Mixed writing systems

Mixed writing systems use a variety of different marks to illustrate ideas and represent sounds.

Picture letters - also called rebus puzzles - are made with a playful, mixed writing system that communicates to us by bending the rules of language. These puzzles are easier to decode when read aloud.

Illustrations and symbols are used to represent the sound of the intended word. These are placed alongside letters of the alphabet and numbers that do the same job (R for are, U for you, 2 for to, 4 for for).

Emoticons - short for emotion icons and also called smileys - are images made with punctuation marks.

Emoticons add an extra layer of communication to email, text and online chat. These forms of writing are like conversation because of their swiftness and informality, but lack body language, facial expression, tone and other characteristics of face-to-face communication. Most emotions depict the human face, and express a particular sentiment, reaction or emotion.

Emoticons vary from culture to culture. Traditionally, Western style emoticons show a 'sideways face' written and read from left to right. Japanese style emoticons show the face head-on.

The emoticon system has become so complex that there are now many dictionaries and translators in print and online.