Study of writing systems ?

sri's picture

What is the study of writing systems called ?
e.g. systems like Latin/Roman, Devanagri, Kannada script ...

I want to spend some time learning about the history and forms of glyphs from different (and related by origin) scripts and common features among them.
Specifically, I am looking for a word, if there is one, for this kind of study to better locate related books/papers/courses etc.

Also, any suggestions on where/what to start with would be appreciated.

Tom Gewecke's picture

I think the standard reference books on this (e.g. Daniels & Bright, Coulmas) all use "writing systems" in their titles:

_null's picture

i think it's Palaeography for ancient stuff, that's a good place to start and you can get more specific from there; handwriting, inscription or modern language (since dictionaries and the like) all have different and equally obscure names.

quadibloc's picture

I know I found David Diringer's "The Alphabet" fascinating, and there is "Sign, Symbol and Script" by Hans Jensen as well.

John Hudson's picture


These are some general books on writing systems that I've found useful over the years:

Coulmas, Florian. The Blackwell encyclopedia of writing systems.

Coulmas, Florian. The writing systems of the world.

Coulmas, Florian. Writing systems: an introduction to their linguistic analysis.

Daniels, Peter T. & Bright, William. The world's writing systems.

Dirringer, David. The alphabet.

Jensen, Hans. Sign, symbol and script.

Sampson, Geoffrey. Writing systems.

Taylor, Isaac. The alphabet.

Of course, one can locate lots of other books on individual writing systems. This is a good resource for finding additional material:

Ehlich, Konrad & Coulmas, Florian & Graefen, Gabriele. A bibliography on writing and written language.

One thing to note -- as Gerrit Noordzij pointed out regarding the work of Ignace Gelb, who coined the term grammatology -- is that all these books are concerned with the system aspect of writing systems, and not with the writing part.

hrant's picture

There are no search-friendly terms beyond "writing system" and "script".

Besides the works already cited, Nakanishi's
"Writing systems of the world" is pretty good.


david h's picture

The Languages of the World By Kenneth Katzner

Exploring Language Change By Mari Jones & Ishtla Singh

Andreas Stötzner's picture


Signography as a subject of its own right

Introduction to signographics

(“writing systems” does not apply to language-related systems only, but to music, electrical engineering or mathematics as well)

A. St.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

“Scriptics” or “Scriptology” could be appropriate as well, but to a certain extent the world seems, unfortunately, to be hostile to the obvious.

John Hudson's picture

Again, in English the recognised term is ‘grammatology’, and I think it makes sense to use this term, which has been around for several decades and is used by people like Florian Coulmas who have contributed massively to the study of writing systems, rather than inventing new terms.

Paul Cutler's picture

Can creativity be taught?


hrant's picture

Paul, ya stop that ya hear?! ;-)

BTW, I forgot about a book I read a while back and greatly enjoyed: "The Story of Writing" by A Robinson. Although it might not be considered a "scholarly" work, it's both highly accessible and really full of exceptional information and insight.


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