TITLE: Omniglot: A guide to writing systems

ACCESS: http://www.omniglot.com/

Simon Ager, a multilingual Web developer, created Omniglot to provide information about all languages with a written form. Omniglot guides users to over 160 different alphabets, syllabaries, and other writing systems. The site also provides a small bibliography as well as links to language-related resources, such as sites to download fonts, electronic dictionaries, and online language courses.

Omniglot contains details of many written languages. The writing systems are divided into five categories: alphabetic, syllabic, logographic, undeciphered, and alternative. Each writing system page includes information on origins, notable features, characteristics, the languages for which the system is used, the alphabet (and often times numerals), and links to other online sources.

The site also includes pages featuring numerous languages. These pages include a brief history of the language, the alphabet, transcriptions and pronunciations using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a sample text with translation, and links to sites, such as newspapers and radio stations in that language. Ager assures users that the site is a work in progress. He encourages submissions of invented writing systems and languages, with 12 writing systems invented by visitors to the site already present.

Another feature of Omniglot can be found at "Tower of Babel." The Biblical tale of the Tower of Babel offers one explanation of why there are so many different languages in the world. The story is available in 50 different languages from this page. Ager explains, "having a single text in a variety of languages is a good way to see similarities and differences between those languages."

A navigation bar is available on every page allowing the user to jump to the writing systems, as well as to pages such as the "Book Store," "Language Learning," "Tower of Babel," "Puzzles," "Multilingual Computing," downloadable "Free Foreign Fonts," and "Bibliography." The multilingual computing page gives the shortcuts needed for adding accents and special characters when using a Mac, Windows, or editing HTML coding, and a news page lets the user know the dates when pages were added or updated.

Omniglot has a clean, uniform look. It is easy to navigate, with easy-to-read descriptions, cross-references, and graphics, when needed to demonstrate a particular writing system. The site would be of interest to students studying languages and linguistics.

Cassandra E. Osterloh
University of New Mexico

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