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A logogram, or logograph, is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit of language). This stands in contrast to phonograms, which represent phonemes (speech sounds) or combinations of phonemes, and determinatives, which mark semantic categories.

Logograms are commonly known also as "ideograms" or "hieroglyphs". Strictly speaking, however, ideograms represent ideas directly rather than words and morphemes, and none of the logographic systems described here are truly ideographic.

Since logograms are visual symbols representing words rather than the sounds or phonemes that make up the word, it is relatively easier to remember or guess the sound of alphabetic written words, while it might be relatively easier to remember or guess the meaning of logograms. Another feature of logograms is that a single logogram may be used by a plurality of languages to represent words with similar meanings. While disparate languages may also use the same or similar alphabets, abjads, abugidas, syllabaries and the like, the degree to which they may share identical representations for words with disparate pronunciations is much more limited.


Logographic systems

Logographic systems, or logographies, include the earliest true writing systems; the first historical civilizations of the Near East, China, and Central America used some form of logographic writing.

A purely logographic script would be impractical for most languages, and none is known apart from one devised for the artificial language Toki Pona, a purposely limited language with only 120 morphemes. A more recent attempt is Zlango, intended for use in text messaging, currently including around 300 "icons". All logographic scripts ever used for natural languages rely on the rebus principle to extend a relatively limited set of logograms: A subset of characters is used for their phonetic values, either consonantal or syllabic. The term logosyllabary is used to emphasize the partially phonetic nature of these scripts when the phonetic domain is the syllable. In both Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and in Chinese, there has been the additional development of fusing such phonetic elements with determinatives; such "radical and phonetic" characters make up the bulk of the script, and both languages relegated simple rebuses to the spelling of foreign loan words and words from non-standard dialects.

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