Open main menu
WikiProject Writing systems (Rated C-class, Top-importance)
This article falls within the scope of WikiProject Writing systems, a WikiProject interested in improving the encyclopaedic coverage and content of articles relating to writing systems on Wikipedia. If you would like to help out, you are welcome to drop by the project page and/or leave a query at the project’s talk page.
C-Class article C  This article has been rated as C-Class on the project's quality scale.
 Top  This article has been rated as Top-importance on the project's importance scale.


I'm removing the following passage.

The earliest alphabets (like hieroglyphs and cuneiform) are believed to have started as collections of logograms, which only later got a more general meaning.

Problems with this include:

  1. The writing systems given as examples are not alphabets, as far as I know.
  2. Are we sure these systems got started as "logograms"? I thought the party line was they started as pictograms and then morphed into ideograms.
  3. I don't know that anyone characterizes either example as logographic.

--Ryguasu 01:53 Feb 5, 2003 (UTC)

Many people also believe that once learned, logographies can be read more quickly than alphabets.

If someone could find a reference for this, it would be more concrete. KaiSeun 08:27:45, 2005-08-28 (UTC)

Kinda hard... I've made some changes to make it more accurate, but someone should add in info on other languages. --Rmdsc 09:15, 8 November 2005 (UTC)

question on external linkEdit

I don't understand the relevancy of the link "A Typographic Outcry: a curious perspective". Can someone elaborate? The link also exists in Chinese character and Writing system.

I seriously doubt anyone would object if you just deleted it ... kwami 18:23, 14 December 2005 (UTC)
I just have. --Swift 22:07, 19 December 2006 (UTC)


This article reads like an essay. It would be more useful with fewer examples and a more objective tone. Dave 05:12, 7 January 2006 (UTC)


Examples are not viewable if you do not have the language installed.

Suggest replacing text with images.—The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 17:56, 11 April 2006 (UTC)

Suggest using software that supports i18n and/or installing appropriate fonts. --Swift 22:01, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

Criticism of Chinese as logographicEdit

Chinese characters need not represent words or morphemes. If I recall correctly, John DeFrancis cites the example of 葡萄 (grape), where neither character had anything to do with the meaning of grape, i.e. the two-character sequence (葡萄) is one morpheme that cannot be analyzed further. More modern examples: loanwords like 巧克力 (meaning chocolate, pronounced in Mandarin qiaokeli). Again the multi-character sequence is one basic morpheme. The character 力 (meaning "strength") only has a phonetic role (to mimic the "-late" sound in chocolate). In short, whereas all (?) Chinese characers arguably represent one or another morpheme, they may also be used strictly for the sounds they represent or otherwise in a capacity where the morpheme requires more than one character to express (葡萄). Characters used this way are not logographic. A-giau 01:33, 27 April 2006 (UTC)

You're perfectly correct, and the article should reflect this. Chinese is logosyllabic - in fact, I don't know if there is or ever has been a pure logography anywhere in the world.
As for 葡萄, about 10% of old Chinese vocab is disyllabic - mostly names of plants and bugs - and very often the individual glyphs mean nothing at all: a plant or bug radical was added to two existing glyphs, with a result unique to that word. kwami 02:16, 27 April 2006 (UTC)
Its a myth that Chinese is logographic. People like to select various characters that have associated meanings, but in truth, a Chinese character is a syllable. English has associated meansings with its syllables as well.

Is there anything real to the claim of "bimorphemic" characters in Archaic Chinese? The example 王 ('which transcribes both wáng "king" and wàng "to rule"') is merely an orthographic ambiguity, at least from the explanation. A single character that is "bimorphemic" in the relevant sense for the paragraph would mean it has two morpheme units that are invoked at the same time when the word is used, e.g. English "walked" has a verbal morpheme and an inflectional morpheme. 王 would be bimorphemic if it could have meant "the king rules", but I don't have any reason to believe it could. It's also not clear to me how one could split a single-syllable unit in this case into two morphemes, preserving the usual notion of a morpheme. Without a citation and better explanation, this is highly suspect and should be removed. -- (talk) 15:12, 2 September 2008 (UTC) Anyway, I've gone ahead and removed this (-- (talk) 11:13, 7 September 2008 (UTC)):

In addition, in Archaic Chinese there were bimorphemic words of only one syllable; these were written with one character. An example is 王, which transcribes both wáng "king" and wàng "to rule". The latter was apparently derived from the former with a suffix, *hjwang-s, which is preserved in the modern falling tone. However, in modern Mandarin, bimorphemic syllables are written with two characters: 花儿 huār "flower (diminutive)".
In modern Chinese the second meaning of 王(to rule) is not used at all. The "preserved falling tone" only appears when a modern mandarin speaker reads a piece of old text. (talk) 23:06, 13 November 2008 (UTC)

Advantage and DisadvantageEdit

I this the current for/against arrangement should be resolved to provide more coherent narrative. I would think relative advantage/disadvantage of the system in term of basic, functional and academic literacy is a start. Logogram system is quite difficult at basic level(can recognise and pronounce syllable). But it is extremly efficient at functional and academic level of literacy. Vapour

I agree that the advantage/disadvantage section has major problems. I'm going to delete the sentence "However, it requires far less effort in comparison to memorising proper spelling in English", which is blatantly the opinion of the author and is not backed up by any cited facts. There have been studies on ease of literacy in various writing systems, but someone more knowledgable than me will have to provide the relevant citations. Amadh 13:30, 15 October 2006 (UTC)
I've taken the bullet-point format and rewritten the whole thing, sectioning it up into three main issues. I didn't bother putting it through a spell checker and I contemplated putting in a few more {{fact}}s or looking for sources, but this was large enough a task for now. --Swift 05:28, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

Need better separation between simp/trad Chinese examplesEdit

In the section stating

A logogram-based system uses fewer characters to express something compared to an alphabetic system.

the first example illustrates the problem where the two Chinese variations of the one phrase are "run together".

"Return of the King"

My first reaction was "Hey, the Chinese is longer!" This is because when simply scanning, the eye does not see the '/' character separating the two quoted strings. It all looks like one quoted string. Only once you know what is going on do you mentally separate the two strings. This is just wrong and I see many following examples like this.

Could we get agreement that it really is better to show these two strings as separate, something like:

"Return of the King"
"王者歸來" / "王者归来"

or even

"Return of the King"
"王者歸來"   /   "王者归来"

if there is a 'correct' way to express extra space in Wikipedia besides using nbsp.

I got confused in exactly the same way. I've added some nbsps to space them out. -dmmaus 05:03, 10 November 2006 (UTC)

Incorrect advantageEdit

I've removed the following section from the Logogram#Advantages and disadvantages section.

The meaning of words can be known directly. This significantly reduces the amount of effort required to advance from basic literacy to functional and academic literacy, despite the initial difficulty in becoming literate. Everyone who knows what the characters mean, can know what a new word means without explanation. This advantage become more pronounced as one advances in academia. In English, for example, more abstract words are constructed artificially from Greek or Latin words. These words are often unintelligible to most people outside of the speciality. For example, the word "logogram" is a combination of the Greek words 'logos' ("word" or "speech") and 'gram' (“something written” or “drawing”). In Chinese, it is written as 表語文字 (Word expressing letter) and anyone who is literate at a basic level can correctly guess the meaning. Once one learns the basic 2000-3000 letter/words out of the logograms, one immediately becomes functionally literate. And it take small effort to become academically literate at a highly advanced level. On the other hand, in Western languages, for example, there is no lowering of the learning curve for new terms and new vocabulary as they progress academically unless one has learned, or is learning, Greek or Latin. The use of logogram reduces the amount of words one must memorize as most can be read and written almost instinctively. This is cited as the primary reason for the close correspondence between the literacy rate and functional literacy rate in Japan and China.

As elaborated upon in #Criticism of Chinese as logographic words in logosyllabic languages aren't necessarily made up of compound logograms which explain their meaning. Furthermore, there are some languages where technical/new words are created out of descriptive words already in the language. An example is the Icelandic language which has a committies that suggest translations for new words. Examples: flug-vél (flying machine, e. airplane), víð-óma (wide sound / wide sounding, e. stereo). Given the strong presence of words, pre- and suffixes of Greek and Latin origin in the English language, it could be argued that, to a limited extent, the creation of new words from those languages is qualitatively the same. --Swift 21:52, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

Well, given the fact that 90% Chinese characters and vocabularies are logographic, and only 10% of them are more logosyllabic, there is an existing advantage in complicated word forming process. It is true that being functional literate in Chinese is much easier than doing so in English. -- May 1, 2007 (GMT)
Still not true. Unless we're talking under a high school level. Once we get to higher levels of education there are complex 成语 (lack of an English equivalent), idioms, phrases, "slang" and out of proper education there is still slang and transliterated words like chocolate that reduce literacy. For instance a person could easily understand "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" but "greasy pole" is less obvious. A person can get by using a basic understanding of a logographic language but will never excel at it unless they actually learn the terms available. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:38, 16 May 2012 (UTC)

Removed extreme example and inadequate comparisonEdit

I removed the the following due to its inaccuracy:

Logograms, however, can be quite complex and won't display well unless shown quite large. An extreme example would be 齉 nàng listen (help·info), the most complicated character in modern Chinese dictionaries. In the end, there seems to be little difference in the information content per area between common writing systems.

Writing complicated logograms, some of which have over ten strokes each, would also take longer than writing simpler characters. The letters of the Latin alphabet, for example, have many fewer strokes (usually one or two, including direction changes) and can be connected leading to very fast writing speeds. Reading logograms is not noticeably faster either since readers of alphabetic languages generally recognize words as patterns rather than spelling them out in their minds.[citation needed]

Finally, logograms cannot be inflected like words in alphabetic systems can. Languages which have imported Chinese logograms, such as Japanese and Korean (which both inflect extensively) cannot accurately describe their languages with logograms alone, and therefore need a separate alphabetic or syllabic system anyway.

Most Chinese Character's stoke count range from 5 to 15, which present no problem in display even in small fonts. The paragraph cite an extremely rare and complex word in dictionary as an example and it does not reflect the true. Such act would be similar to citing the word Lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosilphioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyph- ophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon just to demostrate the point that English won't display well unless shown on large size paper.

The paragraph also made a mistake in comparing the writing speed of an entire Chinese Character ( 10 strokes ) with a single Alphabet (1 to 2 strokes), but fail to mention the fact that a 10-stroke Chinese Character is usally able to form a complete meaning word while a single Alphabet cannot. A proper comparison should be made between Chinese Character and English word.

In general, Chinese text is often more condense than English thus it is faster to write and read. A case in point is, if a piece of text of a third language is translated in to both Chinese and English, both in medium size font, the Chinese translation is typically shorter than the English. Davilaser 05:04, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. A Chinese translation is usually 2/3 the thick of an original English book. And uses less bytes if in digital form. (talk) 23:23, 13 November 2008 (UTC)
I wouldnt take that too seriously. Chinese translation usually falls under a tradition of Chinese phrase creation in that they prefer using either two or four characters. No matter how ridiculous they'll try their best to sqeeze the meaning into those four characters. Otherise Chinese translations could be just as long. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:25, 16 May 2012 (UTC)

Examples of Logogrammatical SystemsEdit

As far as I know, most shorthand systems, and especially Gregg and Pittman, are definitely not logogrammatical. They're phonetic alphabets. I have removed them from the list of examples.

Additionally, following the Nsibidi link brings one to the Nsibidi article, which states that the system is ideographic. I have also removed this, as to prevent conflict. 00:11, 10 October 2007 (UTC)

Number of ISO 8859 graphemesEdit

I removed the clause stating that ISO 8859 contains only 256 graphemes. In fact, ISO 8859 is a collection of about 15 different character sets, and each of them has ranges that are reserved for non-printing control characters. No one set contains more than 192 graphemes. The union of all of the sets contains many more than 256. But it's pointless to explain all this in the article. The only significant point to make is that one 8-bit byte is sufficient to encode all the graphemes in any one of the ISO 8859 character sets. Gwil (talk) 19:34, 24 September 2008 (UTC)

ideogram v. pictogramEdit

...ignoring the vowels...Edit

It is not totally correct to say that Ancient Egyptians language was written ignoring the vowels. This statement originates from the first tries to understand that language, when the Egyptian language was assumed to be similar to Hebrew or Arabic, were vowels are usually not written. However Egyptian is different, more complicated and, in some way, more primitive. Some vowel is explicitly written, some is defined according to the corresponding consonant. See Jean Capart for valuable books (eg. «Je lis les hiéroglyphes») about reading that language.--Dejudicibus (talk) 15:25, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Logography v syllabaryEdit

Each Chinese square represents a syllable, and multi-syllable words require more than one square. Ticklewickleukulele (talk) 04:30, 26 November 2012 (UTC)


The article states that Chinese characters are logographic and not, at least strictly, ideographic, and yet one class of Chinese character are termed ideographic, and seem to me to fit that definition. I think the factors that class Chinese characters as logographic rather that ideographic should be made clearer. Or we could instead class them as ideologographic or logoideograpic. ZFT (talk) 17:48, 17 January 2013 (UTC)

Egyptian Hieroglyphs were mostly phonetic, not LogographicEdit

As James Allen's book Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs emphasises, while Egyptian Hieroglyphs did indeed use a large amount of logographs relative to modern scripts (except those using Chinese Characters), the use of logographs was largely limited to simple roots whose referent could be pictured, such as pr "house", r "mouth", jb "heart, mind", &c.. And while most content words were written with determinatives (look at Wikipedia's index of Gardiner's Sign List for the list, if you so wish), the rest was purely phonetic - specifically, alphabetic (even when the numerous multiliteral signs are included). This should be made clear when relevant in this article. Jamutaq (talk) 19:35, 8 May 2015 (UTC)

Thanks! Good show. :) —Ringbang (talk) 21:42, 19 February 2016 (UTC)


This article does not appear to have at its beginning a definition of what a logogram is and what characterizes a logographic writing. It jumps right into descriptions ancient languages without a simple definition, which is somewhat confusing. Could someone with a better grasp of logograms than I do fix this? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:00, 18 November 2015 (UTC)

You're absolutely right. The article makes no damn sense. Sadly, I am not the editor for this job. Popcornduff (talk) 13:52, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
  Fixed. But it looks to me like the rest of the article is written about logographic writing systems, so maybe Logography is a better headword for this article. We definitely need more high-quality citations as well. logogram and ideogram have contradictory definitions in many sources. —Ringbang (talk) 21:41, 19 February 2016 (UTC)


I was wondering if Blissymbols aren't purely logographic ... They are used by speech disabled people especially, but they were based on the idea of having an international writing system like for numerals, based on an idyllic conception of Chinese characters as purely symbolic writing.

Charles K. Bliss' original ideas came to be published around 1950, in a work first called Semantography. Jansegers (talk) 14:29, 7 October 2018 (UTC)

It seems so. I found several sources on Google Books that describe blissymbols as a synthetic system of logographs. —Ringbang (talk) 00:22, 8 October 2018 (UTC)
Return to "Logogram" page.