Is there a language whose writing is 100% phonemic?

Linguistics Asked on October 23, 2021

Is there a language that has a complete one-to-one correspondence between the graphemes (letters) and the phonemes of the language?

In other words, is there a language that is 100% ideally phonemic?

23 Answers

Sinhala (used in Sri Lanka) is a fully phonetic language. Sinhala language

Answered by Ashoka Ekanayaka on October 23, 2021

Macedonian and Serbian are completely phonetic languages. I am Macedonian, therefore will give examples from it.

The Macedonian language has 31 letters, and each of them is a represented with a well defined and distinguishing sound. The official alphabet is Cyrillic, and today, 24th of May is the day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who wrote the first Glagolitic alphabet.


| English   | Macedonian  | Cyrillic|
| letter    | bukva       | буква   |
| alphabet  | azbuka      | азбука  |
| Cyril     | Kiril       | Кирил   |
| Methodius | Metodij     | Методиј |
| George    | Gjorgji     | Ѓорѓи   |
| love      | ljubov      | љубов   |

The first 4 examples are quite simple.

The 4th one, George in Macedonian is Gjorgji, where Gj is one letter in Cyrilic ѓ.

The 5th one, love in Macedonian is ljubov, where lj in Cyrillic is one letter љ

Bulgarian is also close to 100% phonetic, but it has a couple of letters that are pronounced like two sounds, i.e. я (/ja/, /jɐ/, /a/ or /ɐ/), щ(/ʃt/), ю(/ju/, /jo/, /u/ or /o/), and also in order to make the sound J, like in John, you need 2 letters (Дж), so John = Джон, while in Macedonian and Serbian is Џон.

There are some Romanesque language that are close to 100% phonetic, like Spanish and Italian, but they have some rules where one letter may sound different depending of its position in the word, and sibling letters.

Examples: The g letter has different pronunciation in Jorge /ˈxoɾxe/ and Gato /ˈɡa.tu/ in Spanish.

The c letter has different pronunciation in both its occurrences in Calcio /ˈkaltʃo/ in Italian.

Answered by Kristijan Iliev on October 23, 2021

A 100% match would be extremely difficult - every language contains exceptions to the usual pronunciation rules (not only from loan words and often used foreign words), so many fine nuances may only appear in a few words (often because it's difficult to pronounce 'correctly' due to surrounding letters and stops).

Not to mention that a lot of differences in pronunciation are situation based and usually not written down in the words - like raising the pitch in a question, for instance.

A good phonemic/phonetic writing system would basically have to include all of IPA and then some more for the cases where even linguists aren't sure, which also means a lot of redundant letters and a very difficult to learn writing system. And with all the stresses, pitches, length variations and so on, it would still sound mechanical if we fed it to a speech synthesizer, and there would still be errors when a computer wrote down speech, even with the best possible hardware and under laboratory conditions.

A phonemic writing system which works with the way locals pronounce their words and foreign words would reduce the complexity quite a bit, but at the expense of being unable to pronounce foreign words correctly. Even this reduced set would be quite large (Expressed mathematically: half of infinity is still infinity).

Simplifications are accordingly in order. Things which would change a word's spelling for a kind of pronunciation which is situational can often be left out. In western languages, we can usually leave out pitch, while a tonal language needs it as there are lots of words where the tone makes the difference quite literally. In other languages, there are probably other things which we can do with punctuation or such or which are usually clear from the context.

Also, simplifying sounds which natives usually don't distinguish clearly or where there might be slight differences depending on region can make the writing system more useful.

Some languages have often no difference between voiced and unvoiced versions of a sound - German with s, o and a few others, for instance. When the rules of the language make it clear where to use which version, even that should be ok.

For larger differences in pronunciation, I'd prefer different letters personally, but some linguists seem to find it more important to make words spelled the same even across minor region differences. Iirc, there was a letter introduced into cyrillic in some country which would allow for two different pronunciations of the same words where there was a common difference in pronouncing a part and therefore an inconsistent spelling of those words.

English speakers seem to find it more important to stick to the roots of words and ignore the actual pronunciation in their spelling. Similiar to French, though in slightly different ways. I personally would prefer new words to be added where the difference in pronunciation has become too big. So I'd add "taff", "nyu", "teibel" and many more... :)

Answered by Carl Dombrowski on October 23, 2021

I was searching for phonetic languages and realized most people don’t know Turkish is a phonetic language. If you know how the read the letters correctly, you can write anything you hear and read any written word correctly. It is probably more phonetic than Spanish. (For example in spanish the letter “c” is pronounced differently depending on the next letter, but in Turkish all the letters sound the same no matter which letter comes before or after it. Also, French is definitely not phonetic. Piquenique (French): Piknik (Turkish) while we are trying to learn how some English words are pronounced we just write them phonetically and everyone can read it :D for example: How are you? (Hav ar yu?)

Answered by Başak Sungur on October 23, 2021

As far as I'm aware Georgian ( is 100% Ideally phonetic language. Being pretty small and neglected countries, people often forget or don't know about the history of one of the oldest civilization on earth with its own unique alphabet and language. Every letter, every word is pronounced as it is written in Georgian. There are no exceptions. What you write is what you say. No different pronunciations of letters. To me as Georgian, it was always very unusual for me to see all these other languages with their very weird sets of rules (from my point of view). While the grammar is very difficult (It is extremely rare for someone who isn't native you speak Georgian correctly, even after years of experience), reading is very easy. What you see, is what you say. I've tried to find other languages like Georgian in this regard, while some languages come close, I found nothing that is 100% phonetic.

Answered by venom on October 23, 2021

Hindi (I haven't come across any exceptions in my life, and I'm a native speaker)

Hindi is the Official language of India and so is English

The Devangari script employed by Hindi contains both vowels (10) and consonants (40) and is characterized by bars on top of the symbols. Hindi is highly phonetic; i.e. the pronunciation of new words can be reliably predicted from their written form. This is in strong contrast to English, with the result that Hindi learners may struggle with English spelling. Conversely, they may mispronounce words that they first encounter in writing.

The phonetic correctness of Hindi has originally lead to the famous "Indian" accent, since Indians try to pronounce every single vowel in a certain specific way.

The high number of alphabets used in the script ensure the phonetic correctness of the language.

The famous English word "Mercedes" if pronounced has three different sounds, denoted by 'e'. Hindi has three different vowels for these the three sounds

Not just Hindi but many other Indian languages are very phonetically accurate (also some from the surrounding nations), especially those that use the Devanagari script and its sisters (like Marathi)

You can visit the following site to know more about the phonetics :

Answered by Eshita Shukla on October 23, 2021

Esperanto. Its writing system is phonemic in relation to the commonly used pronunciation, including the pronunciation used by native speakers. Moreover, for some speakers the script can be considered phonetic, as they try to avoid allophones and pronounce e.g. banko as [banko] and not [baŋko], even though the latter form is not generally considered to be incorrect.

Answered by michau on October 23, 2021


The Hawaiʻian language is known for its very small consonant inventory: there are only eight generally-accepted consonant phonemes, each with its own letter in the orthography (P, K, H, M, N, L, W, and ʻ).

The ten* vowels are also represented unambiguously in the orthography. Each short vowel (A, E, I, O, U) is given its own letter, while the long vowels are marked with macra (Ā, Ē, Ī, Ō, Ū).

Thus, each grapheme designates exactly one phoneme, and each phoneme is designated by exactly one grapheme.

On the flip-side, this doesn't mean it's always clear how a word should be pronounced. One side effect of the small consonant inventory is a LOT of free variation; free allophones of /k/ include [t], [s], [d], [z], [ts], [c], [tʃ], [ʃ], [g], and [x], for instance. So when place names and loanwords are borrowed into other languages, they tend to be written more phonetically than phonemically.

* (This number is not entirely agreed-upon. It comes down to whether or not diphthongs and geminated vowels are phonemes. Since diphthongs are still formed productively, some linguists consider there to be only five vowels in the underlying representation. Others count the long vowels as separate, giving ten. A third camp categorizes each diphthong as its own phoneme, for a total of 25. Luckily, these different interpretations agree that the orthography is phonemic; they disagree on whether or not digraphs are necessary.)

Answered by Draconis on October 23, 2021

Why do folks in all walks of life neglect Hawaii? If you count the okina; a glottal stop, represented by a apostrophe, and the kahako (macron), and a few diphthongs, the Hawaiian language is highly phonetic. Some say perfectly phonetic.

Me ka ha'aha'a (with humility) La'i

Answered by La'i Menehune on October 23, 2021

Serbian language is built on phonemic priciples

Serbian is practically the only European standard language with complete synchronic digraphia, using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets; speakers read the two scripts equally well. The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was devised in 1814 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić, who created the alphabet on phonemic principles.

Reference: Serbian Language Wiki

Answered by maljukan on October 23, 2021

Is there a language whose writing is 100% phonemic?

yes. That is Sinhala the language of Sinhalese 20 million people from Sri Lanka. You can write words exactly what you here.

you can learn how to write and pronounce letters. After that reading words is straightforward task as well as writing words while you hear. There are no two or more ways to pronounce a sinhala word.

Answered by Chinthana Bandara on October 23, 2021

Yes Burmese is a good example of 100% phonetic language. Everywhere added to next is how it is pronounced. The lower case added to the main letters or others

Answered by Shane on October 23, 2021

Georgian. One letter only one sound/speling/, one sound/speling/ only one letter

Answered by Jose M on October 23, 2021

The brain synthesizes everything and as the brain is so linked to our language, it ends up trying to synthesize your writing.

Globalization call us on to have a united language and a united writing to improve the relations between cultures. it will save money, effort and time in communications.

This is more important now than ever due that machines will synthesize our language in the near future and the premise of human independence to machines will be paramount.

As we use Latin letters why do not use the Latin correlations replacing "sh" and "ch" by "x"?

The farthest a language is to the latin correlation the biggest the changes it will suffer.


If we wrote english correlatively to latin it would be something like this.

If ui rout inglix korrelativeli to latin it uud bi samzing laik dis.

(shorter) it sounds the same but it is written in other way.

Answered by jimmy200832 on October 23, 2021

HINDI, mother tongue of 40% people of India, is ideally phonemic. And not only Hindi, most of the Indian languages are ideally phonemic. And not only this, it has letters with all possible phones produced by us except for the sound of 'e' as in 'pet' . It's because there is no word in Hindi with that sound. Still, to write such words in Hindi letters a vowel is used with the sound of 'a' in 'came'. Since it has no use in Hindi, it becomes perfectly phonemic.

Answered by Vishwajeet Agrawal on October 23, 2021


Here are some corollaries from graphemics (or grammatology if you prefer), which absolutely is a proper field of linguistics for some of the reasons listed:

  • Writing came after speech phylogenetically (i.e. historically).
  • Writing comes after speech ontogenetically (i.e. individually).
  • Writing was made to represent speech.
  • Writing does not represent speech.
  • Writing and speech correspondent with each other.
  • Writing can transcribe speech.
  • Written language is not transcribed spoken language.
  • Written language evolves in and by itself.
  • Written language follows some rules that don’t apply to spoken language – and vice versa.
  • Written language and spoken language influence one another.
  • Written language evolves slower than spoken language.
  • Written languages may share the same script.
  • Written language could use any script.
  • Written language cannot be regulated by a central authority, but orthographies may.
  • A writing system needs at least one of each: script, orthography, language.
  • An orthography is a set of restrictions to and exceptions from the graphotactics of a written language; mostly it’s the collection of choices of one of several valid systematic alternatives.

It follows that it’s neither possible nor the goal of a writing system to be a dependent 1:1 mapping of phonemes (or morphemes) to graphemes. It wouldn’t be “ideal” in any way.

Answered by Crissov on October 23, 2021

Traditional (orthodox) Judaism prescribes, to some extent, the pronunciation of the Hebrew in prayers and the communal ritual reading of the Bible. Therefore, even though there are distinct phonemes with the same orthography (letters + Tiberian pointing), such as quiescent vs. mobile schwa, dagesh lene vs. dagesh forte, and broad vs. small qamatz, there are a number of recent publications (Bibles and prayer books) that distinguish visually all such pairs, thereby effecting a writing system that marks as different all distinct phonemes in the speech (albeit deliberate) of the books' audience.

Answered by msh210 on October 23, 2021

I'm generally skeptical of any claim of a perfectly ideally phonemic script for any natural non-engineered in-use language. I don't know very much about the potential languages suggested as answers (except Hindi), but even if there were such a language I wouldn't imagine that the ideally phonemic status would last very long as dialects develop and as the language changes over time.

If a language has few speakers, then they start actively trying to preserve it. In this case, you might expect to see less (natural) change and variation. So if this language had a commonly-used ideally phonemic script, it might stay that way until the language finally died out...

By the way, I'd also be skeptical of any claims of an ideally phonemic script coming from native speakers of that language. Not to say that the claim is necessarily false, but there's clearly potential for a huge bias to be a confounding factor. On the other hand, I would imagine that languages/scripts for which this claim is made might have more transparent orthographies than, say, English; native speakers of other languages tend to come to English and (rightfully) complain about how obtuse the grapheme-to-phoneme mapping is, but then somehow imagine that theirs is perfect.

In actuality, they've just become accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of their own language script and don't see them anymore. (This happens in English too, but the orthography is so obviously opaque that you'd be hard-pressed to find a native English speaker who thinks it's a perfect mapping.) For example, I've often heard the claim that Hindi has a perfectly transparent orthography, but this is plainly false (and yes, I speak it, but not as a native speaker). Schwa deletion is the biggest and most obvious example of a mismatch between the spoken and written counterparts of a word or name.

If you'd like something empirical, take a look at Learning Pronunciation Dictionaries: Language Complexity and Word Selection Strategies. They look at, among other things, the number of letter-to-sound rules required for a language and how it changes with vocabulary size.

Answered by Aditya Bhargava on October 23, 2021

Abugidas are going to be more phonetic than other systems. Look at Indian languages. Still, there are some languages there that have ambiguity in pronouncing letters based on position. E.g. Tamil pronunciation of a letter as voiced or unvoiced depends on position of the letter as well as some conventions. Kannada on the other hand is 100% phonetic. No all people speaking Kannada might know how to pronounce those letters that were borrowed from Sanskrit, but the writing system is definitely phonetic.

Answered by kannan73 on October 23, 2021


The spelling of a word unambiguously and transparently indicates its pronunciation; and conversely that a speaker knowing the pronunciation of a word in Hindi would be able to infer its spelling without any doubt.

Answered by Kang on October 23, 2021

Lojban is designed to have a one-to-one mapping: audio-visual isomorphism

Answered by nairboon on October 23, 2021

There are many languages that have true phonemic orthographies. An example is Wajarri (Pama-Nyungan family, Western Australia), which has a one-to-one correspondence between graphemes and phonemes.

As Wajarri has no voicing contrast but uses the "voiced" series to represent the plosives potential ambiguity between the velar nasal /ŋ/ and the sequence alveolar nasal + velar stop /nɡ/ is dealt with by placing a full stop between the two letters in the latter case i.e. ng vs. n.g. Many other Australian languages also have highly phonemic orthographies. Some other languages said to have phonemic orthographies are: Zambian languages and Austronesian languages (such as Malay and Maori).

Some European languages with very shallow orthographies are: Finnish, Croatian, Serbian. According to Seifart Croatian and Serbian are particularly shallow, even representing allomorphy according to the surface realisation, unlike Finnish which, while very shallow, does not show allomorphy.

Many of the languages with phonemic orthographies have comparatively little morphophonological variation and have had their orthographies developed relatively recently. As languages change, orthographies also must change or they will become gradually less phonemic. Languages with complex morphophonologies cannot be represented with a shallow orthography, though it's clear that English orthography is much more complex than it need be.

Answered by Gaston Ümlaut on October 23, 2021

Finnish is the usual exemplar for that.

Many recent alphabetizations, like those of Native American languages (Lushootseed is one example), are still phonemic in the sense that the spoken language hasn't had time yet to change away from the phonemic system it had when the alphabet was developed. Or in other cases, where there are no native speakers any more, all language learning is based on the alphabetic representation, by necessity.

Of course, there are plenty of non-alphabetic writing systems with little or no useful correspondence between phonemes and graphemes. Since phonemics is an alphabetic representation system, it can't be put into 1-1 correspondence with an abjad or an abugida, let alone with a lexically-based system like Chinese.

Answered by jlawler on October 23, 2021

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