In all 3 of the non-Latin-script languages I have learned to relative degrees of fluency, handwritten and printed forms differed significantly. Of course, this should not come as a surprise. Often, learning handwritten forms required a significant amount of practice. Of course, being a language geek, I took pleasure in it. But as for the study of handwriting itself, to which branch of linguistics does it belong? I'd like to read some scholarly stuff on this. Maybe there is even a methodology for sample collecting.

  • 2
    For ancient writing systems — which often require significant effort to decipher — the relevant field of study is called paleography. For what it's worth, though, paleography isn't really treated as part of linguistics. The only paleographers I've ever met have been in classics or history departments. Dec 25, 2011 at 20:49

6 Answers 6


I think Graphetics is the closest thing you'll get in Linguistics that among its studies subjects has the handwritten language.

As stated in the article: "Graphetics is to the study of writing as phonetics is to the study of spoken language. As such, it can be divided into two areas, visual graphetics and mechanical graphetics, which are analogous to auditory and articulatory phonetics, respectively. Both printed and handwritten language can be the subject of graphetic study."

Emphasis and bold are mine.

  • 4
    Daniels and Bright's The World's Writing Systems, while not cheap, is the gold standard for both ancient and current systems. They cover everything.
    – jlawler
    Dec 25, 2011 at 20:58

As mentioned above, anything that is related to the study of handwriting in historical documents is part of paleography. Paleography is a large discipline that covers all kinds of writing systems from widely different periods, and it includes the study of handwritten (as opposed to printed or epigraphical) writing. Handwritten forms of writing are often labelled as cursive or running writing, i.e. scripts typically used for everday purposes and/or for private correspondence. The letters of cursive writing tend to be "sloppier" than printed ones and they tend to be interconnected much more frequently.

For the scientific study of (past and present) writing systems in general there are the terms graphemics and graphetics. As in phonemics vs. phonetics, the former one is mainly concerned with the system of distinctive signs, while the second one is concerned with how those distinctive signs appear in actual scripts.

Graphemics and graphetics are not to be confused with graphology, the latter being a pseudo-scientific method of drawing conclusions about someone's psychology by analysing their personal handwriting.

There is to my knowledge no specific term for the scientific analysis of handwritten (as opposed to printed) writing. If you are looking for more information, your best bet is probably to search for cursive writing of whatever script you are interested in.


Despite the existence of a name for a subfield ('graphetics') and a reasonable expectation of study, the currently accepted faculty of linguistics as practiced in most universities these days does not consider handwriting as part of their domain; that is, linguists on the whole do not tend to study and discuss handwriting. Linguistics as currently practiced deals only with spoken language).

The faculties where handwriting is studied in general are cognitive psychology (with respect to how people read it) or clinical psychiatry (evidence of problems shown in handwriting phenomena (the respectable arm of graphology), computer vision (recognition of handwritten characters), or history/archaeology (deciphering of old scripts). Written language (where handwritten script is a special, but not specially considered, case, is studied in literature departments.

If you want to find out about handwriting academically, I suggest looking to foreign language teaching literature for the individual scripts concerned. For example, look in instruction material for Hebrew, in English, that describes how one is supposed to draw the script version of characters. As that might be too practical, more scholarly discussion of handwriting will probably be limited to a foreign language teacher's special monograph, that is, most likely -not- a linguist but a specialist in one particular language/writing system.


Graphemics/graphetics is more of a sibling field to linguistics than a child. Their parent would be semiotics: spoken language represents ideas, written language represents spoken language (usually). So maybe graphemics/graphetics is more of a niece or nephew since it's dependent on the existence of spoken language...


Since nobody has mentioned it, I guess I will. The linguistic study of writing systems in general is orthography. The study of handwritten language would be a part of it. See the Wikipedia article.

  • Orthography is actually about the correct (or conventional) way of writing in a certain language(orthos = correct, graphia = writing), and not about handwriting or typing.
    – Alenanno
    Jan 11, 2012 at 1:04
  • Did you mean calligraphy?
    – bytebuster
    Jan 13, 2013 at 5:36

Graphology http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphology tries to decipher what a person's handwriting reveals about his mind.

  • 6
    The downvotes are because graphology, whatever its merits, is not a branch of linguistic science. Actually, it has a controversial reputation as a pseudoscience. Jan 7, 2012 at 13:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.