How many writing systems are there in the world?

According to our definition and count, there are exactly 294 writing systems worldwide. This number should be considered a snapshot of the current state of research (January 2022). Future research may yet change this number. Until now, historical writing systems are still occasionally being discovered, or in fact new ones developed.

How do you define a »writing system«?

A writing system is a set of graphic characters that, combined with each other, provide a visual representation of one or several human languages. According to this definition, characters like emojis or traffic signs do not constitute writing systems as they cannot represent a complete human language in writing.

What is the difference between a language and a writing system?

In autumn 2021, the website listed exactly 7,139 known living human languages. In comparison, there are, according to our definition and count (as of January 2022), »only« 294 writing systems in the world. Unlike writing systems, languages consist of human sounds, i.e. acoustic characters. One writing system (such as Latin) can be used to write a number of different languages (such as English, French, Spanish, German etc.). Vice versa, different writing systems may be used to write one language.

Which writing system is the most widely used?

Latin. According to our count, Latin is used to write a minimum of 305 languages.

What are the most widely used writing systems in the world?

According to Britannica these are
1. Latin (estimated at almost 70 % of the world’s population)
2. Chinese (estimated 1.34 billion people worldwide)
3. Arabic (estimated 660 million people worldwide)
4. Devanagari (estimated 600 million people worldwide)
5. Bengali (estimated 300 million people worldwide)
Source: These figures are very difficult to collect. We do not know any more precise figures.

How many writing systems have yet to be deciphered?

At least seven. They are: Byblos, Cypro-Minoan, Indus-Valley-Script, Linear A, Phaistos Disk, Proto-Elamite, Rongo Rongo.

What do you do with historic letters, signs or symbols that have not yet been confirmed to be written characters for Unicode?

They need further research. Until it has not been proven beyond doubt that these characters really do make up, or belong to, a writing system, we will not (yet) include them in our list — provided the writing system in question has not already been included in the Unicode Standard without having been deciphered (such as Phaistos Disk).

Why do written characters get included in the Unicode Standard?

So that they may be used on any computer (which includes any kind of smartphone) all over the world. In order to exchange typographic characters between digital devices, every single character must have been assigned a unique digital number called Code Point.

Why do extinct writing systems also get included in the Unicode Standard?

Researchers working with historic writing systems, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs or cuneiform, want to be able to use these characters on their computer — for example, in a word processor. Also, by being encoded in Unicode, every single written character is uniquely defined. This, in turn, allows for authoritative dictionaries with full-text search. Once encoded, they can also be represented on the Internet.

How does a writing system get included in the Unicode Standard?

The user community needs to file a proposal with the Unicode Consortium. In this proposal, proof must be provided that the written characters are used by a living community and that they are used in continuous text. Once the characters of a writing system have been encoded in Unicode, the major computer producers should include it in their operating systems. Here’s an example of a successful proposal:

When will all the writing systems in your list be included in the Unicode Standard?

The first Unicode Version 1.0 was published in 1991. Thirty years later, Unicode has 159 writing systems that can be represented on practically any computer in the world. At this rate, it would take another twenty-five years or so until all the writing systems of the world will be available on a computer. This is not so very long if you consider that humanity has been writing for as long as 5,300 years.