LINGUIST List 11.1608

Mon Jul 24 2000

Sum: Crosswords in Non-Latin Scripts

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Oesten Dahl, Crosswords in Non-Latin Scripts

Message 1: Crosswords in Non-Latin Scripts

Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2000 16:50:46 +0200
From: Oesten Dahl <>
Subject: Crosswords in Non-Latin Scripts

For Query: Linguist 11.1532 

Some time ago I asked a question about crosswords in non-Latin scripts.
(I wasn't really asking about scripts like Cyrillic and Greek but there
apparently was a scope ambiguity in my query so some people have
commented upon that too.) I got 18 direct answers; in addition Lance
Nathan sent the query on to the mailing list for the National Puzzlers'
League ( ) and a further five people answered.
Thanks are thus due to

Karen Steffen Chung, Roy Cochrun, Bernard and Akiko Comrie, John Davis,
Ivan A Derzhanski, Mary Erbaugh, Alice Faber, Dwight Freund, Eitan
Grossman, Joel Hess, M. Huret, Stan Kurzban, William MacDonald,
Marguerite MacKenzie, Ilene McGrath, Lance Nathan, John Phillips, Baruch
Podolsky, Scott Purdy, Geoffrey Sampson, Omid Tabibzadeh, Richard Watson
Todd, Robert Whiting

The result is that crosswords do indeed exist in a variety of different
scripts. The following languages were mentioned in the answers: 

Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, Cree, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese,
Persian, Russian, Thai, Ukrainian, Urdu

Robert Whiting sent this interesting comment: 
"But if you want to go beyond puzzles and simply consider crosswords,
the a very early example is from a hymn of Assurbanipal (King of Assyria,
659-627 BC) to Marduk in which the first sign of each ruled section
forms an acrostic that reads: "I am Assurbanipal, who has called out to you: 
give me life, Marduk, and I will praise you!". This text is published
in Alasdair Livingstone, _Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea_, State
Archives of Assyria, vol III (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press,
1989), pp. 6-10, No. 2, with references to earlier editions on p. 6. The text
is written in cuneiform, which is a logo-syllabic script, but all the
signs used in the acrostic are used syllabically (although, since most
of the cuneiform signs were polyvalent, the sign may not be used with the
same value in both places)."

Stan Kurzban points out that "Random House Puzzlemaker's Handbook"
contains examples of cross-words from Hebrew (p. 212) and Japanese (p.

Here are some notes on the individual languages.


"Teachers of east Cree in northern Quebec, who use a syllabic script,
have created a limited number of crossword puzzles for lower level classes.
Complicated puzzles have not been created."


"There are Chinese language crossword puzzles in characters.
They are usually constructed of idioms, proverbs, names, and
sometimes just multisyllabic lexical items. Like Latin letter
puzzles, there are one or more characters in each item that
intersect with a character in another item. The crossword puzzle
idea and design is of course not native to Chinese culture, just
as indexes arranged by the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols ('bo, po,
mo, fo' - the character-stroke based local phonetic alphabet for
representing the pronunciation of Chinese characters) copied the
idea of alphabetical indexes from Western languages. (This way of
arranging indexes is seen now and then, but is far from universal
- arranging key words in characters is usually done by the number
of strokes in the first character.)"
(Karen Steffen Chung)

"Crosswords in Chinese characters are not very common, but they do
exist. They are appear as amusements, in advertising, and most often 
in children's games/language workbook activities. Naturally, they are 
quite different from alphabetic crosswords. What is crossed is a 
whole morpheme in a compound word. (And about 2/3 of modern Mandarin 
words are compounds.) 

A rough English equivalent would look something like this:


Here to get 'mechan-ization' in English, you must 'turn a corner' to the
'-ization'. But that is not true in the Chinese, where the character
for 'ization' hua is just one character, often translated more literally as
'transform'." (Mary Erbaugh)


"Crossword puzzles in Modern Hebrew are very popular in Israel.The only
specific feature is that the final form of the characters are not used
and initial (non-final) forms are substituted."
(Baruch Podolsky)

"In Hebrew, which quite obviously has a non-Latin alphabet, there are
daily crosswords of several kinds, as well as acrostics and what is called 
a "logic crossword" which is like something in the New York Times Magazine."
(Eitan Grossman)


Japanese crosswords use one or both of the syllabic scripts -- it is
somewhat unclear which. So far I got two votes for katakana and two for


You may find an example at this address:


"Thai has crosswords, even though there are many 'diacritics' in the
script (e.g. some vowels are placed above or below consonants, tone
markers appear above). Generally the crosswords treat all
letters/diacritics appearing in one horizontal space as being in one box
in a crossword. This means that vowels in Thai are rarely used in
crosswords as they appear between 2 consonants and so would cross over
the line between boxes in a crossword (though some crosswords treat
these as attached to the first consonant). Not surprisingly, given the
difficulty of working out how to fill in letters and writing crosswords
which fit, they are not very popular, but one Thai newspaper carries a
weekly crossword."
(Richard Watson Todd)

Oesten Dahl
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