-based languages (English pretty much being the exception). The illustration below is from the very interesting article “On Diacritics6723” from I Love Typography, showing various diacritics in use.

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2. Joining multiple letters to make ligatures
Another way to extend the alphabet is by joining multiple letters to make ligatures. Fusing two or more ordinary letters creates a new glyph or character.

25
Typical ligatures in the Latin script.

3. Clustering letters
Diagraphs and trigraphs are pairs and triplets of letters to which a special function has been assigned. They are not proper characters and do not correspond to the value you would get by combining two or three characters normally. Rather, they are pairs or triplets of letters with a special function.

26
In Welsh, the digraph “Ll” is fused as “ll” to form a ligature.

Digraphs and trigraphs are found in alphabets other than the Latin one, and we can discern various patterns27 in their form:

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4. Collating
The question arises: how to sort all these modified letters? This is where collating comes in handy. Collation is the assemblage of written information into a standard order. One common type of collation is alphabetization, although collation is not limited to ordering letters of the alphabet.

These additional letters can be regarded as distinct new letters and are assigned specific positions in the alphabet (such as the symbols Å, Ä and Ö in Swedish):

A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P · Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z · Å · Ä · Ö

In other cases, especially with letter-diacritic combinations, extensions are identified by their base letter (as with Ä, Ö, Ü and ß in German).

A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P · Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z ( + Ä · Ö · Ü · ß)

To complicate things further, there are languages in which certain extensions are regarded as new letters and others are not. For example, in Spanish, the character Ñ is considered a distinct letter and is sorted between N and O in the dictionary; but the accented vowels Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú are not distinct from the unaccented vowels A, E, I, O, U, respectively.

A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · Ñ · O · P · Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z ( + Á · É · Í · Ó · Ú · Ü )

Cyrillic Alphabet

Calligraphy83 in Hebrew and Cyrillic29

The Cyrillic alphabet was developed by the Slavs in Bulgaria in the 9th century. It is based on the system of Greek capital letters, augmented by ligatures and consonants from the older Glagolitic alphabet to account for sounds not found in the Greek.

Calligraphy66 in Hebrew and Cyrillic30
The Greek alphabet.

Calligraphy22 in Hebrew and Cyrillic31
The Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

The early Cyrillic alphabet came to dominate over Glagolitic in the 12th century. Since its creation, it has adapted to changes in the spoken language and developed regional variations to suit the features of national languages. Variations of the Cyrillic alphabet are used nowadays for languages throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.

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It is interesting how different some of these letters can be depending on whether they’re written in regular or italic cursive:

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Likewise, uppercase, small caps and lowercase can be quite different:

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Armenian

The Armenian alphabet has been used for the Armenian language since the 5th century. Until the 19th century, the Armenian language had only one written form: Old Armenian. Since then, phonological changes have split it into two dialects: Eastern and Western Armenian.

35
A typeface created by Khajag36 that improves on the legibility of current typefaces used in school textbooks.

Schools nowadays teach only the Eastern dialect as the written form because it is closer to the historical Old Armenian form, even though the Western dialect is more widely spoken. The following chart shows the alphabet, with its Eastern (EA) and Western (WA) phonetic values:

3738

Punctuation in Armenian is quite interesting, because it is completely different than what we are used to:

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The Erkatagir script is monumental in style. The majuscule letters are large, erect, with gracefully rounded lines that connect (or spring from) the vertical elements of the letters. All letters are written on a base line between two imaginary parallel lines, with ascending and descending elements only slightly extending beyond. Round Erkatagir is characterized by a contrast of thick vertical forms and razor-thin connecting curved strokes. [text and image from 15levels444240]

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The Bolorgir, or minuscule, ancestor of modern Armenian type fonts, dominated scribal hands from the 13th to 16th centuries and continued well through the 19th. It has developed more elegant and graphic forms, and although by definition a round script, the characters are slanted and the letters have sharp corners. The contrast between base shapes and connecting strokes is not as extreme as in Erkatagir; it is a more cursive script (characters are closer to one another), smaller in size and different in shape. [text and image from 15levels444240]

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The Notrgir, or notary script, is a blend of Bolorgir and Sła’gir, dominated by small cursive forms. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, the secretary—working as a scribe in the royal court or Catholicosate—employed as a matter of necessity time-saving cursive versions of Bolorgir and even smaller Notrgir letters. The structure may have entered Armenian writing traditions in the late Byzantine Greek or Latin periods. [text and image from 15levels444240]

4546

Georgian

Georgian (ქართული დამწერლობა) is the writing system of the Georgian language (of course), but also of other languages in the Caucasus, mostly South Caucasian languages. Georgian has always used three distinct alphabets: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli. They have progressed through three forms, all dissimilar, even though they share the same letter names and “collation” (now you know that’s just a fancy way of saying alphabet order). The word meaning “alphabet” (ანბანი [anbani]) is derived from the names of the first two letters of each of the three Georgian alphabets, the modern one containing 33 letters.

47

Georgian is interesting because of its double influence. Like its neighboring language, Armenian, it displays Greek influences in its letter-ordering, while Iranian influences are visible in the cursive shapes of the letters (especially the ancient forms), and the abundance of sibilants are reminiscent of Pahlavi, an ancient Iranian script.

Mongolian

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The Mongolian script has a long history. It was developed as an adaptation of the script of the Uyghurs, who were captured by the Mongols during a war against the Naimans around the 12th century CE. But it didn’t fit the Mongolian language: the spelling was ambiguous because Uyghur letters represented multiple sounds. In addition, the spelling fossilized while the sounds naturally evolved, thus separating the written and spoken language. Language reform during the 16th century CE alleviated the problem, and the resulting script is known as Mongolian:

49

Mongolian is special for its vertical writing. The Uyghur script and its descendants—Mongolian, Oirat Clear, Manchu and Buryat—are the only vertical scripts written from left to right. This happened because the Uyghurs rotated their script (which was derived from Sogdian, a right-to-left script) 90° counter-clockwise to emulate Chinese writing, but without changing the relative orientation of the letters.

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For more inspiration from the Mongolian script, don’t miss these antiques of Mongolian calligraphy51.

Inuktitut

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Inuktitut (ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ, literally meaning “like the Inuit”) is the language of the Inuit people, specifically the Inuit of the Canadian Eastern Arctic. It also refers to the Inuit language as a whole, which itself is more of a dialect continuum than a single language. Roughly four dialects and variants groups are on this continuum, depending on the region where they are spoken. The Canadian census reports that approximately 35,000 Inuktitut speakers are in Canada, including about 200 who reside outside of traditionally Inuit lands.

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With only 0.01 people per square kilometer of land, Nunavut is one of the least populated regions in the world. And yet it has four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. For this reason, the government of Nunavut adopted a clean sans-serif font called Pigiarniq54 (designed by Tiro Typeworks55) that enables its people to use all four languages in a uniform manner. The result is a professional-looking free font family:

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Preview of the Pigiarniq font: regular, light, italic, bold, heavy.

International Phonetic Alphabet

Let’s finish this series with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). This system of phonetic notation is based on the Latin alphabet and is designed to represent only distinctive qualities of spoken language: phonemes, intonation and the separation of words and syllables.

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Phonetic transcriptions of the word “international” in two English dialects.

The general principle followed by the International Phonetic Association is to provide one symbol for each distinctive sound, meaning:

  • Individual sounds are not represented by letter combinations, and multiple sounds are not represented by individual letters (the way “x” represents [ks] or [ɡz] in English);
  • Letters do not have context-dependent sound values (as “c” does in English and other European languages);
  • Two sounds are usually not given separate letters if no known language distinguishes between them (a property known as “selectiveness”).

Interestingly, all pronunciations in the languages we have looked at can be summarized in the following IPA chart. That’s right: one page! Occasionally, the International Phonetic Association adds, removes or modifies symbols; but as of 2008, the IPA proper has 107 distinct letters, 52 diacritics and 4 prosody marks.

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Obviously we won’t look at the chart in detail. Below, though, is the IPA chart for vowels, mapped according to the position of the tongue.

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The IPA is a special type of notation, and yet we can still make out familiar words and names:

Screenshot60

Resources

Disclaimer

This article is partly based on the copyrighted Wikipedia articles (“Writing System7562“,”Hebrew diacritics76“, “Chai symbol7768“, “International Phonetic Alphabet7879“); it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA)80. 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 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/05/18/the-beauty-of-typography-writing-systems-and-calligraphy-of-the-world/
  2. 2 #hebrew
  3. 3 #european
  4. 4 #mongolian
  5. 5 #inuktitut
  6. 6 #IPA
  7. 7 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/WritingSystemsoftheWorld4.png
  8. 8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_system
  9. 9 http://www.flickr.com/photos/fototekguy85/3117111723/
  10. 10 http://www.ancientscripts.com/hebrew.html
  11. 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_diacritics
  12. 12 http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/2010/04/in-hebrew-and-its-relationship-to-arab.html
  13. 13 http://www.akhlah.com/aleph_bet/hebrew_worksheets/writing_script.php
  14. 14 http://jdl.czechian.net/pismo.htm
  15. 15 http://jdl.czechian.net/pismo.htm
  16. 16 http://www.flickr.com/photos/marohn_ja/416747074/
  17. 17 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chai_%28symbol%29
  18. 18 http://mara-gamiel.blogspot.com/2007/12/mystical-gematria.html
  19. 19 http://www.hebrew4christians.net/Grammar/Unit_Eight/Hebrew_Gematria/hebrew_gematria.html
  20. 20 http://www.templesanjose.org/JudaismInfo/writing/Calligraphy.htm
  21. 21 http://www.calligraphy.mvk.ru/en/?idx=41&sw=p&idsub=246
  22. 22 http://www.flickr.com/photos/24714188@N06/3503234316/
  23. 23 http://ilovetypography.com/2009/01/24/on-diacritics/
  24. 24 http://ilovetypography.com/2009/01/24/on-diacritics/
  25. 25 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ligatures.svg
  26. 26 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lldigraph.png
  27. 27 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digraph_%28orthography%29
  28. 28 http://digitalmailart.blogspot.com/2005_07_01_archive.html
  29. 29 http://www.flickr.com/photos/typetogether/4222123025/
  30. 30 http://crabbycats.com/alphabets.html
  31. 31 http://crabbycats.com/alphabets.html
  32. 32 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/calligraphy222.jpg
  33. 33 http://www.nonpareille.net/typographie/en/typefaces/bonesana-en.html
  34. 34 http://www.nonpareille.net/typographie/en/typefaces/bonesana-en.html
  35. 35 http://typemedia09.com/index.php?/graduates/khajag-apelian/
  36. 36 http://typemedia09.com/index.php?/graduates/khajag-apelian/
  37. 37 http://www.worldtranslations.org/tools/transliterations/transl/armenian.asp
  38. 38 http://www.ancientscripts.com/armenian.html
  39. 39 http://www.worldtranslations.org/tools/transliterations/transl/armenian.asp
  40. 40 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  41. 41 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  42. 42 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  43. 43 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  44. 44 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  45. 45 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  46. 46 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  47. 47 http://www.ancientscripts.com/georgian.html
  48. 48 http://www.flickr.com/photos/szimsen/3879142225/
  49. 49 http://www.qingis.com/monggolkiril.htm
  50. 50 http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_SB0NmYpUkpg/Sy5GKgdeG7I/AAAAAAAAAdU/HtHJ-9Xv5jo/s1600-h/hederge.jpg
  51. 51 http://inkwaymongolia.com/mongol%20uran%20bichleg_english.html
  52. 52 http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew-raven/209844724/
  53. 53 http://www.fact-archive.com/encyclopedia/Inuktitut
  54. 54 http://www.gov.nu.ca/english/font/
  55. 55 http://tiro.com/syllabics/resources/syllabic_resources.html
  56. 56 http://arbent.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/pig.jpg
  57. 57 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet
  58. 58 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/IPA_chart_2005.png
  59. 59 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet
  60. 60 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/calligaphy245.jpg
  61. 61 http://www.hebrew4christians.net/Grammar/Unit_Eight/Hebrew_Gematria/hebrew_gematria.html
  62. 62 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_system
  63. 63 http://www.ancientscripts.com/index.html
  64. 64 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_diacritics
  65. 65 http://jdl.czechian.net/pismo.htm
  66. 66 http://www.calligraphy.mvk.ru/en/?idx=41&sw=p&idsub=246
  67. 67 http://ilovetypography.com/2009/01/24/on-diacritics/
  68. 68 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chai_%28symbol%29
  69. 69 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digraph_%28orthography%29
  70. 70 http://typemedia09.com/index.php?/graduates/khajag-apelian/
  71. 71 http://15levels.com/art/armeniancalligraphy/
  72. 72
  73. 73
  74. 74 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet
  75. 75 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_system
  76. 76 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_diacritics
  77. 77 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chai_%28symbol%29
  78. 78 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet
  79. 79 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul
  80. 80 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 one of the coolest articles I have ever read. Seeing the calligraphy of these great languages just proves to me that men were inspired by God to create these languages. it is an amazing thing to consider how each of these languages, though respectively foreign to some, are like home to others.

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  2. 2

    This is a very great article! Thanks a lot!

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  3. 3

    very interesting, спасибо! :)

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  4. 4

    Very intersting and informative article, thank you. You have one little mistake: “The Hebrew letter ה (heh)” – heh is not exectly correct. It should be: hei.

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  5. 6

    A comprehensive recital of writing system around world.

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  6. 7
  7. 8

    One of the most interesting posts in ages, very good! Love this stuff! :)

    1
  8. 9

    Wow!
    Only thing I’m missing is Tengwar =D

    1
  9. 10

    Impressive article! Thanks a lot.

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  10. 11

    twitter: val_berger

    June 22, 2010 6:33 am

    this is just, like part 1, one of the most terrific examples of how much value the web offers us for free. thank you very very much for your effort.

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  11. 12

    Correction: The Cyrillic alphabet was developed by two Greeks, Cyril and Methodius (hence the name “Cyrillic”).

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    • 13

      Not exactly true. It is said that Cyril and Methodius developed Glagolitic alphabet which is considered predecessor of Cyrillic.

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      • 14

        yes, and they should have posted an example of the Glagolitic alphabet because it differs from Byzantine (Greek) alphabet as well as Armenian and Georgian.
        Also the Cyrillic alphabet looked quite different till the 18th century and was modified by orthographic reforms of Russian Emperor Peter I, as the result the Cyrillic alphabet got the new outline, a number of letters was expelled. later on the Э and Ё letters came.
        The alphabet got its modern look only in 1918.
        so there is a number of very important historical points of evolution of the cyrillic alphabet (at least in its Russian variant) – Byzantine influence, influence of different Slavs in the middle centuries, Peter I reforms, the Bolsheviks and Soviet era.

        2
  12. 15

    Cyrilic letters were invented in Macedonia.

    2
  13. 16

    Writing Systems Of The World is not accurate!
    In few countries such as Iran, they don’t speak Arabic!
    They speak Farsi which is completely different, not a good resource!

    -1
    • 17

      In Iran and pakistan they speak farsi and Urdu but they do use arabic letters to write. Different languages using arabic alphabet.

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  14. 18

    Collation is even worse than you might think. In German, there are at least three different, competing collation systems: telephone book, sorting Ä as if it was Ae, and two dictionary variants, one treating Ä as equal to A, and one treating Ä to come after A.

    On top of that, there is the concept of collation strengths (not limited to German): the weaker the collation, the more differences in characters are considered to be equal (e.g. accented characters equal their original, upper case characters equal lower case, etc.).

    0
  15. 19

    Interesting stuff, got me thinking of the written “language” that Tolkien developed for Middle Earth.

    0
  16. 20

    Wow! That was a quick turnaround for this fantastic next installment. Smashing Magazine and you are on the ball on this one.
    Definitely glad this was posted. Thanks!

    0
  17. 21

    Quality Article – thanks

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  18. 22

    great article. thanks. Beautiful letters all over the world.

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  19. 23

    Kartlos Tchavelachvili

    June 22, 2010 11:03 am

    “Inuktitut” typography looks like alien : )

    0
  20. 24

    Oh wow! Great work here, more than I can comprehend in one sitting!

    0
  21. 25

    Awesome and high quality!
    good job, though im missing something or you forgot the greek typo/alphabet?

    0
  22. 26

    it is art ! I love this kind of article. thanks

    0
  23. 27

    Very super cool!

    0
  24. 28

    The Cyrillic alphabet was developed by ss. Cyril and Methodius (born in Solun) and developed in Macedonia (not Greek Macedonia) the name of the alphabet comes from Cyril (Кирил) which is regular Macedonian name … it does not have anything with Bulgarians … where the hell did you get that information about bulgarians ??? …

    1
    • 29

      Smashing Editorial

      June 22, 2010 10:35 pm

      Interesting. Well, Wikipedia states otherwise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrillic_alphabet

      0
      • 30

        Well, it is unfortunate and even sad that there are people that really think the country of Macedonia has anything in common with the Cyrillic alphabet.
        The country had never existed before declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. But the propaganda in Macedonia is very strong and the politics make the people to believe that many historic events that had been happening in the region of Macedonia were related to the country of Macedonia. In consequence, Macedonian people believe in some ridiculous things, for instance that Tsar Samuel (Цар Самуил) is a Macedonian Tsar only because the territory of Bulgaria by that time had consisted only by the region of Macedonia.

        The Cyrillic alphabet was really developed by the two brothers Cyril and Methodius. Cyril (Кирил) is not only a common name in Macedonia, but also in Bulgaria, and I think in other Slavic countries, so it is not an argument at all. The important thing is, they had been working for the Byzantine (Greek) Emperor and have created the alphabet explicitly for the Bulgarian needs. Later on it has been adopted by other Slavic countries.

        These facts are well known by historians in many countries, it is unfortunate that the Macedonian historians seem to work in isolation and invent their own truth.

        0
        • 31

          Jessica Bordeau

          June 23, 2010 1:00 am

          Thanks for the clarification Radoslav

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        • 32

          According to my knowledge, Cyrillic was not developed by Cyril and Methodius. They created Glagolitic alphabet, the predecessor of Cyrillic. Cyrillic it self was developed by Cyril’s scholars in exile from Great Moravia. Cheers.

          4
        • 33

          Well put, Rado. Thank you ;)

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        • 34

          Yes Radoslav. You’re right. Instead of being so nationalists, those guys who just copy the stat propaganda (Macedonian state), the should simply check objectively (if they can) the history of their own country using the right tool. THE COMMON SENSE.

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    • 35

      You should read this:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_(region)#Roman_Macedonia

      Encyclopedia Britannica will also give you the same information, but it requires that you pay for it.

      From the birth of Christ to the late 20th century scholars haven’t found any evidence of existence of a Macedonian state. Until recently (1990s) Macedonia has been a region that changed hands numerous times between the strong of the day, hence one cannot create an alphabet for a non-existent state, as you argue.

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  25. 36

    Christian Broadbent

    June 22, 2010 6:06 pm

    Great post, nice to see different types around the world for reference

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  26. 37

    great one.. thanks…

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  27. 38

    this is historic! :D
    thanks!

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  28. 39

    Really great and interesting article… I really love ARMENIAN letters… I ‘ll definitely try to use these letters in future for logo and to give a calligraphic touch…

    2
  29. 40

    Working with the big greeting card companies, I am amazed at the “Master Calligraphers” and their work. I’d like to say it’s not a lost art but I remember having to fire comic book lettering artists in favor of (forgive me but it was for comic books) Comic Sans. The last hiding place for such living treasures is shrinking while the Walmart culture fails to see the beauty and quality. A victim of rollbacks.

    I’ll stick to photoshop and Illustrator as my hand isn’t the steadiest. For those like me, understanding kerning and leading, font manipulation and substitution (using several fonts in one headline but making it appear as one font) is an art form that seems to also be fading away. Design is type and type is? Yes. Design.

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  30. 41

    Very interesting article. Waiting for more in the series :)

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  31. 42

    Thanks for this great article!
    Fascinating what beatiful forms where found to cummunicate! Just thought Latin chars seem to be a bit boring ;)

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  32. 43

    Great article, indeed. I would add – for the latin part – the ligature of a and t, and the letter ß is a ligature of s and z, even though it is often replaced by a ss today in german writing. The swiss hardly use it at all, I even had the case where a swiss asked me why I used a “B” there. He didn’t know the letter at all.

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  33. 44

    would have been a complete list … you forgot the Ethiopian … Fidel …. it is a rich culture as the ones you listed …. apart from that … the article is marvelous … thank a lot ….

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  34. 45

    Wonderful article.

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  35. 46

    Glad Hebrew was included here. I think it’s one of the prettiest types on earth. Greek is also quite beautiful. As is Arabic. Great job!

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  36. 47

    Great post, thank’s !

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  37. 48

    Thanks for this amazing article!!

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  38. 49

    Очень понравилась статья, и тщательный подход к вопросу – спасибо огромное за материал!

    Thanks for this amazing article!

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  39. 50

    Well-research, eloquently-written, and generously illustrated with examples. Well done! Jessica, I hope more than this, your article inspires students to research and think, rather than just drag themselves through education. It’s obvious you have found in life what you love and have a whole life ahead of you to grow and refine yourself further in this. Congratulations.

    regards
    niyam

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  40. 51

    Fascinating article–especially when you consider it but skims the surface! I had one question about the Welsh ligature, which you indicated as being LI, though in the first image it looks like IL. I don’t know enough about it to know if that’s a discrepancy, or some other strange Welsh language rule!

    Thanks for sharing this–from a design standpoint these are soooo beautiful…

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    • 52

      Heather – Welsh does not use ligatures. The digraph ‘ll’ (or ‘Ll’ when capitalised) is a single letter in Welsh, but formed using two separate glyphs.

      When books and documents were translated from Welsh, people used to use ligatures to mark which letters were digraphs. But original Welsh documents didn’t (and still don’t) use ligatures because competent Welsh readers recognise digraphs.

      I have no idea why the image uses ‘lL’ instead of ‘Ll’, but it would be incorrect in modern Welsh.

      Hope that helps.

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  41. 53

    Tevi Hirschhorn

    June 24, 2010 1:28 pm

    It’s amazing that no matter how different the written language, emotion and style can still be conveyed through the design!

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  42. 54

    What an ingenious article. Overwhelmed by the fact that you share this for free. Unbelievable!

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  43. 55

    Great post!

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  44. 56

    Jessica, well done!

    כל הכבוד
    מאוד נהניתי לקרוא ולהחכים
    בהחלט אחת הכתבות היותר טובות שקראתי

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  45. 59

    Hello everyone, and thanks for the article…

    I have to say that spanish is a 29 letter alphabet, where “ch” and “ll” (besides ñ, as stated in the article) are also considered letters. However, they are not used for word sorting. But, since spanish has a phonetic alphabet these two letters are included.

    I quote this article from the Real Academia Epañola (Royal Spanish Academy) where this is explained. I used the google translator, and think the translation represents quite well what is said by the Royal Academy.

    Regards…

    alphabet. 1. To describe the ordered series of letters with that represent the sounds of a language can be used interchangeably alphabet (alfabeto) and alphabet (abecedario). Like other Romance languages, Spanish is based on the Latin alphabet, which was adapted and supplemented over the centuries. The Spanish alphabet is now composed of the twenty-nine letters: a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

    2. This Spanish version of the Latin alphabet has been universal used by the Academy since 1803 (fourth edition of Academic Dictionary) in the making of all their lists alphabet. Since then, the digraphs “ch” and “ll” (signs graphs consisting of two letters) came to be regarded conventionally letters of the alphabet, for representing each them a sound. However, at the Tenth Congress Association of Spanish Language Academies, held in 1994, agreed to adopt the universal Latin alphabetical order, where “ch” and “ll” are not considered independent letters. In Consequently, the words that begin with these two letters, or containing them, become literate in the places they correspond within the “c” and “l”, respectively. This reform process affects only the alphabetic sort words, not the composition of the alphabet, of which digraphs “ch” and “ll” continue to form part.

    3. While the digraphs “ch” and “II” are the only graphs that represent, respectively, the sounds / ch / and / ll /, the sound representing the digraph “rr” is the same as that represented by the “r” word-initial or preceded by the consonants “n”, “l” or “s”. This overlap explains why “rr” has ever been considered one of the letters of the alphabet.

    Source: DICCIONARIO PANHISPÁNICO DE DUDAS – Primera edición (octubre 2005)

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    • 60

      I think that has changed now, ll and ch are no longer Spanish letters… Neither are k nor w, these are only used in foreignisms.

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  46. 61

    Very good article, Jessica, thanks so much for taking the time to teach us these interesting facts about calligraphy.
    Best regards.

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  47. 62

    Jessica thanks for this article. Very informative and inspirational for me as a font designer.

    Aslo if you need some font inspiration: http://www.cruzine.com/2010/06/16/100-free-fonts-library/

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  48. 63

    Smashing article, both parts were very interesting.
    Díky. (=thanks)

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  49. 64

    Fantastic article, and people seem to love it.

    Although Phoenician is not used anymore, it is the first phonetic system, and therefore the ancestor of all Alphabetic systems… I understand why it wasn’t included, but I wish it had been.

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  50. 65

    I dont understand why people are still using in english “ogonek”, not “little tail”…

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    • 66

      For the same reason Poles use word taxi (often written with x, even though this letter does not exist in their alphabet!), instead of something like “przewoźnik osób” (person carrier) – it is a loanword; in case of “ogonek” from Polish language, which does (unlike English) use this symbol. Since many languages borrow from English, why wouldn’t it borrow from the others?

      @Jessica Bordeau, Great article (both parts)!

      A small comment for those who like trivia:
      “Some languages have fewer than 26 letters, such as the Italian alphabet, which has only 21 letters”
      On the other side of the spectrum there are languages like Czech with as many as 42 letters.

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  51. 67

    Hi guys, sorry i think u missed the most beautiful and artistic calligraphy in the world…it is ARABIC CALLIGRAPHY.

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    • 68

      Jessica Bordeau

      July 9, 2010 4:41 am

      Please visit the first part of this article. As mentioned in the introduction, we did cover Arabic and more.

      1
  52. 69

    hi Jessica
    i’m on progress to learn of typography and to found your posting is an gigantic step on my learning..
    thank you and i owe you a t-shirt of my creation for you..
    pls DM me on tweeter @phazenix … i’ll send one for you …

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    • 70

      Jessica Bordeau

      July 9, 2010 4:42 am

      haha thanks. I am glad you found this post useful, I must say that it really is a fascinating topic.

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  53. 71

    very interesting !!!!
    look my special modern hebrew calligraphy and photography conception on:
    http://www.script-sign.com/pressebook/calligraphie.php#album=6/photo=575

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  54. 72

    Ottimo “escursus” su questa forma di comunicazione.

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  55. 73

    Hello Jessica, these webpages are wonderful and in line with my work on “scriptology,” which takes the lore of alphabets beyond linguistics and includes art. I’d love to correspond with you!

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  56. 74

    The facts in the article are false. The Cyrillic alphabet was invented in Macedonia, not Bulgaria or Greece. Macedonians are distinct people, and have nothing in common with the Bulgarians or the Greeks. It’s just completely unprofessional for Smashing Editorial to base their facts on Wikipedia, an unreliable source, which everyone can moderate.

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