Script Types
SettingDescriptionExamples
Alphabet A segmental writing system in which symbols represent individual sounds (rather than whole syllables or morphemes). Consonants and vowels are written as independent letters. Latin, N’Ko
Abjad A writing system in which symbols represent individual sounds (rather than whole syllables or morphemes). Vowels are omitted or optional. Syriac, Hebrew, Arabic
Abugida A writing system based on consonants, with obligatory but secondary representation of vowels. Any given symbol represents a full syllable, which may be a single vowel or a complex combination of multiple consonants with a vowel. Where the symbol represents a combination of sounds, each sound will usually be represented by a particular element in the symbol, which is consistent across all syllables containing that sound. Buginese, Mende, Unified Aboriginal Canadian Syllabics
Featural A writing system in which symbols represent phonetic features, rather than sounds. For example, all dental sounds (those produced with the tip of the tongue touching the teeth) will be written with symbols containing a common element. In a perfectly featural writing system, two sounds which differ only in one aspect (for example voicing) will be represented by symbols which also differ in only one aspect. Featural writing systems appear to be particularly well-suited for scripts used by the Deaf. Hangul, Visible Speech
Logo-syllabary A writing system in which symbols primarily represent words or morphemes, but often have a secondary, phonetic role also. Determinatives may also be used - symbols with no phonetic content which serve to clarify the meaning of a word which has been spelled out phonetically but the meaning of which is ambiguous. Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Yi
Syllabary A writing system in which symbols represent syllables. A syllabary is different from an abugida in that syllables containing common sounds (for example all syllables beginning with [m] or ending with [u]) will not necessarily be represented by symbols having anything in common. Vai, Katakana, Cherokee
Script Status
SettingDescriptionExamples
Current scripts in use today, including artificial and liturgical scripts Cherokee, Hebrew, Tibetan
Historical scripts that once had a viable, primary community of users, but no longer do Linear A
Fictional scripts invented by writers and artists for fictional communities Tengwar, Cirth
Unclear scripts whose status is unclear  
Direction
SettingFull NameDescriptionExamples
LTR Left-to-right (horizontal) A script in which text is written in horizontal lines, with each line beginning at the left and going towards the right. The first line tends to be at the top of the page. Buhid,Greek, Osmanya
RTL Right-to-left (horizontal) A script in which text is written in horizontal lines, with each line beginning at the right and going towards the left. The first line tends to be at the top of the page. Phoenician, Balti
RTL bidirectional Right-to-left (bidirectional) A script which is written predominantly from right to left, but which contains some exceptions written from left to right. These exceptions are commonly numbers, and brand names which originated in a left-to-right script. Thaana, Arabic
Vertical (LTR) Vertical (left-to-right) These scripts are written in vertical columns, with the first column on the left and the final column on the right. Columns are normally, but not invariably, written from top to bottom. Hanunóo, Mongolian
Vertical (LTR) and horizontal (LTR) Vertical (left-to-right) and horizontal (left-to-right) These scripts can be written either vertically or horizontally. When written in vertical columns, the first column is on the left and the final column is on the right. When written horizontally each line begins at the left and proceeds towards the right. SignWriting
Vertical (LTR) and horizontal (RTL) Vertical (left-to-right) and horizontal (right-to-left) These scripts can be written either vertically or horizontally. It is often, but not always, the case that they were traditionally written vertically but have come to be written horizontally in printed text for ease of typesetting. When written in vertical columns, the first column is on the left and the final column is on the right. When written horizontally each line begins at the right and proceeds towards the left. Sogdian
Vertical (RTL) Vertical (right-to-left) These scripts are written in vertical columns, with the first column on the right, and the final column on the left. It is more common for vertical scripts to be written this way than from left to right. Columns tend to be written from top to bottom. Phags-pa, Meroitic Hieroglyphs
Vertical (RTL) and horizontal (LTR) Vertical (right-to-left) and horizontal (left-to-right) These scripts can be written either vertically or horizontally. Often, they were traditionally written vertically but have come to be written horizontally in printed text for ease of typesetting. When written in vertical columns, the first column is on the right and the final column is on the left. When written horizontally each line begins at the left and proceeds towards the right. Japanese, Han
Boustrophedon Boustrophedon A script in which alternate lines are reversed. Every other line must be read in the opposite direction to the preceding line, and in addition to this, individual letters on alternate lines are reversed. Some boustrophedon scripts are written with alternate lines being rotated 180°, that is, flipped ‘upside-down’, as well as being reversed. Rongorongo, Linear B
Other Other Some scripts can be written in a number of directions. Others are not written in clear rows or columns; they may be more pictoral in the way they are arranged. Ogham, Ersu Shaba Picture Writing
Baseline
SettingDescriptionExamples
Hanging A script in which the letters predominantly align at the top and sit below the baseline, rather than on it. Such scripts may contain some letters which extend above the baseline. Scripts with a hanging baseline are always written horizontally, and tend to read from left to right. Tibetan, Devanagari, Beria
Centered A script in which the point of alignment runs through the center of each letter. Both vertical and horizontal scripts may have a centered baseline. Han
Bottom A script in which the letters predominantly sit upon the baseline. Such scripts may contain some letters which descend below the baseline. Scripts with a bottom baseline are always written horizontally. Latin, Thai
Vertical A script which is written vertically; these tend to be written in columns from top to bottom. They also tend to be centered, but there are exceptions to this, such as Mongolian, which is written in vertical columns but with the point of alignment running to the right of the centre of each letter. Mongolian, Tai Yo
Has Case
SettingDescriptionExamples
Yes Scripts which have case are called bicameral. In such a script every or nearly every letter has two forms, an upper case (also called capital or majescule) and a lower case (also called miniscule). Exceptions to this include the German character ß which has only one case despite being part of a bicameral writing system (although a capital symbol has been proposed). Case usually carries some kind of syntactic or semantic information, for example indicating the beginning of a sentence, or the status of a word as a proper noun. Greek, Bassa Vah
No Scripts which do not have case are called unicameral. These scripts may also have more than one form of each letter, but they do not fulfil the same functions as in the bicameral system. For example, Arabic letters have different shapes depending on where they are in a word, but these do not convey any linguistic information in the same way that case does. Prachalit, Samaritan, Arabic
White Space
SettingDescriptionExamples
Between words These scripts use a space as a word divider. The size of the space proportional to the size of the text is dependent on a number of factors, particularly when printed, including how the text is justified and which font has been used. Gujarati, Khmer, Elbasan
Between phrases These scripts use space to indicate phrase breaks. The phrase can be a complete sentence, or a clause, or any unit that the writer deems meaningful. Myanmar, Tai Tham (Lanna)
Discretionary In these scripts, it is left to the writer to decide where in the text to leave spaces. There may or may not be a conventional system; if there is, it is not strictly adhered to by the majority of writers. Spacing may be inconsistent even across texts by a single writer, or within a single text. Malayalam, Afaka
None These scripts may be written scriptio continua, that is, in one continuous string of text containing no visible divisions, or some other word or phrase divider may be used. For example, Linear B used a vertical line to separate words. Tagalog, Phoenician
Has Diacritics
SettingDescriptionExamples
Yes These scripts contain diacritics, ancillary glyphs which are added to a base letter. These tend to be smaller than letters, and are never written independently of a base letter. They serve a number of purposes, including the indication of pronunciation, presence or absence of a vowel, non-alphabetic (for example numeric) use of a letter, or a phonological or semantic change. Bagam, Rejang, Latin
No These scripts do not use diacritics. Sora Sompeng, Shavian
Has Contextual Forms
SettingDescriptionExamples
Yes These scripts contain letters which change shape in some contexts. For example, the Devanagari letter ra is written differently depending whether it is at the start of a word, whether it follows the letter ya, whether it precedes a vowel or a consonant, and, if it precedes a consonant, what the shape of that consonant is. Devanagari, Hanunóo
No The shapes of letters in these scripts (allowing for stylistic variation) are consistent in any context. Braille, Ogham
Has Complex Positioning
SettingDescriptionExamples
Yes In some scripts, the shapes of letters and diacritics may be consistent, but their positions may vary depending on the letters around them. For example, a single Thai letter can have multiple diacritics attached to it, which need to stack on top of one another. All but the bottom in the stack are therefore in a higher position than they would be otherwise. Similarly, diacritics which attach above letters of different heights will be in different positions. Bengali, Thai, Syriac
No In scripts which do not require complex positioning, letters and diacritics are positioned consistently regardless of the other letters are around them. Hangul, Cyrillic
Has Reordering
SettingDescriptionExamples
Yes Scripts which require reordering are sometimes written in such a way that the written order of the letters does not match the spoken order. That is, in a left-to-right script, there are some letters which are written to the left of the letter they follow in speech, rather than to the right. Note that reordering is sometimes not reflected in software implementations, as is the case with the Lao, Thai and Tai Viet scripts. Pahawh Hmong, Kaithi
No Letters in a script which does not require reordering are written successively in the same order in which they are spoken. Vai, Duployan Shorthand
Has Split Graphs
SettingDescriptionExamples
Yes A split graph is a single character written using two separate, distinct elements. For example, the Bengali letter o is written with one stroke to the left and one to the right of the consonant it follows. Bengali, Balinese
No These scripts do not contain split graphs as described above. Lisu (Fraser), Glagolitic
Ligatures
SettingDescriptionExamples
Required In these scripts ligatures, single glyphs composed of more than one symbol, are required in order to properly process a piece of text. That is, there are certain combinations of letters which can only be written using a ligature. Cursive scripts generally require ligatures. Arabic, Tibetan
Optional In these scripts, combinations of letters may either be written as separate glyphs or as a ligature. For example, the a+e combination in English written in the Latin script can either be written with two distinct letters or with the æ ligature. Latin, Georgian (Mkhedruli)
None In these scripts, every letter must be written distinctly; it is not possible to join letters to produce a ligature. Mayan Hieroglyphs, Miao (Pollard)