Kinds  of  Phonetic  Picture - Writings
Content: Three main classes: Syllable writing Letter writing Position writing Mixed writing Comparing evaluation Other classification: by elements of signs

Three main classes:

One may classify writings - also phonetic picture-writings - by the proportion "number of signs : number of sounds", yielding three main classes:

            1) There are much more signs than sounds:     syllable writing(proportion n:1)
2) There are as many signs like sounds:letter writing(proportion 1:1)
3) There are much less signs than sounds:position writing     (proportion 1:n)

So, the proportion "signs : sounds" is a clear pointer to how a writing is working. It also is a hint about the phonetic complexity of a language: Syllable writings are practicable only with a relatively small number of syllables, that is a relatively simple syllable structure, e.g. "consonant + vowel". Also position writings are practicable only with certain syllable structures (see below). An integer number proportion n:1 or 1:n indicates a regular syllable structure.

Also the number of sounds is interesting. It is also a hint to the phonetic complexity of a language.

English writing mainly is a letter writing. But it also has signs for sound groups, for example the sign j denotes the sound group tsh. And vice versa, for some sounds (sh, ng) more than one sign is used. The sound value of the sign s for example depends on its position, in the sign group sh its another than else.

Syllable Writing

An example:   it is based on the following phonetical system:

           4  vowels:                   i  e  a  o
           4  humming consonants:       n  m  l  v
           4  not humming  cons.:       s  f  t  p

All syllables have the structure "consonant + vowel", e.g. "si", "ti", "ta". So there are only 8*4 = 32 syllables. Examples of words: ti, sino, pivili, sipetafo. Any possible series of syllables can be spoken easily. Now to every syllable is assigned a sign, out of which ideograms are composed, with writing direction from bottom to top.   Example:

    soposa   "face";   detailed        

More syllable writings you find in the link-list at the end of the main article "phonetic picture-writing"

There are numerous ways to design a syllable writing. It is important, that the signs are constructed regularly, so that they can be learned easily (e.g.: left half of a sign = consonant, right half = vowel). For, even with a simple phonetic system (e.g. 10 consonants, 5 vowels, 5 diphthongs) syllable-writings can have 100 ore more signs.

Letter Writing

Example:   the simple phonetic picture-writing with only 12 letters, well described in the main article:

Example of a word:
    ela   "face";            detailed:   

It was already explained in the main article: if a phonetic picture-writing is realized as a letter writing, 2 not written filling sounds (1 vowel, 1 consonant) are necessary to make speakable any combination of letters. Graphical improvement is possible by overwriting of signs

More letter writings you find in the link-list at the end of the main article

Position Writing

A position writing has much less signs than sounds. Is it possible to construct a phonetic picture-writing with these few signs?   Yes, in 2 ways:

1) With the Point writing with 7 signs a sign is read as a consonant or a vowel, depending on it's position

2) The same is true for the bar writing with only 4 signs (bars). With it, ideograms are composed of signs not in a linear, but a 2-dimensional way.
Example: This ideogram is composed matrix - like out of 2 * 4, that is 8 signs (in an unvisible square raster):

      maletupo             detailed:

     7  8
     5  6
     3  4
     1  2

The signs are read in the order shown left.
So  every row  is read  from  left  to  right,
and rows more at bottom are read earlier.
In  each row  there are 2 signs

The same sign may be spoken differently, due to its position in a row. If it's found left (at the beginning of a row), it is spoken as a consonant. - If it's found right (at the end of a row), it is spoken as a vowel. So it's made sure that the whole ideogram can be spoken easily.   Here's the whole table of signs:

                             S i g n            Pronunciation
                                               consonant Vowel

                                 \                 p       u
                                 /                 t       o
                                 |                 l       e
                                 -                 m       a

The selection of sounds and their assignment to signs in this table are not optimal, but done so for easy extension (see the extended versions in the article Some bar writings). The above simple bar writing does not utilize a great part of the sounds a man can speak, and it does not make possible good ideograms. Enormous Enhancement is possible by:

                - Using more signs:     .  [point]    and / or      o   [curl]
                - Allowing spaces  (empty signs)  in a  row  (important!)
                - Allowing  more  than  2  signs  in  a  row   (important!)

The following examples show, what nice ideograms one can form with 4 signs only, if more than 2 signs per line and spaces are possible (for better understanding, the basic screen is also shown).

But generally a position writing is much more unpracticable than a letter or syllable writing, because of the mostly longer words and the more complicated procedure. But it also has advantages, for example the unlimited size of ideograms (breadth and height), if more than 2 signs per line are allowed.

Mixed Writing

Also mixed forms of the 3 main classes of writings are possible:

Position-writing read syllable-wise
If you learn by heart all combinations of 2 signs (incl. the space) of the above position-writing, one might regard them as syllable signs, pronounced as consonant + vowel. (There are 2 versions of pronunciation, depending on wether the pair of signs is at the beginning of a row or not). Each row then consists of one or more syllable signs.

Diphtong writing
Letter writing, at which also pairs of vowels and pairs of consonants (vocalic and consonantic diphtongs) have their own signs.

Example:: The 12 signs of the letter writing above are to few to form good ideograms or any idea. Thus we extend the phonetical base by the diphtongs   ei, ai, oi, ui, au   and the consonant-pairs   ts, ks, ps, st, pl, pr, kv   and assign them own signs. Now we have the double number of signs.

The sign   au   (for example) is not the same than the series of signs   a-u . To discern them acoustically, the latter is spoken as   ahu , because the filling consonant   h   is inserted. (Also ng might be used as filling consonant. The sound   j   (like y in yes) cannot be used furthermore, for the acoustical difference between (for example)   a-j-a   and   ai-j-a   is too small).   The series of vowels a-a   now is spoken as   aha , the series of signs   a-o-a   as   ahoha . But the series of signs   ei, ai, oi, ui + vowel / diphtong   (e.g.   ai-a, ai-ai ) and the series of signs   au-a   can be spoken without a filling consonant   as aia, aiai, aua   etc., which is easier and shorter to pronounce.

The sign   ts   is not the same than the series of signs   t-s. The series of signs   ts-pr   (2 signs) is pronounced as   tsipri, but the series of signs   t-s-p-r (4 signs) as   tisipiri . (The filling vowel i is inserted after each consonantic sign without a vowel sign after it. Also i should be spoken at the beginning of a word before signs for 'unspeakable' consonant groups like nt, mp, lp, if these have own signs).

Evaluation: More signs make possible better ideograms. Nice diphtongs let the language sound nicer. But many consonantic diphtongs in words let the language sound more heavy and less musical.
A diphtong writing is recommendable, if a letter writing had too less signs and a syllable writing too many. One can increase the number of signs by using own signs for dissylabic diphtongs / triphtongs like   ie, ia, io, iai, ioi, iau ... and for groups of 3 consonants.

Letter wrting + syllable writing:
If a letter writing had too less signs and a syllable writing too many, one may define a mixed form:   some single sounds are written by own signs, but also some syllables. That is such syllables, where either the consonant or the vowel has no own letter.

Examples: The syllables   ri, re, ra, ro   are written by own signs, the sound r has no letter (otherwise one could write the syllable ro (for example) also by the letters r-o, thus the writing was not definite). Or the syllables   se, fe, te, ke ...  are written by own signs, the sound e has no letter. A filling consonant (j like the y in yes) and a filling vowel (i) are necessary like with a letter picture-writing to make series of vowels and series of consonants speakable.
To keep the words (ideograms) acoustically short, seldom used signs should be pronounced as a syllable, often used signs as a single sound. Also if a consonantic sign mostly is followed by another one (so a filling vowel is to be spoken) this first sign should be pronunced as a syllable.

Pairs-of-syllables writing:
A syllable writing at which with each consonant there are only 2 syllable signs.
The vowels not used in these syllable signs have own letters.

An example with this phonetic base:     9 consonants:   t,k,p,   l,n,m,   s,∫,f       5 vowels:     i,u,   e,a,o
All 18 syllables "consonant + i" and "consonant + u" (ti,ki,pi ... tu,ku,pu ...) have own signs. Also the vowels e, a, o have own letters. A word consisting of the syllable signs   si-pi-tu   is spoken as sipitu , a word consisting of the signs   ti-a-ti   as   tiati.
But the sequence of the signs tu-a is spoken as ta, because an u before a vowel sign is not spoken. To shorten the word acoustically and to avoid the rather ugly diphtongs ue, ua, uo. More examples: The sequence of the signs tu-a-tu is spoken as tatu, ti-a-tu as tiatu, tu-a-pu-a as tapa, su-o-pi as sopi, su-e-fi as sefi.

The filling consonant j is still necessary between written vowel signs: a-a is spoken as aja, ti-ti-a-a as titiaja, tu-a-a as taja. But a special filling vowel between consonants is not necessary, because after a consonant there is always spoken the vowel i or u or the vowel displacing the u.

We name this system of writing 'pairs-of-syllables writing', because for each consonant there are 2 syllable signs beginning with this consonant. That we use for an easy-to-learn assignement of signs to sounds:

- Signs narrowing on top get assigned the syllables ti, ki, pi, the corresponding turned down signs (broadening on top) get assigned the syllables tu, ku, pu
- Vertical lines (single or multiple), which are centered, get assigned the spoken syllables lu, nu, mu, the corresponding signs shifted to the left get assigned the syllables li, ni, mi
- So a syllable sign ending with -u always is formed by turning or shifting a syllable sign ending with -i (exception: the signs mu / mi)
By   si, ši, fi,   su, šu, fu   we can name another 6 signs.

Another way of sight: One could regard the above example also as a letter + syllable -writing with 9 syllable signs ti, ki, pi ... , 9 consonant signs t, k, p ... , 3 vowel signs e, a, o and the filling vowel u and the filling consonant j

Evaluation: If you want to have a phonetic picture-writing with about twice as many signs than sounds, and no consonant combinations, you might choose this system.

Comparing evaluation:

Ease of Learning

- A syllable writing has many signs, which increases learning time.

- With a letter writing, signs can be learned quicker. But therefore, it's necessary to learn the rule when to speak the filling sounds i/j to make any combination of letters pronouncable.

- With position writings, this trend is intensified: The learning effort for the signs themselves is even smaller, the effort to learn rules higher.

If you consider the signs of a writing as its hardware, the rules as its software, one may say: The more effort is done with the one, the less effort is necessary with the other, and vice versa.

Ease of beginning

Only with a syllable writing, beginning is as easy as you want: One may give to a pupil 2 or 3 tiles with syllable signs and teach him their pronunciation. Then he may combine these tiles at will and try to invent or imitate ideograms. The pupil will be able to speak any new ideogram correctly as series of the single syllables. With other kinds of phonetic picture-writings, an ideogram is not always spoken as series of the shown letters, because sometimes filling sounds are necessary (with letter writing), or pronunciation of letters is changing (with position writing).

Ease of beginning and ease of learning are highly important in social respect, as all people should be able to write - also in developing countries and in bad times. Also for this reason, a writing should be as interesting as possible to attract pupils - phonetic picture-writing here is outstanding.

Synchronism of language and writing

When using a letter writing, one can write down each spoken sound of a dictation immediately after hearing. Using a syllable writing, a man or maschine have to wait until the syllable is completed. So, with a letter writing, language and writing are synchronized in smaller steps.

But another point of view may be more important:

Only with a syllable writing, language and writing are evenly synchronous. As one can write signs, one after the other, without problems, one can speak syllables (with appropriate structure, e.g. "consonant + vowel" ) one after the other without problems: The series of syllables "ti", "ta", "ti" can be easily spoken as "titati".
With a letter picture-writing, the series of letters "ttat" would be spoken as "titati" (using the filling sound i). Obviously writing and language here are asynchronous. Also the spoken syllable "ta" for example is not a smooth series of the sounds t and a: if one would speak these sounds without sluring, the result was an abrupt "t-a".

Visualizing and speed

If one hears a slowly spoken text of a phonetic picture-writing, one can visualize it (imagine it written down) after some exercise. This is best possible with a syllable writing: The synchronism of language and writing and the representing of some sounds by only one sign make that easier.

With other kinds of phonetic picture - writings, visualizing is slower. I know that by experience, but it also can be made plausible by a rule of experimental psychology. The rule of Merkel (1885) says:

The reaction time of a person, asked to choose a certain thing out of n things, increases logarithmical with n.
Measurements indicate about   T = 200 + 180 * log n [msec]

Example: With a syllable writing with 8 consonants and 4 vowels, giving 32 syllables of structure "consonant + vowel", the reaction time per syllable is = 200 + 180 * 5 = 1100 msec
(as dual logarithm of 32 = 5 respectly vice versa 2 5 = 32 )

With a letter writing with 12 letters, the corresponding reaction time for 2 letters
is = 2 * (200 + 180 * 3,6) = 1698 msec, thus well 50 % more.

One might say, that reading a syllable writing is quicker because there is a kind of parallel processing (minimally 2 sounds are read at the same time), whereas reading a letter writing is completely serial.

But when reading words or texts, the reaction time per sign is smaller, for words are recognized also by their overall outline.

Syllable signs as words

With a syllable writing, some or all signs may be words. Example:

This ideogram means 'hurrying man'. It is composed out of 3 syllable signs, which, as words, mean "angle", "wave" and "point".
This fact, that single syllable signs already are words, has many advantages: It makes it easier to learn the signs (especially if this artificial language was the mother language), to read the signs and especially to visualize: The above ideogram in fact is the series of the forms "angle", "wave", "point"

Optical Quality and Word Length

Syllable writings have, even when based on simple phonetic system, more signs than other kinds of writings. That's why they allow, on principle, ideograms to be more expressive, more elegant, more compact, quicker writable. But an ideogram must not become acoustically too long, and thus it must contain less (say about the half) syllable signs, than it could contain letter signs.

But some ideas seem to be expressed better with a set of simple signs, but more signs per ideogram - then a letter writing was better.

Most flexible is 'drawing' things by bar writing, because of the unlimited size of ideograms (besides in the simple version shown above) and the composition of ideograms of small parts (which gives the ideograms a special kind of beauty).

The whole question also depends on the vocabulary (for plants supposely an other phonetic picture-writing is optimal than for physics), and on the special writing.

The optical quality of a phonetic picture-writing only can be evaluated if one knows a certain number of ideograms and sentences. Not ideograms specially selected to demonstrate the quality of this special writing, better a basic set of 350 words, evenly surveying all common themes.

The average acoustical word length is distinctly longer with bar writings than with other kinds of writings.


All kinds of (well designed) phonetic picture-writings produce well sounding, phonetically clear words. With syllable writings, the syllable structure can be designed exactly: for example, allow only syllables with structure "consonant + vowel" (acoustically very clear, but may be too monotonous), or allow also syllables with structure "consonant + diphthong" (examples: mei mai, moi).

Important: There should be a clear acoustic separation of words, and of sentences. The normal (very short or missing) sound gap between spoken words, and the accent (always at the beginning of a word, or always at the end), perhaps are not sufficient, with fluid speaking, to let a hearer decide, if for example "ti ta ki" or "ti taki" or "tita ki" or "titaki" was spoken.
One can use not written particles (grammatical words) to indicate the borders of words, columns and sentences. For this, a syllable writing, with which each syllable, and so each word, begins with a consonant and ends with a vowel, is especially advantagous: One may use as particles before words single vowels, e.g. o, a, e . After these vowels, any word, as beginning with a consonant, can be spoken fluidly. The sentence "o tita a ki" for example can easily be spoken and can be separated into words easily and definitely by a hearer.

And by a computer too. For analyzing such a sentence, extracting its words, can be done in a purely formal, systematical way - because of its clear phonetics. In opposite to this, in most 'natural' languages word borders mostly cannot be recognized by acoustic means only - a hearer often tries, after hearing a sentence and understanding it partially, to reconstruct it according to a supposed sense. (Thats the reason why a bad telefone line, allowing correct syllable recognizing of only 10 % , allows correct sentence understanding of 42 % - to a man only, not to a computer.

Details about these questions you find in the article Phonetic systems for artificial languages and in the descriptions of single syllable-, letter- and position writings.

Beauty, psyche

Optical and acoustic beauty of a writing / language are an important point of view, but also depending on one's taste: Are simple, clear ideograms, like made possible by a syllable writing, nicer than the ideograms of a letter writing, which mostly are composed out of more lines? Anyway, small ideograms are more practicable - easier to write, read and remember.
In any case, on should consider the mental and spiritual aspect of sounds, writings and ways to write - they are as less neutral in this respect, as music or pictures are neutral in that sense.

Technical Effort

With a syllable writing, more compact ideograms are possible. Thus it is quicker to read and write(important for taking notes) and needs a little less space and writing material (this means in the Middle Ages: save expensive paper; in the computer ages: more text on a screen).

When printing by types, for a syllable writing many kinds of types are needed. (But most syllable signs, when turned up, represent another sign; it's the same with 1-sound-letters: thus the number of necessary kinds of types is decreased). But the length of a text is farly smaller with a syllable writing, because the words contain less signs.

A keyboard with syllable keys would double the speed of typing, but it seems to make sense only with a smaller number of syllables. But also syllables can be entered as two or more single sounds - then the keyboard can be as minimal as with a letter writing. But then not each sign appears on a key, unfortunetaly.

Fitness for Computer

All kinds of phonetic picture-writings can be displayed on a screen without problems. Once the signs are in a computer symbol table ??, ideograms formed by them may be used for illustration also in texts in an other language. They are easier to create (just type them) and use much less computer memory than normal graphics.

The number of bits, which are necessary to store a text, is smallest if the text is stored syllable-wise. This kind of storing is possible with any kind of phonetic picture-writing, but only with a syllable writing it is completely synchronous with the writing (1 spoken syllable = 1 sign on paper = 1 sign in the storage).

For automatic speech recognizing, becoming important in future, phonetic clearness of a language is the deciding factor. All kinds of phonetic picture-writings can be based on a very clear phonetic system, producing a limited number of clear syllables, and phonetically very clear words. Then, with all kinds, automatic speech recognition can be performed as syllable-wise speech recognition, which is easier and more reliable than other methods: because each syllable is a place of high sound intensity, separated from other syllables by gaps of low sound intensity. (The huge number of syllables in most 'natural' languages, except Japanese, makes it impossible to use this kind of speech recognition for these languages. Also syllable sluring like in "can-not" is a difficulty)

Also for logical text processing by EDP, generally artificial languages without changing words are advantagous. Because then, when looking for an idea, like "house", it's not necessary to look for related grammatical forms too, like "houses".

Other classification:   by elements of signs

Up to now, we classified phonetic picture-writings by the numerical proportion signs : sounds .
Instead of this, one might classify them by the optical elements of the writing:

            - points
            - straight lines   (vertical, horizontal, diagonal)
            - arcs

Writings with letters consisisting only out of points or only out of straight lines can be practible (examples above). Writings consisting only out of arcs cannot picture well many things, but writings with many arcs may be very elegant and aesthtetic.   Wrtings with points, straight lines and arcs can picture things most precisely.

update:   2013 - 1 - 14