HOME

TheInfoList




A letter is a segmental
symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), m ...

symbol
of a
phonemic In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any partic ...
writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communic ...
. The inventory of all letters forms the
alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semanti ...

alphabet
. Letters broadly correspond to
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s in the spoken form of the language, although there is rarely a consistent, exact correspondence between letters and phonemes. The word ''letter'', borrowed from
Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular o ...
''letre'', entered
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured sys ...
around 1200 AD, eventually displacing the native English term ''bōcstaf'' (
bookstaff A letter is a segmental symbol of a Phonemic orthography, phonemic writing system. The inventory of all letters forms the alphabet. Letters broadly correspond to phonemes in the spoken language, spoken form of the language, although there is rar ...
). ''Letter'' is descended from the Latin '' littera'', which may have descended from the Greek "διφθέρα" (writing tablet), via
Etruscan__NOTOC__ Etruscan may refer to: Ancient civilisation *The Etruscan language, an extinct language in ancient Italy *Something derived from or related to the Etruscan civilization **Etruscan architecture **Etruscan art **Etruscan cities **Etruscan ...
.


Definition and usage

A letter is a type of
grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

grapheme
, which is a contrastive unit in a writing system. The contemporary English-language alphabet consists of 26 letters, each of which corresponds to one or more sounds. Letters are combined to form words. A letter is classified as either a consonant or a vowel, depending on how its sound is produced (vowels are ''a'', ''e'', ''i'', ''o'', ''u'', ''y'' and ''w—'' with ''y'' and ''w'' only sometimes classed as vowels). The basic
Roman alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the ancient Romans In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, a ...

Roman alphabet
is used by hundreds of languages around the world. There are more phonemes in English–about 44–than there are letters of the alphabet. A letter may therefore be associated with more than one phoneme, with the phoneme determined by the surrounding letters or
etymology Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English ''The'' () is a grammatical article Article often refers to: * Article (grammar) An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identi ...
of the word. Regional accents have a significant effect; the letter ''a'' can range from five to twelve sounds depending on the origin of the speaker. As an example of positional effects, the letter ''c'' is pronounced before ''a, o, u,'' or consonants (e.g. ''critical''), but is pronounced before ''e,'' ''i,'' or ''y'' (e.g. ''democracy''). Conversely, the same phoneme may be shared by more than one letter, as shown by the ''c'' and ''s'' in ''fence'' and ''tense''. A sequence of graphemes representing a phoneme is called a polygraph. A
digraph Digraph may refer to: * Digraph (orthography), a pair of characters used together to represent a single sound, such as "sh" in English * Orthographic ligature, the joining of two letters as a single glyph, such as "æ" * Digraph (computing), a grou ...
is a case of polygraphs consisting of two graphemes. Examples of digraphs in English include ''ch'', ''sh'', and ''th''. A phoneme can also be represented by three letters, called a trigraph. An example is the combination ''sch'' in German. Specific names are associated with letters, which may differ with language, dialect, and history. ''
Z
Z
'', for example, is usually called ''zed'' in all English-speaking countries except the US, where it is named ''zee''. As elements of alphabets, letters have prescribed orders, although this too may vary by language. In Spanish, for instance, ''
ñ
ñ
'' is a separate letter, sorted after ''n''. In English, ''n'' and ''ñ'' are classified alike. Letters may also have a numerical or quantitative value. This applies to
Roman numerals Roman numerals are a that originated in and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe well into the . Numbers in this system are represented by combinations of letters from the . Modern style uses seven symbols, each with a ...
and the letters of other writing systems. In English,
Arabic numerals Arabic numerals are the ten numerical digit A numerical digit (often shortened to just digit) is a single symbol used alone (such as "2") or in combinations (such as "25"), to represent numbers in a Positional notation, positional numeral sy ...

Arabic numerals
are typically used instead of letters. Greek and Roman letters are used as mathematical symbols in equations and expressions. People and objects are sometimes named after letters, for one of these reasons: # The letter is an abbreviation, e.g. "G-man" as slang for a
Federal Bureau of Investigation The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence Intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules and concept Conce ...

Federal Bureau of Investigation
agent, arose as short for "Government Man" # Alphabetical order used as a counting system, e.g. Plan A, Plan B, etc.;
alpha ray Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Proton ...
, beta ray,
gamma ray A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, it ...
, etc. # The shape of the letter, e.g. A-clamp,
A-frame
A-frame
,
D-ring A D-ring is a D-shaped metal ring used primarily as a lashing point in a tie-down system. Depending on their function D-rings may vary in composition, geometry, weight, finish, and load capacity. They may be screwed or welded in place, or attache ...

D-ring
,
F-clamp F-clamps An F-clamp, also known as a bar clamp or speed clamp, is a type of clamp. The name comes from its "F" shape. The F-clamp is similar to a C-clamp in use, but has a wider opening capacity (throat). This tool is used in woodworking Woodw ...
,
G-clamp :''This article refers to the clamp used to hold together two workpieces. For clamps used to secure stage lighting instruments to batten (theater), battens, see C-Clamp (stagecraft). For the Chicago Indie Rock band, see C-Clamp (band)'' A C-clamp ...

G-clamp
,
H-block Her Majesty's Prison Maze (previously Long Kesh Detention Centre, and known colloquially as The Maze or H-Blocks) was a prison A prison (also known as a jail or gaol (dated, British, Australian, and to a lesser extent Canadian Can ...
,
H engine An H engine is a piston engine comprising two separate flat engine, flat engines (complete with separate crankshafts), most often geared to a common output shaft. The name "H engine" is due to the engine blocks resembling a letter "H" when viewed ...
,
O-ring An O-ring, also known as a packing or a toric joint, is a mechanical gasket Some seals and gaskets A gasket is a Seal (mechanical), mechanical seal which fills the space between two or more mating surfaces, generally to prevent leakage fro ...

O-ring
,
R-clip An R-clip, also known as an R-pin, R-key, hairpin cotter pin, hairpin cotter,. bridge pin, hitch pin or spring cotter pin, is a fastener A fastener (US English) or fastening (UK English) is a hardware Hardware may refer to: Technology Comput ...
,
S or Z twist
S or Z twist
,
U engine A U engine is a piston engine A reciprocating engine, also often known as a piston engine, is typically a heat engine In thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, Work (thermodynamics), work, and temper ...
, U-bend,
V engine A V engine, sometimes called a Vee engine, is a common configuration Configuration or configurations may refer to: Computing * Computer configuration or system configuration * Configuration file, a software file used to configure the initial set ...
,
W engine A W engine is a type of piston engine A reciprocating engine, also often known as a piston engine, is typically a heat engine In thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, Work (thermodynamics), work, an ...
,
X engine An X engine is a piston engine with four banks of cylinders around a common crankshaft, such that the cylinders form an "X" shape when viewed from front-on. The advantage of an X engine is that it is shorter than a V engine of the same number of ...
,
Z-drive A Z-drive is a type of marine propulsion unit. Specifically, it is an azimuth thruster. The pod can rotate 360 degrees allowing for rapid changes in thrust direction and thus vessel direction. This eliminates the need for a conventional rudder. ...
, a
river ''delta''
river ''delta''
, ''omega'' block # Other reasons, e.g.
X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Moti ...

X-ray
after "''x'' the unknown" in
algebra Algebra (from ar, الجبر, lit=reunion of broken parts, bonesetting, translit=al-jabr) is one of the areas of mathematics, broad areas of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and mathematical analysis, analysis. In its most ge ...

algebra
, because the discoverer did not know what they were


Classical definition

The
Consistori del Gay Saber The Consistori del Gay Saber (; "Consistory of the Gay Science") was a poetic academy founded at Toulouse Toulouse ( , ; oc, Tolosa ; la, Tolosa ) is the capital of the French departments of France, department of Haute-Garonne and of the regi ...
was the first literary academy in the world and held the Floral Games to award the best
troubadour A troubadour (, ; oc, trobador ) was a composer and performer of Old Occitan Old Occitan ( Modern Occitan: ', ca, occità antic), also called Old Provençal, was the earliest form of the Occitano-Romance languages The Occitano-Romance or ...

troubadour
with the ''violeta d'aur'' top prize. Guilhem Molinier, a member of the academy, gave a definition of the letter in his ''
Leys d'Amors
Leys d'Amors
'' (1328–1337), a book aimed at regulating then-flourishing
Occitan Occitan (; oc, occitan, link=no ,), also known as ''lenga d'òc'' (; french: langue d'oc) by its native speakers, is a Romance language The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evol ...
poetry:


Types of letters


Examples of alphabets and their letters

Worldwide there are many alphabets used at present, with Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin in widest use. The following alphabets,
abjads
abjads
, and individual letters are discussed in related articles. Each represents a different script: The
International Phonetic Alphabet The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest s ...
is used to represent exact pronunciation, for example, which is named a
glottal stop
glottal stop
. For other writing systems and their letters, see
List of writing systems This is a list of writing systems (or writing system, scripts), classified according to some common distinguishing features. The usual name of the script is given first; the name of the language(s) in which the script is written follows (in brack ...
.


Upper case and lower case

A letter can have multiple variants, or allographs, related to variation in style of
handwriting Handwriting is the writing Writing is a medium of human communication that involves the representation of a language with written symbols. Writing systems are not themselves human languages (with the debatable exception of computer languag ...

handwriting
or
printing Printing is a process for mass reproducing text and images An Synthetic aperture radar, SAR radar imaging, radar image acquired by the SIR-C/X-SAR radar on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour shows the Teide volcano. The city of Santa Cru ...

printing
. Some writing systems have two major types of allographs for each letter: an ''uppercase'' form (also called ''capital'' or ''
majuscule Letter case is the distinction between the letters Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or ...
'') and a ''
lowercase Letter case is the distinction between the letters Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or ...
'' form (also called ''minuscule''). Upper- and lowercase letters represent the same sound, but serve different functions in writing. Capital letters are most often used at the beginning of a sentence, as the first letter of a proper name or title, or in headers or inscriptions. They may also serve other functions, such as in the
German language German ( Standard High German: , ) is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Central Europe Central Europe is an area of Europe between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, based on a common History, historical, Society, social and cultu ...

German language
where all
noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many l ...

noun
s begin with capital letters. In practical terms, tests have proven that lowercase words are easier to read. They also take up less space on the page, a considerable benefit when materials such as paper and ink were scarce and valuable. The terms ''uppercase'' and ''lowercase'' originated in the days of handset type for printing presses. Individual letter blocks were kept in specific compartments of drawers in a type case. Capital letters were stored in a higher drawer or upper case.


Typeface and font

A
typeface A typeface is the design of lettering Lettering is an umbrella term In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...

typeface
, or font, is a single, stylistically consistent set of designs for an alphabet. A particular font may alter standard forms of characters, may present them with different optical weight, or may angle or embellish their forms. In
calligraphy Calligraphy (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...

calligraphy
, letters are artistically handwritten and may or may not be consistent throughout a work. Typography has traditionally been considered an art form, encompassing both letter design and the relationship of the letters to one another. Type designers strive for clarity and beauty in individual letterforms, as well as character in a font. Old fonts such as Bodoni, Caslon, and Garamond have been in wide use for centuries, with only slight modifications. Advances in print capabilities, new ways of viewing the written word, and changing aesthetics have led to refinements of classic typefaces as well as the introduction of entirely new designs. In the early nineteenth century, sans serif typefaces were first created.
Serif In typography, a serif () is a small line or stroke regularly attached to the end of a larger stroke in a letter or symbol within a particular font or family of fonts. A typeface or "font family" making use of serifs is called a serif typeface ( ...

Serif
s are the finishing strokes of letters, small extensions considered to enhance readability. Sans serif fonts give a modern and informal impression, but are slightly less legible as text than serif faces. Without serifs, an uppercase ''I'' (i) is indistinguishable from a lowercase ''l'' (L).


Letter frequencies

The average distribution of letters, or the relative frequency of each letter's occurrence in text in a given language, can be obtained by analyzing large amounts of representative text. This information can be useful in
cryptography Cryptography, or cryptology (from grc, , translit=kryptós "hidden, secret"; and ''graphein'', "to write", or ''-logia ''-logy'' is a suffix in the English language, used with words originally adapted from Ancient Greek ending in (''- ...

cryptography
and for other purposes, such as song lyrics. Letter frequencies vary in different types of writing.


History of alphabetic writing

Before there were alphabets there were pictographs: small pictures representing objects and concepts. Ancient Egyptian examples date to about 3000 BCE. The first consonantal alphabet found emerged around 1800 BCE to represent the language of the Phoenicians,
Semitic Semitic most commonly refers to the Semitic languages, a name used since the 1770s to refer to the language family currently present in West Asia, North and East Africa, and Malta. Semitic may also refer to: Religions * Abrahamic religions ** ...
workers in Egypt (see
Middle Bronze Age alphabets Proto-Sinaitic (also referred to as Sinaitic, Proto-Canaanite when found in Canaan A 1692 map of Canaan, by Philip Lea Canaan (; Northwest Semitic Northwest Semitic, known as Syro-Palestinian in dialect geography, is a division of ...
), and was derived from the alphabetic principles of the
Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent ...
. Our present Roman system derives from this Phoenician alphabet, which had 22 letters. Nineteen of our present letters evolved from the early Phoenician forms; letter shapes and order of appearance correspond closely. The
Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or early eighth century BC. It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script in history to have distinct letters for vowels ...

Greek alphabet
, adapted around 800 BCE, added four letters. This was the first alphabet assigning letters not only to
consonant In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of d ...
sounds, but also to
vowel A vowel is a syllabicSyllabic may refer to: *Syllable, a unit of speech sound, considered the building block of words **Syllabic consonant, a consonant that forms the nucleus of a syllable *Syllabary, writing system using symbols for syllables ...

vowel
s. The Roman Empire brought the development and refinement of our Roman alphabet, beginning around 500 BCE. The Romans added or dropped certain letters to accommodate Greek and Etruscan words; they also experimented with styles such as cursive when writing in ink. By about the fifth century CE, the beginnings of lowercase letterforms began to emerge in Roman writing, but they did not come into common use until the end of the Middle Ages, a thousand years later.


See also

*
Abecedarium An abecedarium (also known as an abecedary or simply an ABC) is an inscription Epigraphy ( grc, ἐπιγραφή, "inscription") is the study of inscriptions, or epigraphs, as writing Writing is a medium of human communication that in ...

Abecedarium
*
Artificial script A constructed script is a new writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subjec ...
*
Character (computing) In computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to Execution (computing), carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can perform generic sets of operations known as Computer program, p ...
*
Collation Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. Many systems of collation are based on numerical order or alphabetical order Alphabetical order is a system whereby character string In computer programming Comp ...
*
Diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
*
Digraph (orthography) A digraph or digram (from the el, δίς ', "double" and ', "to write") is a pair of character Character(s) may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''Character'' (novel), a 1936 Dutch novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk * '' ...
*
Glyph The term glyph is used in typography Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system o ...
*
Grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

Grapheme
* Greek letters used in mathematics *
History of the alphabet The history of the alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be utte ...
*
Letterform A letterform, letter-form or letter form, is a term used especially in typography Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language ...
*
Ligature Ligature may refer to: * Ligature (medicine), a piece of suture used to shut off a blood vessel or other anatomical structure ** Ligature (orthodontic), used in dentistry * Ligature (music), an element of musical notation used especially in the med ...
*
Orthography An orthography is a set of conventions for writing Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions b ...
* Roman letters used in mathematics *
Typeface A typeface is the design of lettering Lettering is an umbrella term In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...

Typeface
*
Typography Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including ...

Typography
*
Unicode Unicode, formally the Unicode Standard, is an information technology Technical standard, standard for the consistent character encoding, encoding, representation, and handling of Character (computing), text expressed in most of the world's wri ...

Unicode


References


Sources

* * *


Further reading

* Clodd, Edward (1904). ''The Story of the Alphabet.'' ew York McClure, Phillips & Co. * Daniels, Peter T, and William Bright, eds (1996). . * Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams (2014). ''An Introduction to Language'' (Tenth Ed.)''.'' oston Wadsworth Cengage. . * * Powell, Barry B. (1991). ''Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet.'' , . * Robinson, A (2003). "The Origins of Writing" in Crowley, David and Paul Heyer ''Communication in History : Technology, Culture, Society'' (Fourth Ed). oston Allyn and Bacon pp 34–40.


External links


Unicode Code Charts

Letters, Characters and Words Counter online
{{Authority control Alphabets Typography it:Lettera (alfabeto)