So I was thinking about how to talk about these characters in a culturally-neutral way. Chinese seems to be used, but it implies a particular way of writing characters (not to mention it makes it sound like you're ignorantly conflating East asian cultures).

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    @tum_ No, hieroglyphs in non-specialist English refers exclusively to Egyptian writing (in specialist usage also to some other things, but not CJK characters). Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 23:54
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    Can't tell about the last two, but Hanzi/Kanji/Hanja are literally how you pronounce "Chinese character(s)" in respective languages. I have a really hard time imagining someone from CJK getting offended at "Chinese characters," and honestly I'm not sure about the merit of a "culturally neutral" term for a set of characters that are innately tied with a particular cultural sphere.
    – jick
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 0:06
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    Well, what we call "Latin alphabet" is also used to transcribe Germanic, Slavic, or Austroasiatic languages, but I haven't heard of anyone having issues with the name. I maintain that "Chinese characters" is a perfectly acceptable name - it's short and unambiguous, and it's exactly how they have been called throughout history.
    – jick
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 5:05
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    @YellowSky, I think that the family of scripts used for most languages of Western Europe and the Americas, and much of Africa and Oceania are known as "Latin", and the family of scripts used in South Eastern Europe and currently or formerly in what was the Soviet Union are called "Cyrillic". Those are their names. Logic doesn't enter into it.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 13:45
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    But except in discussions like this, nobody says "Cyrillic family of scripts". People say "Cyrillic script" or "Cyrillic alphabet".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 16:28

5 Answers 5


Those scripts are usually referred to as the Chinese family of scripts:

Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese Oracle Bone Script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself (or hanzi, now in two forms, traditional and simplified), and adaptations to other languages, such as Kanji (Japanese), Hanja (Korean), Chữ nôm (Vietnamese) and Sawndip (Zhuang). More divergent are Tangut, Khitan large script, and its offspring Jurchen, as well as the Yi script and possibly Korean Hangul, which were inspired by Chinese although not directly descended from it. The partially deciphered Khitan small script may be another. In addition, various phonetic scripts descend from Chinese characters, of which the best known are the various kana syllabaries, the zhuyin semi-syllabary, nüshu, and some influence on hangul.

This name goes in the same vein as the Brahmic family of scripts, the term used for the Brahmic scripts used in India and East Asia.


For Unicode purposes, they're referred to as CJK ideograms, short for "Chinese, Japanese, and Korean". This is kind of awkward, and not something I've ever heard used in normal conversation, but Unicode is a decent precedent for politically-neutral usage.

The name I've heard more often in actual usage, if you want to avoid the word "Chinese", is Han characters or Han logograms, a direct translation of 漢字/hànzì/kanji/etc. This is most often used in cases where the speaker wants to distinguish the characters in general from the specifically Chinese usage of them, as in "Han unification" (the process of unifying Chinese, Japanese, and Korean variants into a single Platonic ideal of each character).

  • My experience is the opposite of this. I’ve both seen and heard them called CJK characters many, many times, and I’ve never considered it awkward. But while I have seen ‘Han characters’ occasionally in writing (mostly on Wiktionary along with the term ‘translingual’), I don’t recall ever hearing anyone use the term in speech. Without further explanation or a context that makes it clear, I’d be unsure whether it was meant to refer to the cross-linguistic use of the characters, or specifically to uses for Han Chinese languages. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 17:37

Hànzì/Kanji/Hanja/Chữ nôm can be referred to as CJKV characters. You can say CJKVZ to include Sawndip. Due to process of elimination it should be pretty clear to most people what the Z stands for.

  • Welcome to Linguistics! This post would benefit from adding further details. Being a one-line post, it may attract downvotes and criticism. Please edit it to add further relevant information — preferably with references to credible sources. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 12:30

I'm a little late to this, but I think there's already a generic name for this. Maybe some of you have used it, it's called Chinese characters or Han characters. (Some others might call it CJKV ideograms/characters because they were used in Chinese, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. But it would be wrong to just call them CJK ideograms/characters, because that would lose the use of "where it's been used". You can see Sinosphere for details). To call other script that does not belong to the term "Chinese characters" but use Chinese radicals or developed based on Chinese script, you may call it "Chinese script families".

汉字, 漢字, Hànzì, Kanji, Hanja, and Hán Tự (not Chữ Nôm, Chữ Nôm is a native Vietnamese script developed based on Chinese script, and Sawndip should not be in this list for the same reason, read on for details).

(hàn) in this situation does not mean Chinese. It refers to the Han dynasty, which refined this writing system to the form still used today.

𡨸喃 (chữ Nôm) and 𭨡𮄫 (Sawndip) were not created/refined by Chinese during the Han dynasty, so they weren't referred to as part of 漢字.


“Heterograms” is a general term for characters/spellings belonging to one language which are used to represent a non-cognate word with the same meaning in another language. For example, there are Sumerian heterograms in Akkadian, Hittite etc., Aramaic heterograms in Middle Persian, Sogdian etc., and some others. For that matter, there is also “&” (ligature for Latin “et”) to represent English “and”, or “lb” for “pound”. These too are heterograms.

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