The symbols used in these semanto-phonetic writing systems often represent
both sound and meaning. As a result, these scripts generally include a large number of
symbols: anything from several hundred to tens of thousands. In fact there
is no theoretical upper limit to the number of symbols in some scripts,
such as Chinese. These scripts could also be called logophonetic, morphophonemic,
logographic or logosyllabic.
Semanto-phonetic writing systems may include the following types of symbol:
Pictograms and logograms
Pictograms or pictographs resemble the things they represent. Logograms
are symbols that represent parts of words or whole words. The image on the
right shows some examples of pictograms from the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic
and Chinese scripts. The Chinese characters used to look like the things they
stand for, but have become increasingly stylized over the years.
Ideograms or ideographs are symbols which graphically represent abstract ideas.
The image below shows a number of ideographic Chinese characters.
The majority of characters in the Chinese script are semanto-phonetic compounds:
they include a semantic element, which represents or hints at their meaning, and
a phonetic element, which shows or hints at their pronunciation. Below are a
few such compound characters which all share a semantic element meaning 'horse'.
Sometimes symbols are used for their phonetic value alone,
without regard for their meaning, for example when transliterating
foreign names and loan words.
transcriptions in the International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) are used extensively throughout this website.
The IPA transcriptions are the letters and other symbols which appear
in square bracketts, like this [b], [p]. etc.