What do you call a language that doesn't use the European alphabet (abcd...), like Mandarin and Japanese?

Is there a word for it, or maybe an adjective that characterizes as being "non-alphabetic"?

I really can't think of a word.

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    Did you only want to include languages in which characters represent ideas or words, or did you also want to include languages with non-Latin alphabets such as Russian or Arabic?
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 23:35
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    There is no "European alphabet"; there are three common alphabet families in modern use for representing European languages, Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic, plus a host of runic and other systems which are no longer in use. Mind you, what a scholar defines as an alphabet also differs from what might be called an alphabet by the general public (e.g. written Chinese is not technically an alphabet) .
    – choster
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


In technical writing, you should talk about "Logograms" (ie Chinese characters), in which each character represents a word or morpheme. Chinese is a logographic writing system. (The Hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt were partly logographic but mostly phonetic on the "rebus" principle.)

There are syllabaries, in which each character represents a syllable. Japanese kana is an example, and written Japanese is a mixed system with both logograms and two syllabaries.

There are then abugida (such as Devanagari used in India), Abjad (such as Arabic, or Hebrew in which vowels are omitted), and Alphabets in which vowels and consonants are written with separate symbols

Examples of alphabets include the Greek, Latin, Cyrillic and Hangul (Korean) writing systems. Many languages can be written in several different scripts: Turkish, for example, can be written in Arabic or a version of the Latin script.

There's no short way to specify "Languages that don't use Latin script", just as there is no short phrase for "fruit that are not apples".

However, if you are writing about Chinese character systems used for Japanese or Manderine then "Logographic" is the correct word. Technically "Ideographic" refers to systems such as "road signs" in which a symbol represents an idea.

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    Although you make a strong case for the term "logograph," it's worth noting that such usage isn't universal. For example, the Unicode Consortium, responsible for how the world's writing systems are represented by modern computer systems, calls Chinese characters ideographs, and in some of my university classes, we treated blurred the line between the two. I believe that you're technically correct about the distinction, but I wanted to pitch in to note that people don't always make that distinction. Commented May 28, 2019 at 20:39

There is no "European alphabet". Russian and English are both European langauages but they use very different scripts. Any language that uses a different writing system is called having a non-Latin script.

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