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In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

linguistics
, a grapheme is the smallest functional unit of a
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 word ''grapheme'', coined in analogy with ''phoneme'', is derived , and the suffix ''-eme'' by analogy with ''
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 ...
'' and other names of
emic unit In and related fields, an emic unit is a type of . cited in Kinds of emic units are generally denoted by terms with the suffix ''-eme'', such as ', ', and '. The term "emic unit" is defined by Nöth (1995) to mean "an invariant form obtained fro ...
s. The study of graphemes is called ''
graphemics Graphemics or graphematics is the linguistic study of 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 Semanti ...
''. The concept of graphemes is abstract and similar to the notion in
computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and software. It has sci ...

computing
of a
character Character(s) may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''Character'' (novel), a 1936 Dutch novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk * ''Characters'' (Theophrastus), a classical Greek set of character sketches attributed to Theophrastus M ...
. By comparison, a specific shape that represents any particular grapheme in a specific
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
is called a
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 ...
. For example, the grapheme corresponding to the abstract concept of "the Arabic numeral one" has a distinct glyph with identical meaning (an
allograph Allography, from the Greek for "other writing", has several meanings which all relate to how 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, obje ...
) in each of many
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
s (such as, for example, a
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
form as in
Times New Roman Times New Roman is a serif In , 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 or family of fonts. A or "font family" making use of serifs is called a serif ty ...

Times New Roman
and a
sans-serif 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 of communication used by ...
form as in
Helvetica Helvetica or Neue Haas Grotesk is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss List of type designers, typeface designer Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann. Helvetica is a Sans-serif#Neo-grotesque, neo-grotesque design, one influe ...

Helvetica
).


Conceptualization

There are two main opposing grapheme concepts. In the so-called ''referential conception'', graphemes are interpreted as the smallest units of writing that correspond with sounds (more accurately
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 this concept, the ''sh'' in the written English word ''shake'' would be a grapheme because it represents the phoneme /ʃ/. This referential concept is linked to the ''dependency hypothesis'' that claims that writing merely depicts speech. By contrast, the ''analogical concept'' defines graphemes analogously to phonemes, i.e. via written
minimal pair In phonology, minimal pairs are pairs of words or phrases in a particular language, spoken or Sign language, signed, that differ in only one phonological element, such as a phoneme, toneme or chroneme, and have distinct meanings. They are used to ...
s such as ''shake'' vs. ''snake''. In this example, ''h'' and ''n'' are graphemes because they distinguish two words. This analogical concept is associated with the autonomy hypothesis which holds that writing is a system in its own right and should be studied independently from speech. Both concepts have weaknesses. Some models adhere to both concepts simultaneously by including two individual units, which are given names such as ''graphemic grapheme'' for the grapheme according to the analogical conception (''h'' in ''shake''), and ''phonological-fit grapheme'' for the grapheme according to the referential concept (''sh'' in ''shake''). In newer concepts, in which the grapheme is interpreted
semiotically
semiotically
as a dyadic
linguistic sign In semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavi ...
, it is defined as a minimal unit of writing that is both lexically distinctive and corresponds with a linguistic unit (
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 ...
,
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

syllable
, or
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A ...
).


Notation

Graphemes are often notated within
angle bracket A bracket is either of two tall fore- or back-facing punctuation Punctuation (or sometimes interpunction) is the use of spacing, conventional signs (called punctuation marks), and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding ...
s: , , etc.The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, second edition, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 196 This is analogous to both the slash notation (/a/, /b/) used for
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, and the
square bracket In Euclidean geometry Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system attributed to Alexandrian Greek mathematics , Greek mathematician Euclid, which he described in his textbook on geometry: the ''Euclid's Elements, Elements''. Euclid's method c ...
notation used for
phonetic transcription Phonetic transcription (also known as phonetic script or phonetic notation) is the visual representation of speech sounds (or ) by means of . The most common type of phonetic transcription uses a phonetic alphabet, such as the . Versus orthogra ...
s ( .


Glyphs

In the same way that the
surface form In some models of phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language varie ...
s of
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 are speech sounds or
phones A telephone is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic ...
(and different phones representing the same phoneme are called
allophone In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of e ...
s), the surface forms of graphemes are
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 ...
s (sometimes "graphs"), namely concrete written representations of symbols, and different glyphs representing the same grapheme are called allographs. Thus, a grapheme can be regarded as an
abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, mak ...

abstraction
of a collection of glyphs that are all functionally equivalent. For example, in written English (or other languages using the
Latin 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 historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived ...

Latin alphabet
), there are two different physical representations of the
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 i ...
Latin letter "a": "a" and "ɑ". Since, however, the substitution of either of them for the other cannot change the meaning of a word, they are considered to be allographs of the same grapheme, which can be written . Italic and bold face are also allographic. There is some disagreement as to whether capital and lower case letters are allographs or distinct graphemes. Capitals are generally found in certain triggering contexts that do not change the meaning of a word: a proper name, for example, or at the beginning of a sentence, or all caps in a newspaper headline. In other contexts, capitalization can determine meaning: compare, for example
Polish Polish may refer to: * Anything from or related to Poland Poland ( pl, Polska ), officially the Republic of Poland ( pl, Rzeczpospolita Polska, links=no ), is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 Voivodeships of Pol ...
and
polish Polish may refer to: * Anything from or related to Poland Poland ( pl, Polska ), officially the Republic of Poland ( pl, Rzeczpospolita Polska, links=no ), is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 Voivodeships of Pol ...

polish
: the former is a language, the latter is for shining shoes. Some linguists consider
digraphs Digraph may refer to: * Digraph (orthography) A digraph or digram (from the el, δίς ', "double" and ', "to write") is a pair of characters used in the orthography An orthography is a set of conventions for writing Writing is a m ...
like the in ''ship'' to be distinct graphemes, but these are generally analyzed as sequences of graphemes. Non-stylistic ligatures, however, such as , are distinct graphemes, as are various letters with distinctive
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 ...
s, such as .


Types of grapheme

The principal types of graphemes are
logogram In a 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 speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign lang ...
s (more accurately termed morphograms), which represent words or
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A ...
s (for example
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it ...
, the
ampersand The ampersand, also known as the and sign, is the logogram In a 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, includi ...

ampersand
"&" representing the word ''and'',
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
);
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 *Abugida, writing system us ...
characters, representing
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

syllable
s (as in Japanese
kana The term may refer to a number of syllabaries In the linguistic Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. ...

kana
); and
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
ic letters, corresponding roughly 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 (see next section). For a full discussion of the different types, see . There are additional graphemic components used in writing, such as
punctuation mark Punctuation (or sometimes interpunction) is the use of spacing, conventional signs (called punctuation marks), and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of written text, whether read silently or aloud. Ano ...
s,
mathematical symbol A mathematical symbol is a figure or a combination of figures that is used to represent a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that ...
s,
word divider In punctuation, a word divider is a glyph that separates written words. In languages which use the Latin alphabet, Latin, Cyrillic script, Cyrillic, and Arabic alphabets, as well as other scripts of Europe and West Asia, the word divider is a bla ...
s such as the space, and other typographic symbols. Ancient logographic scripts often used silent
determinative A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram upright=1, Ideograms in the Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem. Five of the symbols are pictograms augmented with red bars representing the idea of "no" or "not allowed". T ...
s to disambiguate the meaning of a neighboring (non-silent) word.


Relationship with phonemes

As mentioned in the previous section, in languages that use
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
ic writing systems, many of the graphemes stand in principle for the
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 (significant sounds) of the language. In practice, however, the
orthographies An orthography is a set of conventions for 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 excep ...
of such languages entail at least a certain amount of deviation from the ideal of exact grapheme–phoneme correspondence. A phoneme may be represented by a
multigraph In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
(sequence of more than one grapheme), as the
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 ...
''sh'' represents a single sound in English (and sometimes a single grapheme may represent more than one phoneme, as with the Russian letter
я
я
or the Spanish c). Some graphemes may not represent any sound at all (like the ''b'' in English ''debt'' or the ''h'' in all Spanish words containing the said letter), and often the rules of correspondence between graphemes and phonemes become complex or irregular, particularly as a result of historical
sound change A sound change, in historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change Language change is variation over time in a language A language is a structured syste ...
s that are not necessarily reflected in spelling. "Shallow" orthographies such as those of standard
Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambiguation), the name of several ...

Spanish
and
Finnish Finnish may refer to: * Something or someone from, or related to Finland * Finnish culture * Finnish people or Finns, the primary ethnic group in Finland * Finnish language, the national language of the Finnish people * Finnish cuisine See also

...
have relatively regular (though not always one-to-one) correspondence between graphemes and phonemes, while those of French and English have much less regular correspondence, and are known as deep orthographies. Multigraphs representing a single phoneme are normally treated as combinations of separate letters, not as graphemes in their own right. However, in some languages a multigraph may be treated as a single unit for the purposes of
collation Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. Many systems of collation are based on numerical order or alphabetical order, or extensions and combinations thereof. Collation is a fundamental element of most office fili ...
; for example, in a
Czech Czech may refer to: * Anything from or related to the Czech Republic The Czech Republic, also known by its short-form name Czechia and formerly known as Bohemia, is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A countr ...
dictionary, the section for words that start with comes after that for . For more examples, see .


See also

*
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 ...
* Grapheme–color synesthesia * Grapheme–color
ideasthesia Ideasthesia (alternative spelling ideaesthesia) is a neuroscientific phenomenon in which activations of concepts (inducers) evoke perception-like sensory experiences (concurrents). The name comes from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek inclu ...
*
Sign (semiotics) In semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis), which are any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates a Meaning (s ...


References

{{List of writing systems Learning to read Typography Linguistics terminology