Phonetic  Picture-Writing:    a  letter-picture-writing

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What is a Phonetic Picture-Writing ?

A phonetic picture-writing is a picture-writing, which also can be read phonetically. For its ideograms (picture symbols) are composed of special letters.   An example:

This ideogram means ' face' - and also it represents the pronunciation  'ela'
For it is composed of specially designed letters. If you read these letters   from bottom to top, the phonetic result is  'ela' :

(Vertical writing is much better suitable for "drawing" faces, men, plants, houses etc. than horizontal writing)
When reading the ideograms, the result of course is not English, but an artificial language (artlang, or conlang = constructed language), which might serve as an international auxiliary language (auxlang), as a kind of Esperanto with associated picture-writing.

A simple Phonetic Picture-Writing

Here we show a simple, but quite efficient phonetic picture-writing. It has only these 12 letters (3 of them contained in the above ideogram for "face"):

(Red letters describe the pronunciation by international phonetic writing. h is a shortening for the sound "sh")

One can bring into one's mind this alphabet by 5 ways:   Just learn it. Or learn the systemof this mini-alphabet (see below). Or learn a few words (the ideogram and the pronunciation): If you, for example, know the 5 words for 'face' (above), 'two', 'circle', 'square' and 'rhomb' shown below, you know the whole alphabet of this picture-writing. Or print this article, cut out the letters (including the phonetic transcription) and lay words with them.   Or type in words on screen.

Examples of Words

The words above can be spoken easily. For all syllables only consist of consonant + vowel, e.g. 'me' or 'la'. (At the beginning of the words, also the syllables 'e', 'a', 'o' may occur.) But what can one do, if an ideogram is an unspeakable series of letters, e.g. 'fp' ?

To solve the problem consequently, and to yield a very clear and nice-sounding pronunciation, there is help: when speaking an ideogram, you insert as often the vowel 'i' and the consonant 'j' (spoken like the y in 'yes'), until the resulting word has only syllables consisting of consonant + vowel. (But the syllables 'e', 'a', 'o' at the beginning of a word are not changed - they can be pronounced easily). These i / j are not written, there are no letters for them. Thus, the ideogram 'fp' is spoken as 'fipi', the ideogram 'taa' as 'taja'.   Examples:

More examples of words in the printable dictionary and in the interactive dictionary

Letter Size

For didactic reasons, we figured the phonetic picture-writing rather big. But its simply shaped letters may be reduced much in size, more than Latin letters. Then they appear more charming and not so bulky, also more realistic: one scarcely has the impression that details are missing. (Also gray instead of black colour lets ideograms look more impressionistic, also bigger distance between the letters.) Some smaller ideograms:

Printed by laser or by types, the ideograms are more clear than on a screen. (If using an inkjet printer, the lines become too broad and thus the distances between lines become too small - the letters become indistinct at this size.) Here some pictures of scenes, explained in the article about grammar:


The original purpose of a phonetic picture-writing is: it's an artificial language, by which one can express everything - optically and acoustically.

For ideograms can be combined into scenes, and these can be spoken as sentences:   The example besid is pronounced  ani amimipi ela   and means "legs, (over it) cape, (over it) face": There is a standing man, with cape, his face is visible."

Such an artificial language has many advantages: Much fun, quick optical surveying, quick writing of the simply-shaped letters, very clear phonetics (good for speech recognition by computer).

During the classical antiquity, the phonetic picture-writing was used to encode pictures into texts. How this was done (mostly by the initials of the words) is described in the article pictures encoded in texts and in the article about the latin writer Plinius. By this method, antique writers handed to us lots of mini-pictures, mostly faces. These encoded pictures served for entertainment, the mutual recognition of initiates (the phonetic picture-writing was kept secret in mystical circles), an the hiding of informations in texts.

Different Versions

The simple phonetic picture-writing presented above contains the 12 most useful signs, and the sounds are attached very systematically to the signs. It's already very efficient. But to yield a full speach, more signs are necessary: 25 letters seem to be the mininum, to be able to portray all kinds of things and ideas by good ideograms.

During the antiquity, different versions of phonetic picture-writing have been used. Often the difference was only an other attachment of sounds to the signs, e.g. to exchange the humming for the hissing consonants, and vice versa. By this way, mystical circles tried to delimit from other such circles, and the "upper class" in greater mystical circles tried to delimit from the "ordinary people".

The System of Letters

In the picture beside we arranged the 12 letters so, that you recognize at once: There are narrow, middle-broad and brod signs.

Below again the 12 letters, now arranged in a 4 * 3 matrix. You see: Similar sounds are represented by similar letters. Signs for vowels are flat, signs for consonants are high. For every (in writing direction) broadening sign there is a similar, narrowing sign. By turning down the one, you get the other one.

              - All  signs  for        vowels  ( e a o )       are   horizontal  lines
                       It works like a chord:  the longer it is, the deeper the sound

              - All  signs  for    humming consonants  ( l n m )    are  vertical  lines
                       What is a humming sound?  If you touch your larynx, or put a small
                        finger into an ear, and speak a humming sound, you feel vibrations.
                        Vowels also hum.  So it is generally true:

                       Humming  sounds   are  written  by   straight  lines,  parallel   to  a
                       coordinate axis.  Not humming sounds   are written by  other lines:

              - All  signs  for     hissing sounds   ( s h f )    broaden   on top
                       They symbolize emitting, broadening air

              - All  signs  for     stopping sounds    ( t k p )    narrow  on top
                       What is a stop (or plosive)?  An interrupted sound: if you speak, for example, slowly
                        the word "apa", somewhen during it there is silence.  Then air is emitted explosively

Another memory-aid: If you remove the curves from the Latin lower case letters l,n,m (from m also remove the central vertical line), you receive the corresponding letters of the phonetic picture-writing presented in this article. You get the same result, if you remove all non-vertical lines from the Latin upper case letters L,N,M. Also Latin K and P resemble the corresponding letters of our picture-writing, if you now remove the vertical lines and turn the result by 90 degrees.

More Themes

Blue links indicate pages in German language. (I'm sorry I had no time to translate them.) Nevertheless, pictures on these sites often will give you a good idea of the content.

Interactive programs:
Type words
Type sentences

Dictionary (interactive)        1052 words
Dictionary (printable)            220 words
Dictionary (big,printable)    1560 words,   below at downloads

Advantages of phonetic picture-writing
Phonetic picture-writing: Frequent questions

Grammar:   the image (sentence)

Grammar:   writing 2 words one above the other
Grammar:   direction and perspective
Grammar:   3-dimensional models
Gammar:   multiple perspective
Grammar:   inserted images
Phonetic picture-writing and molecule grammar
Grammar:   planned changes    Grammar will be revised!
Formal grammar  of phonetic picture-writing   (for specialists)

Versions of phonetic picture-writing:
Extensions of the 12-letter picture-writing   part 1
Extensions of the 12-letter picture-writing   part 2
A phonetic picture-writing with 16 letters
A phonetic picture-writing  with 20 letters
A phonetic picture-writing  with 20 letters  a little obsolete
Thereby formed words (ideograms) of the subjects:
Visual Arts
A syllable writing with 28 signsA syllable writing with 80 signs
The antique standard phonetic picture-writing

Kinds  of phonetic picture-writings
Point writings
Bar writings
Overwriting  of  signs

Forming signs for phonetic picture-writings
The letter field of phonetic picture-writing
Symbolic numbers for phonetic picture-writing

History  of phonetic picture-writing
Quotations of antique authors  about phonetic picture writing
Quotations of antique authors  about  encoding pictures    new
Pictures encoded in texts
Pictures encoded in texts  of the antique writer Pliny (Plinius)
Pictures encoded in texts  of the antique writer Pliny, part 2
Encoded self-portrait of Pliny

General language theorie (linguistics):
Design principles for artificial languages
A clear, nice sound system for artificial languages
Forming words
Design principles for a grammar
Molecule grammar
Alphabetic sorting
Alphabetic sorting of numbers, numerical correctly
Analogy of hand and phonetic system      interesting
Language and psyche

To make it possible for you to write own texts in phonetic picture-writing, here are document patterns with embedded font and isolated fonts ready for download. The latter ones you must install in your computer after downloading
(Windows 2003: -working place -system management -fonts -install new font)
lautbildschrift-16-buchstaben.ttf  (4 KB)
Phonetic picture-writing with 16 letters, vektor-font  (for all WINDOWS text-programs)

laut16bu.fon  (2 KB)
Phonetic picture-writing with 16 letters, bitmap-font
(usable in text-programs NOTEPAD (new), WORDPAD (old), not in WORD)

lantik12.fon  (4 KB)     new
Antique phonetic picture-writing with 12 letters, bitmap-font
(usable in text-programs NOTEPAD (new), WORDPAD (old), not in WORD)
Simply view antique text by NOTEPAD and select this writing !

lautbildschrift-dokumentvorlage.doc  (25 KB)
Document pattern and instructions for using phonetic picture-writing texts  (in WORD - format)

lautbildschrift-lexikonvorlage.doc  (33 KB)
Dictionary pattern for words of phonetic picture-writing  (in WORD - format)

lautbildschrift-lexikon.doc    Dictionary (93 pages, about 1560 words, 1613 KB,  WORD-Format)

Author and inventor: Leonhard Heinzmann email Homepage This site also can be reached via FREE COPYRIGHT for this article! update 21. 2. 2008 The phonetic picture-writing is free for everybody and not subject to any rights or patents