I have absolutely no idea where to begin with this question, but I think I can summarise it in such a way that someone might know the answer.

The exact thing I'm looking at is if two people met and one person taught the other how to speak their language, then that other person "interpreted" the language into their own character-set. For instance English uses Latin characters, maybe a person spoke that language to a Chinese person, who then continued to speak something very close to that language, but wrote it using Chinese logograms.

I'm looking to know if such a sequence of events ever may have happened, and what the result today might be. Preferably looking for a mainstream language, not just a cypher that somebody used purely to obfuscate text. As such, it would probably have to be the case that the languages are audibly similar today.

  • 1
    Doesn't this reduce to asking for languages that have two writing systems, like Serbocroatian, Punjabi?
    – user6726
    Feb 24, 2017 at 15:23
  • Very nearly. A language with two writing systems could potentially have various roots though, for instance when scripture was first a thing and people first started to write things, they could have diverged. What I'm more specifically looking for is a language which has diverged in the way described. It's kind of a shower thought that went too far and distracts me more than it should.
    – XtrmJosh
    Feb 24, 2017 at 15:24
  • This is probably not exactly what you have in mind, but 19th-century/early 20th-century English learning books in Chinese did this for pedagogical purposes, for example this and this. This kind of pedagogy has continued to this day (despite the invention of IPA); for example a crazy person still uses it Feb 24, 2017 at 15:41
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    There is a set of Jewish languages made from local dialects, like Yiddish (Judaeo-German), Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish), Judaeo-Persian, Judaeo-Arabic, etc. All of them are dialects of whatever local language is used -- Yiddish can be understood quite easily by most German speakers, for instance -- but there are numerous foreign borrowings (usually from Hebrew and Aramaic, but also from other languages), and they are always written in Hebrew characters (often with special conventions) and serve as an ingroup solidarity marker.
    – jlawler
    Feb 24, 2017 at 17:22
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    The full form of the oldest text in Mongol, The Secret History of the Mongols survives only in a 14th-century Chinese textbook, where it is 'transliterated' into Chinese characters employed as phonetic signs, with an accompanying translation. Feb 24, 2017 at 18:12

2 Answers 2


Close to the situation you sketch comes Ottoman Turkish. Officially it was written in the Arabic script, but the Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities in the Ottoman empire used their respective scripts to write (and even print) it. The dialects of the mentioned communities were also different from the dialects of the Muslim Turks.


Hindi and Urdu are very similar languages, written in Devanagari and Arabic, respectively. The Uighur language in western China has 4 different writing systems in modern use, and a major historical literary tradition in a fifth alphabet. The historical Uighur writing system is descended from the Sogdian alphabet, and it was adopted by the Mongols and became the predominant writing system of the Mongol empire, as well as the Manchus. Starting in the 10th century, Uighurs became Muslims, and started writing their language in the Arabic script. At the start of the People's Republic of China, the PRC attempted to discourage Muslim influence, and encouraged the Uighurs to write their language using Cyrillic (Russian) letters. However, in the 1950s the PRC started to have tense relations with Russia, and enforced a rule that Uighur children should be taught to write their language with the Latin alphabet. In 1982, China decided to return the Uighur language to the Arabic alphabet. Now, in order to use ubiquitous latin-alphabet keyboards, many young Uighurs are using a latin characters to write their language, but with different conventions from the pre-1982 version of romanization.

So, to summarize: a young Uighur today will read newspapers in the Arabic script, and text his friends with the latin alphabet. His father will write using the latin alphabet in a very different way. His grandfather will write in Cyrillic, and, if he's a scholar, he'll read old books in the ancient Uighur script.

And then there's Japanese, which will mix three different writing systems within a single sentence in a modern newspaper: logographic kanji alongside syllabic katakana and hiragana.

There are many, many other similar examples around the world.

  • 1
    Hindi and Urdu aren't just very similar languages, they are they same language, Hindustani. Hindi and Urdu are the two official/standard registers of the language.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 25, 2017 at 2:33

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