Definition and Examples of Logographs

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

logographs
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logograph is a letter, symbol, or sign used to represent a word or phrase. Adjective: logographic. Also known as a logogram.

The following logographs are available on most alphabetic keyboards: $, £, §, &, @, %, +, and -. In addition, the single-digit Arabic number symbols (0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) are logographic symbols.

The best known examples of a logographic writing system are Chinese and Japanese.

"Though originally derived from ideographs, the symbols of these languages now stand for words and syllables, and do not refer directly to concepts or things" (David Crystal, The Penguin Encyclopedia, 2004).

  • Etymology: From the Greek, "word" + "writing"
  • Pronunciation: LO-go-graf

Examples and Observations

"English doesn't have many logographs. Here are a few:

& % @ £

We would read those as 'and,' 'per cent,' 'at,' and 'pound.' And in maths we have several more, such as the signs for 'minus,' 'multiplied by,' 'divided by,' and 'square root of.' Quite a few of the special signs in chemistry and physics are logographs, too.

"Some languages consist entirely of logographs. Chinese is the best known. It's possible to write Chinese with an alphabet like the one we use for English, but the traditional way of writing the language is to use logographs—though they're usually called characters when we talk about Chinese."
(David Crystal, A Little Book of Language.

Yale University Press, 2010)

Logographs in English

"Logographs are used in many languages, including English. When the symbol [2] is used to represent the word two in English, it is being used as a logograph. The fact that it can also be used to represent the number deux 'two' in French and the number mbili 'two' in Shinzwani means that, although the same sign can be used as a logograph in different languages, the way it is pronounced can be different, depending on the language in which it is functioning as a logograph.

Another sign that is used as a logograph in a lot of different languages is the [@]. In contemporary English, it has come to mean at and is used as part of an Internet address. It works comfortably in English to say myname-at-myinternetaddress, but this doesn't work as well in some other languages."
(Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer, The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology, 2nd ed. Cengage, 2009)

Logographs in Texting

"What novelty there is in texting lies chiefly in the way it takes further some of the processes used in the past. . . . There are no less than four processes combined in iowan2bwu 'I only want to be with you': full word + an initialism + a shortened word + two logograms + an initialism + a logogram."
(David Crystal, "2b or not 2b?" The Guardian [UK], July 5, 2008)

Processing Logographs

"Whereas earlier studies had indicated that logographs are processed by the right and alphabets by the left hemisphere of the brain, [Rumjahn] Hoosain provides more recent data suggesting that both are processed in the left, though possibly in different areas of the left."

(Insup Taylor and David R. Olson, Introduction to Scripts and Literacy: Reading and Learning to Read Alphabets, Syllabaries, and Characters.

Springer, 1995)