A little background before my question: I am an amateur in mid-development of a logographic writing system, not necessarily a whole language with phonetics. As I develop, I don't so much care about grammar, at least not yet. The language is heavily context-based, it requires you to have foreknowledge of the concepts it conveys, and ideas portrayed in the writing system are to be implied by the reader. It's memory-intensive, so you can't quite analyze it like, say, English, and determine its meaning through some roots or affixes. In a nutshell, virtually no grammar. No specific way to order your ideas, just implied context.

Ideas are distinguished by category: nouns, verbs, adjectives. (That should be used as a dominant identifier for the question yet to be asked)

Okay, that'll probably do it for background. My question is this: Is there an advantageous method to sort and organize characters of a logographic system, specifically for dictionary look-up? (Given the properties I mentioned above.)

My current method is just sorting by the kinds of ideas. Ex.: In the verb category, I may sort verbs whether they describe positional things, e.g., to be underneath, or motional things, e.g., to run, etc. For nouns, a similar system may be employed (haven't reached this point yet), as well as for adjectives.

However, I imagine that such an approach would/could create confusion. (Is an ice cream cake a cake or an ice cream? Why?)

Certainly, there must be other options I'm not seeing. This question, for example, seems to brush the idea just a smidgen, but it is centered largely on computer programs for organization. For this, I should specify that I am working entirely on-paper. Computerization is not an option quite yet. I am strictly searching for methods for organizing a kind of lexicon, entries similar to those arrayed in an English dictionary.

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    I know this is ancient, but I have to say: noun, verb and adjective are grammatical constructs. If you sort by that, you inherently add a grammar. Sure, there is an underlying structure of entity, action, description but it doesn't always hold. Where do states like "be underneath" go? By your paradigm, it's a verb and therefore an action. But states are more like descriptions, and indeed that is how English treats the concept of "underneath" - note that the English verb is compound, the copula "be" plus an adjective complement.
    – No Name
    Aug 19, 2022 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


Having a dictionary ordered by theme or idea is a good thing and it can carry you a long way in the design of your writing system.

For a more systematic approach, you need a way to order your logograms. Chinese sorting may be an inspiration for you. They identify a "radical" in each character, and than order by radical + number and order of additional strokes. The approach has the advantage that simpler characters (with fewer strokes, and probably more frequent usage) come before more complex ones.

  • The number of "strokes" is an interesting idea, hadn't considered it before. It may be an effective method for some, but by the way which my logograms are designed, characters of similar meaning may be separated by obnoxious distances. "Radicals" also seem to be present somewhat in this writing system of mine, but I think that particular approach will be quick to break down once I expand further into the nouns (there are a lot of those in our world). It's good to know I was on the right track to begin with, though. I'll look more into your link and perhaps a wiki page or two on it.
    – BenjaminF
    Sep 19, 2018 at 18:45
  • After reflection, organizing some of the characters by their radicals may be practical. But this won't work for many, many more characters—only a subset, likely in the verbs.
    – BenjaminF
    Sep 21, 2018 at 10:16
  • I am inclined to believe—after having looked into Chinese sorting—that the answer lies somewhere in the nature of the definitions themselves, not the nature of the characters. However, this approach would work one-way. Knowing (in English) what idea you want to find will help you locate a character, but knowing a character and not its English definition will lend you nothing. I suppose this is what I'm really trying to mediate. Surely, there's a middle ground between the two, however, it seems that a middle ground can only be achieved if you modify the nature of the characters.
    – BenjaminF
    Sep 21, 2018 at 10:21

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