AskDefine | Define orthography

Dictionary Definition

orthography n : a method of representing the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols [syn: writing system]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Ancient Greek ὀρθός (orthos) "correct" + γράφω (grápho) "write".


  • italbrac RP /ɔːˈθɒg.rə.fi/, /O:"TQgr@fi/
  • italbrac US , /ɔrˈθɑː.grə.fi/, /Or"TAgr@fi/


  1. The study of correct spelling according to established usage.
  2. The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words.
  3. Spelling; the method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols.


study of correct spelling
aspect of language study concerned with letters and their correct sequence in words
the method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols

Extensive Definition

The orthography of a language specifies the correct way of using a specific writing system to write the language. (Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example for Kurdish, there can be more than one orthography.) Orthography is derived from Greek ὀρθός orthós ("correct") and γράφειν gráphein ("to write"). Orthography is distinct from typography.
Orthography describes or defines the set of symbols (graphemes and diacritics) used, and the rules about how to write these symbols. Depending on the nature of the writing system, the rules may include punctuation, spelling and capitalization.
While "orthography" colloquially is often used synonymously with spelling, spelling is only part of orthography.


An orthography may be described as "efficient" if it has one grapheme per phoneme (distinctive speech sound) and vice versa. An orthography may also have varying degrees of efficiency for reading or writing. For example, diverse letter, digraph, and diacritic shapes contribute to diverse word shapes, which aid fluent reading, while heavy use of apostrophes or diacritics makes writing slow, and the use of symbols not found on standard keyboards makes computer or cell phone input awkward. These are all considerations in the design of a writing system.

Typology of spelling systems

Phonemic orthography

A phonemic orthography is an orthography that has a dedicated symbol or sequence of symbols for each phoneme (distinctive speech sound) and vice versa. Many alphabetic scripts are fairly close to being phonemic, though English is a notorious exception.

Morpho-phonemic orthography

A morpho-phonemic orthography considers not only what is phonemic, as above, but also the underlying structure of the words. For example, in English, /s/ and /z/ are distinct phonemes, so in a phonemic orthography the plurals of cat and dog would be cats and dogz. However, English orthography recognizes that the /s/ sound in cats and the /z/ sound in dogs are the same element (archiphoneme), automatically pronounced differently depending on its environment, and therefore writes them the same despite their differing pronunciation. German and Russian are morpho-phonemic in this sense, whereas Turkish is purely phonemic. Korean hangul has changed over the centuries from a highly phonemic to a largely morpho-phonemic orthography, and there are moves in Turkey to make that script more morpho-phonemic as well.


A "defective orthography" is one in which there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the letters and the phonemes in the language, such as those of Italian, English or Arabic. Most languages of western Europe (which are written with the Latin alphabet), as well as the modern Greek language (written with the Greek alphabet), have defective scripts. In some of these, there are sounds with more than one possible spelling, usually for etymological or morphophonemic reasons (like /dʒ/ in English, which can be written with "j", "g", "dj", "dg", or "ge"). In other cases, the letters in the alphabet are not enough to write all phonemes. The remaining ones must then be represented by using such devices as diacritics, digraphs that reuse letters with different values (like "th" in English, whose sound value is normally not /t/ + /h/), or simply inferred from the context (for example the short vowels in abjads like the Arabic and the Hebrew alphabet, which are normally left unwritten).
Another term to describe this characteristic is "deep orthography". (Note that the term "defective orthography" should not indicate that the writing system is flawed.) Deep orthographies are writing systems that do not have a full correspondence between the spoken phoneme and the written grapheme (as listed above). Shallow orthographies, however, have a one-to-one relationship between graphemes and phonemes. The phonetic writing of Japanese (ex. hiragana) is an example of shallow orthography.

Complex orthography

Complex orthographies often combine different types of scripts and/or utilize many different complex punctuation rules. Some widely accepted examples of languages with complex orthographies include Thai, Japanese, and Khmer.

See also


  • Smalley, W.A. (ed.) 1964. Orthography studies: articles on new writing systems (United Bible Society, London).
orthography in Afrikaans: Ortografie
orthography in Tosk Albanian: Orthographie
orthography in Min Nan: Chiàⁿ-jī-hoat
orthography in Belarusian: Арфаграфія
orthography in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Правапіс
orthography in Bosnian: Pravopis
orthography in Breton: Reizhskrivadur
orthography in Bulgarian: Правопис
orthography in Catalan: Ortografia
orthography in Chuvash: Орфографи
orthography in Czech: Pravopis
orthography in Danish: Retskrivning
orthography in German: Orthographie
orthography in Modern Greek (1453-): Ορθογραφία
orthography in Spanish: Ortografía
orthography in Esperanto: Ortografio
orthography in Basque: Ortografia
orthography in French: Orthographe
orthography in Galician: Ortografía
orthography in Korean: 맞춤법
orthography in Croatian: Pravopis
orthography in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Orthographia
orthography in Italian: Ortografia
orthography in Hebrew: אורתוגרפיה
orthography in Latin: Orthographia
orthography in Hungarian: Helyesírás
orthography in Macedonian: Правопис
orthography in Dutch: Spelling
orthography in Japanese: 正書法
orthography in Norwegian: Ortografi
orthography in Occitan (post 1500): Ortografia
orthography in Low German: Schrievwies
orthography in Polish: Ortografia
orthography in Portuguese: Ortografia
orthography in Romanian: Ortografie
orthography in Quechua: Allin qillqay
orthography in Russian: Орфография
orthography in Simple English: Orthography
orthography in Slovak: Pravopis
orthography in Slovenian: Pravopis
orthography in Serbian: Правопис
orthography in Finnish: Oikeinkirjoitus
orthography in Swedish: Ortografi
orthography in Turkish: Ortografi
orthography in Ukrainian: Правопис
orthography in Walloon: Ortografeye
orthography in Chinese: 正字法
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