Latin script is by far the most popular writing system in the world. We all know it like the back of our hands. However, it’s not the only one. There has been hundreds, if not thousands of other scripts in the history of the world. Many of them are still alive. Millions of people are using them right by our side. And that’s not counting Chinese, Indian and Japanese writing systems. Every culture including our own has some very exotic scripts. Let’s take a look at them.
The script below is used in a European country. Yep, even Europe has some very exotic writing systems.
10. ARMENIAN (Հայերէն)
Armenian alphabet and script are over 1,500 years old. Age didn’t wear them down, though, as about 6 million people still use them today. Mainly in Armenia and to a lesser extent in Poland, Romania and Cyprus. In the past, this script was also used to write Turkish. The script was developed by an Armenian linguist Mesrop Mashtots. It is an alphabetic script similar to Latin, but at the same time very different in its looks.
One of the qualities making this script exotic is the fact that all 39 letters have numerical values. Letter Ա (A) is number 1. Letter Զ (Z) is not the last, though. It’s number 6. The last letter is Ֆ (F) and it’s number isn’t 39, it’s 20,000!
Here’s another European script:
9. GAELIC TYPE (An Cló Gaelach)
It’s ironic that Gaelic type is among the most exotic scripts because it’s actually a variant of Latin writing system. It’s used for Irish Gaelic in Ireland. Sadly, they don’t use it that much because people prefer English. Despite that, you could see the script quite a lot if you went to Ireland. Most of the road signs, street names, shop signs, etc. use this script with or without English translation. This writing system was designed in 1571 and you can easily notice the style reminding of that era. This connection makes it a truly exotic script among other European languages.
Tagalog is 5th most spoken language in the United States. Of course, most of the speakers, about 57 million, live in the Philippines. Although Tagalog is usually written in Latin alphabet today, the old Tagalog script is still used for decorative purposes. This is an exotic script because it’s syllabic. This means that each symbol represents a consonant plus a vowel. The latter is determined by a diacritic or other modification. Tagalog isn’t the only syllabic alphabet. In fact, there are many. However, Tagalog is among the most popular ones regarding the number of people who could read it.
7. NUSHU (女书)
Number 7 in exotic scripts is Nushu. Reminds Chinese? Well, that’s because it is Chinese. Women speaking Southern Hunanese Tuhua use it in Hunan, China. The writing system is also based on Chinese characters, although some of them aren’t related.
The script is unique because it’s basically women’s script. With no formal education throughout centuries, women developed this system to communicate with one another. They embroidered the script into cloth, wrote it on paper fans and in books. Another interesting aspect is that this script is syllabary. Each symbol represents a syllable like in Hiragana and Katakana of the Japanese language.
Until recently Mongols used this thick vertical script pretty much everywhere. You should read the rows from top to bottom, columns from left to right. Now it is only used in schools and arts or for decoration. In 1941 Latin alphabet was introduced. It didn’t stay for long, though. 50 years later Cyrillic alphabet replaced the Latin one. Although each letter has a separate symbol in this writing system, it is often taught otherwise. Traditionally, those who learn Mongolian symbols, learn them as syllables.
Moving on to Canada! Oh, I’m sorry. I meant…
5. KANNADA (ಕನ್ನಡ)
Speakers of several different languages in India use this script today. The largest of these by the number of speakers (44 million) is Canarese. This script is very interesting. Not just because of the way it looks. It’s because this is an alphasyllabary system. It means that all the consonants have an inherent vowel. Other vowels are indicated with diacritics, appearing in various places around the symbol it belongs to. Looks complicated, but at least you follow the same direction as Latin when you read it.
4. KAYAH LI
Half a million Burmese use this writing system since 1962. That’s when Htae Bu Phae invented it. It is used for Kayah (or Kayah Li) belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Nowadays they teach it in schools in refugee camps in Thailand. The script has its own numerical symbols. It’s influenced by the scripts such as Thai and Burmese. At the same time, it’s unlike any of them. That’s why it’s among the most exotic recently developed writing systems.
We’re reached the Top 3! Does the text below remind of anything?
You can find the users of this script in Nablus. There are about 700 people using it. If Samaritan reminds you of Hebrew, that’s because both of these writing systems came from the same ancient script. It also reminds of scripts from further east. That’s not surprising as samaritans most likely came from Mesopotamia. Even today the script is used for Samaritan versions of both Hebrew and Aramaic. The language is mostly restricted to liturgical, scholarly texts. Since there are so few who still use it, Samaritan script is truly an exotic gem.
You can find examples of this extremely diagonal script in Maldives. Locals use it for their own Maldivian language. It appeared in government documents in the beginning of 18th century. However, the whereabouts of its appearance remain unknown.
Thaana is a vocalised abjad. Letters represent only consonants and most vowels are marked by diacritics. That’s why the text looks so scattered. Aside from Thaana, there are very few abjads. These are Samaritan, Hebrew and Arabic. Interestingly, they are all spoken in the same region, while Thaana is isolated in this respect. Like with all abjads, you should start reading from the right.
And finally… Exotic scripts list wouldn’t be complete without something that really stands out from the crowd:
Like Tagalog, Buhid is also used in the Philippines. It’s also used for both of these languages. However, not every Filipino would understand this script. In fact, there are only about 8,000 who could. These are Buhid people of Mindoro and they use this script both for their own Buhid language and Tagalog. It is believed that this unique script originated from Kawi writing system in Java. Although from its appearance the latter is not even similar to the first. This makes the Buhid script completely unique among all the other exotic scripts in appearance.
Did you miss a script that is way more exotic than all of these? Let us know in the comments!