Is there a word for a "letter or letter-like character" in a writing system? With that I mean a grapheme that is not a number, punctuation, special symbol or space, but a letter (alphabet), consonant-vowel-unit (abugida), syllabogram (syllabrary) or a logogram (logographic writing system). Or in other words: A unit of text that is formed by a character of the Unicode category "L", maybe followed by combining marks "M".

I need the word for a user interface; it should be understood by the average user.

To clarify the purpose: I have a system that learns word structures from user input. In the documentation I explain an algorithm that does some stuff with the input. This is the sentence:

By default all letters and letter-like characters (such as the syllable symbols of a syllabary like Japanese Katakana) are included, everything else (such as numbers and punctuation) is excluded [from the alphabet].

  • I don't think there is a word for this. Maybe you should label the field after what its purpose is. Maybe you could elaborate on that?
    – tenfour
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 11:06
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    I don't even think the average user is going to understand it, no matter which word you use.
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 13:45
  • Frankly, the fact that you are excluding numbers (or more exactly digits) from your definition, makes it completely arbitrary and therefore very unlikely to match any existing denomination. For an example of why that is, take the case of Japanese/Chinese, were digits are kanji/hanzi and vice-versa. Where does the kanji for '5' go in your definition?
    – Dave
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 14:22
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    @Dave It's not arbitrary. That's how Unicode structures characters. But logographic writing systems are a fringe case for that algorithm anyway, so it doesn't really matter. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 14:45

3 Answers 3


From The Go programming Language - Package unicode

func IsLetter(rune int)

bool IsLetter reports whether the rune is a letter (category L).

I therefore suggest the category word OP seeks is simply letter.

  • 1
    Yes, Unicode calls it "letter", but to me it feels wrong to use the term for characters of non-alphabetic scripts, especially for syllabograms and logograms. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 14:09
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    If you want a word that excludes punctuation marks, digits, etc., I think you'll just have to accept it feeling wrong. Once you start looking for "universal" terminology that works with all languages and transcription symbol sets, words like consonant and vowel are pretty useless, but letter still just about has meaning. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 14:14

A glyph is a symbol that is an element of the language you are writing in. There term pseudo-glyph denotes marks that should look like an element of the language but are not.

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    I think a glyph would be any type of character, including punctuation or numbers.
    – Dave
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 2:17
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    I thought of "glyph" too, but wouldn't that include everything, even dingbats? Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 15:36

Basically you talk about elements of written words, regardless of how they are scoped (letter, consonant-vowel, syllable, word).

I think there's no word for this purpose and you'll have to introduce your terms.

Something like L-glyph, and define it.

Note: I am not linguist and this is pure linguistic. I suggest you to try the question on linguistics as well.

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