What does Latin alphabetic text 'look like' to people who don't habitually use it?

This is sort of like the question “What does English sound like to non-English speakers” (prisencolinensinainciusol)

But I wondered the same thing about text. What sort of feeling or impression do users of non-Latin scripts get, when they look at Latin text

For example, to me (subjectively, as a lifetime user of the Latin alphabet):

[li]Hangul (especially in printed Gothic form) looks like computer graphics or obscure airport sign icons[/li][li]Arabic sometimes looks like drawings of little stick people[/li][li]Cyrillic looks like someone shook out a box of familiar letters on the table and some of them are overlapping or the wrong way up/around[/li][li]Simplified Chinese looks like drawings of houses[/li][li]Hebrew looks a bit like musical notation[/li][/ul]

I could go on, and I don’t necessarily have a clearly defined ‘feeling’ about every possible script in existence, but I do about some.

So, what do people (who don’t use it habitually) ‘feel’ when they look at writing that uses the Latin alphabet?

Try this:

Take a book and turn it 90 degrees clockwise so that the text runs from top to bottom. You will get a very good idea of what Latin text looks like to people who can’t read it.


It’s a great idea, but unfortunately, I have trained myself to be able to read, at least a little bit, in all 4 cardinal directions (useful at meetings).

My best guess is that to a user of Cyrillic, Roman text might look incomplete, broken and a bit backward, but I want to hear it from the perspectives of those who feel it. I guess it doesn’t help that so much of the internet is in English/Roman - people likely aren’t generally unfamiliar with it.

Then look at it in a mirror, and perhaps turned in another direction as well.

xkcd sometimes does impressions how unintelligible language would look like in written form.

Japanese has three separate character sets for writing in. The visually simplest of those, katakana, I suspect, had a similar impression to a Japanese person as Roman characters. They’re sort of simplistic - maybe even a bit childish - and ungainly looking. Functional, but lacking beauty.

Unfortunately, the Japanese input mode doesn’t seem to work on my new computer, or I’d try writing something for you. If someone else can, maybe write something in katakana, with spaces between words and using font sizes to recreate capitals.

The fact that the alphabet is composed of block letters is not something that one would necessarily notice. Teaching English to Arabic-speaking students, it took a long time for the students to catch on to the fact that each letter, if written correctly, fits neatly into regular rectangles of a somewhat uniform aspect ratio.

They find it beautiful and logical, suggestive of a superior language and culture they desperately want to be colonized by.

could be true…

My guess would be that the most striking thing for a lot of people would be all the straight lines. Compare the Latin script to some on this page (http://omniglot.com/writing/syllabic.htm) like Sinhala or Lao, which are basically all curves (and quite beautiful, but maybe that is another thread…)

In an international humor cartoon anthology, I saw an Asian cartoonish representing latin alphabet as a lot of vertical lines interspersed with round circles that intersected with them in various ways.

So it looks sort of like Cyrillic - familiar shapes, but unintelligible meaning - I don’t think it’s necessarily giving me an outsider’s perspective.

Related: a cartoon about how to distinguish different Asian scripts:

In no particular order, nor any of my reflections first hand since I learned the Latin alphabet first.

I can’t imagine the ‘native’ Cyrillic reader’s impression of Latin letters would be greatly different on average than vice versa. The other key thing besides similar appearance being Cyrillic is also a pure alphabet which most of your other examples are not.

Arabic and Hebrew scripts are AFAIK considered ‘abjad’ (from Arabic), systems where you write consonants but vowels are assumed. Modern Hebrew writing has features of an abugida, where you make marks to the consonants to indicate the vowels: Hindi script is a purer example. So the fact that the letters do different things (or not as many things) might have an impression on native speaker’s view of a true alphabet, not just the appearance of the symbols. Another category in this respect is syllabaries where one mark represents a consonant/vowel pair rather than modifying a consonant, like Japanese kana (but most of the meaning in Japanese sentences is contained in the logographic Chinese characters).

Hangul is a very interesting system. It was invented at once rather than evolving organically (though has evolved somewhat since it was invented). And though it’s a true alphabet in the sense of separate consonant and vowel symbols, at the same time it was designed to represent the Korean sounds of Chinese logographs one by one, since most words in Korean are Chinese derived, and Koreans would even write in the Literary Chinese language in some cases, hangul shows to pronounce it in Korean. That’s why the letters are grouped in blocks, though the blocks can also represent phonemes of Korean indigenous words which Chinese characters could not do efficiently. IME some English speakers first looking at hangul writing think the blocks are themselves unified characters.

By the same token Chinese characters are a pretty completely different concept of writing than alphabets since sound is only vaguely if at all communicated*.

I’m not really answering whether a system looks like for example space alien/future writing (which I recall thinking hangul did just looking at signs in Korean neighborhoods, prior to learning Korean) or stick figures etc. but just suggesting that the difference in how the systems work compared to the writing system of one’s native language might influence one’s view, if getting as far as any attempt to decipher them.

*into the weeds, part of the character, usually toward the right of it, sometimes suggests a sound but not nearly 100% of the time, nor necessarily the same sound depending if the character is being used in various Chinese dialects, Japanese or Korean. But the general meaning is usually the same or related.