What is a glyph?

You are looking at them right now. Over the course of a paragraph and piece of text you will look at hundreds and thousands of glyphs. It may be that you just know them as glyphs and you know them as something else.

Glyph is the name for a letter, character, or symbol. It is a small unit of information that can be processed visually.

So, the chances are you have encountered them before. Probably tens of thousands of times. The world is full of glyphs. It’s no wonder people get headaches, tired, and dizzy when there is so much information out in the world that can be processed.


Let’s start by looking at hieroglyphs. Because, for many people the word glyph may conjure up the idea of hieroglyphics and Egyptians. Egyptian hieroglyphics is recognised as the second oldest writing system in the world.

The word hieroglyphs literally means ‘scared carvings’. A hieroglyph is a symbol from a hieroglyphic writing system. Hieroglyphics refers to an entire hieroglyphic script. A script is the symbols or characters that make up a particular alphabet.

Hieroglyphic writing systems are more pictorial in nature than other writing systems. They may also be called logographic writing systems. There are many systems, other than Egyptian hieroglyphics, that fall into the categories of hieroglyphics and logographics.

Cuneiform is recognised as the oldest writing system in the world. This is recognised a logographic writing system.

Glyphs are different from hieroglyphics in that they represent single units of information.

egyptian symbols
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One of the most common types of glyphs that you will be familiar with are letters. Letters are glyphs and letters make up alphabets. There are many different languages. Which means there are many different alphabets. Which means there are many different glyphs.

This article is written in English. Whilst the glyphs that are used to make up the English alphabet are known are Latin Script or Roman Script.

child reading english alphabet
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Numbers are the other most commonly recognisable glyphs that many people use throughout on a day to day basis. Arguably they are more widely known than Latin script, because lots of countries throughout the world use them. Specifically we are talking about Western Arabic numbers. These are also known as Arabic Numbers, Ghubār numerals, Hindu-Arabic numerals, Western digits, Latin digits, or European digits.

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Mathematical symbols

Mathematical symbols can also be classified as glyphs. They are symbols that represent information and convey a meaning.

black schoolboy solving math examples on whiteboard in classroom
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Punctuation marks

Punctuation marks are also glyphs. Glyphs are everywhere! Think, comma, full-stop, quotation marks, and apostrophes.

mechanical computer keyboard
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Diacritics are a very cool specific type of glyph. They are used more frequently in languages outside of English. They are the little flicks, dots, and lines that often get added to letters to adjust there pronunciation.

Common diacritics include acute, grave, tilde, and umlaut.

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