I am working on a language website and am just encountering the need to specify spoken dialects. I already have a sort of scheme for representing written encodings (like Tibetan wiley romanization encoding scheme, or these for Devanagari, for example), but I don't think I have considered "written dialects" as in Hebrew written dialects.

That wiki page lists the Tiberian vocalization "written dialect", and the Tiberian Hebrew "spoken dialect", for example. My "written encoding scheme" sort of system accounts for the basic feature of romanization, or different writing systems. For example, in Chinese you have Latin and Chinese scripts (writing systems), but in the Latin script you have the Pinyin encoding scheme.

How does that sort of system relate to written dialects? For example, in Hebrew I might have:

  • Spoken dialects (Modern Israeli Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew, etc.).
  • Writing systems (Hebrew script, Latin script)
  • Encoding schemes ("Basic Hebrew encoding" I might call it, for Hebrew script in Hebrew, and "Basic romanization encoding" for the Latin script, unless there is a name for it, like in Tibetan we have the Wiley encoding scheme, for example).
  • Written dialects???

Is my encoding scheme basically the written dialect, or how should this work? A broader question for my particular problem is, what are all the classifications I need for spoken and written systems. I think I only need 4 so far (General spoken language name, spoken dialect name, general writing system name, encoding scheme name (writing system encoding scheme)), but do I need a 5th one, or more?

The goal is to capture lexicons/terms for each language, for each spoken dialect, in a specific general writing system (the native system), and a romanization scheme (a Latin encoding scheme). But is there more that is needed? This "written dialect" is throwing me for a loop. That plus there are a lot of Arabic dialects, moreso than Hebrew it seems, so maybe it gets more fine-grained.

  • 2
    I think the normal term for what you're calling "encoding schemes" is "orthography".
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 25 at 5:05

1 Answer 1


"Dialect" refers to systematically different linguistic forms, which could correlate with geography, religion, age, politics or any other variable. Languages can be spoken, and they can be written. Therefore, there can be written dialects and spoken dialects.

Nynorsk and Bokmål are two forms of Norwegian, and they are written. There are also zillions of spoken dialects. I don't know if there are any actual speakers of Nynorsk or Bokmål, in the sense that it is the language spoken in their community which they learned the normal way. There is a tendency to refer to local dialects as "our dialect of Nynorsk", which I think is ultimately mistaken but correctly reflects the historical creation of Nynorsk as a written language. There is a similar distinction between Katharevousa and Demotic Greek. More subtle and garnering less recognition is the difference between American, British and Indian English as written languages. Whether or not you want to forego all-inclusive terms like "English", "Arabic" or "Chinese" or instead promulgate separate terms ("I wrote in American, he wrote in British") is a political decision that you have to make.

"Encoding" is only applicable to written languages, whatever their relationship is to spoken languages. There is usually a learnable relation between written and spoken forms, and when a language does not have a clearly-established written form, spoken dialect differences figures quite prominently in normative debates over how to write the language. Obviously we also have to distinguish and ignore the computational sense of "encoding" i.e. codeset (UTF-8, US-ASCII, EBCIDIC, Turkish (ISO)...). Wylie encoding refers to a transliteration scheme; Chinese has a number of transliterations ("General Chinese", Guanhua zimu, Bopomofo, Wade-Giles, Postal, Yale, Pinyin) which may or may not involve the Latin alphabet. The term "encoding" is not generally used to refer to a transliteration scheme, but normally we don't say that a language has "encodings", we say that it has a "transliteration", assuming that the native writing system has a uniform script that isn't bare Latin. In the situation where a language is written in multiple script (Azeri, Mongolian, Hindustani not to be confused with Hindi, Inuktitut), you may have to address the phenomenon of "digraphia".

  • And then there is the notion of English "eye dialect", with spellings more closely approximating normal pronunciation, like gonna, wanna, Ima, shouldna, er, uh, um, hmm, wotcha, sup, etc. Calling it a dialect is a wastebasket term - what else can you call it?
    – jlawler
    Jun 24 at 15:56
  • So would you say there is a distinction between "writing system" and "transliteration scheme", or do we simply just have a set of transliteration schemes (so Latin and Chinese are both transliteration schemes)?
    – Lance
    Jul 2 at 3:57
  • A transliteration scheme is an exogamous writing system. Hindustani has two native writing systems, and also a Latin-based transliteration system. AFAIK there is no tendency for Hindi speakers to write to each other in Latin transliteration, but that could change. Transliteration is conversion from one set of letters to another.
    – user6726
    Jul 2 at 14:27

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