ALEPH (or ALEF or ALIF) is the first letter of the
Semitic abjads ,
including Phoenician 'Ālep 𐤀,
Hebrew 'Ālef א, Aramaic Ālap
𐡀, Syriac ʾĀlap̄ ܐ,
Arabic Alif ا, and Persian . It also
appears as South Arabian 𐩱, and Ge\'ez ʾÄlef አ.
The Phoenician letter is derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph
depicting an ox's head and gave rise to the Greek Alpha (Α), being
re-interpreted to express not the glottal consonant but the
accompanying vowel , and hence the
Latin A and Cyrillic А .
In phonetics , aleph /ˈɑːlɛf/ originally represented the onset
of a vowel at the glottis . In Semitic languages, this functions as a
weak consonant allowing roots with only two true consonants to be
conjugated in the manner of a standard three consonant Semitic root.
Hebrew dialects as well as Syriac, the glottal onset
Aleph is an absence of a true consonant although a
glottal stop (), which is a true consonant, typically occurs as an
allophone. In Arabic, the Alif has the glottal stop pronunciation when
occurring initially. In text with diacritical marks, the pronunciation
as a glottal stop is usually indicated by a special marking, hamza in
Arabic and mappiq in Tiberian Hebrew. (Although once thought to be the
original pronunciation of
Aleph in all cases where it behaves as a
consonant, a consistent glottal stop appears to have been absent in
ancient Semitic languages such as Akkadian and Ugaritic besides being
absent in Syriac and Hebrew.) Occasionally, the
Aleph was also used to
indicate an initial unstressed vowel before certain consonant
clusters, without functioning as a consonant itself, the prosthetic
(or prothetic) aleph. In later Semitic languages,
sometimes function as a mater lectionis indicating the presence of a
vowel elsewhere (usually long). The period at which use as a mater
lectionis began is the subject of some controversy, though it had
become well established by the late stage of Old Aramaic (ca. 200
Aleph is often transliterated as U+02BE
ʾ , based on the Greek
spiritus lenis ʼ, for example, in the transliteration of the letter
name itself, ʾāleph.
* 1 Origin
* 2.2 Numeral
* 3 Aramaic
* 4.1 Rabbinic Judaism
* 5 Syriac Alaph/Olaf
* 6 South Arabian/Ge\'ez
* 7 Ancient Egyptian
* 8 Other uses
* 8.1 Mathematics
* 9 Character encodings
* 10 See also
* 11 References
The name aleph is derived from the West Semitic word for "ox ", and
the shape of the letter derives from a
Proto-Sinaitic glyph that may
have been based on an
, which depicts an ox's head.
Modern Standard Arabic , the word أليف /ʔaliːf/ literally
means 'tamed' or 'familiar', derived from the root ʔ-l-f, from
which the verb ألِف /ʔalifa/ means 'to be acquainted with; to be
on intimate terms with'. In modern Hebrew, the same root ʔ-l-f
(alef-lamed-peh) gives me’ulaf, the passive participle of the verb
le’alef, meaning 'trained' (when referring to pets) or 'tamed' (when
referring to wild animals); the IDF rank of
Aluf , taken from an
Edomite title of nobility, is also cognate.
Written as ا, spelled as ألف and transliterated as alif, it is
the first letter in
Arabic . Together with
Hebrew Aleph, Greek Alpha
Latin A , it is descended from Phoenician ʾāleph, from a
reconstructed Proto-Canaanite ʾalp "ox".
Alif is written in one of the following ways depending on its
position in the word:
POSITION IN WORD:
Arabic letter was used to render either a long /aː/ or a
glottal stop /ʔ/. That led to orthographical confusion and to the
introduction of the additional letter hamzat qaṭ‘ ﺀ.
not considered a full letter in
Arabic orthography: in most cases, it
appears on a carrier, either a wāw (ؤ), a dotless yā’ (ئ), or an
alif. The choice of carrier depends on complicated orthographic rules.
Alif إ أ is generally the carrier if the only adjacent vowel is
fatḥah. It is the only possible carrier if hamza is the first
phoneme of a word. Where alif acts as a carrier for hamza, hamza is
added above the alif, or, for initial alif-kasrah, below it and
indicates that the letter so modified is indeed a glottal stop, not a
A second type of hamza, hamzat waṣl (همزة وصل), occurs only
as the initial phoneme of the definite article and in some related
cases. It differs from hamzat qaṭ‘ in that it is elided after a
preceding vowel. Again, alif is always the carrier.
The alif maddah is a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop
and a long vowel. Essentially, it is the same as a أا sequence: آ
(final ـآ) ’ā /ʔaː/, for example in آخر ākhir /ʔaːxir/
'last'. "It has become standard for a hamza followed by a long ā to
be written as two alifs, one vertical and one horizontal" (the
"horizontal" alif being the maddah sign).
The alif maqṣūrah (ألف مقصورة, 'limited/restricted
alif'), commonly known in Egypt as alif layyinah (ألف لينة,
'flexible alif'), looks like a dotless yā’ ى (final ـى) and may
appear only at the end of a word. Although it looks different from a
regular alif, it represents the same sound /aː/, often realized as a
short vowel. When it is written, alif maqṣūrah is indistinguishable
from final Persian ye or
Arabic yā’ as it is written in Egypt,
Sudan and sometimes elsewhere. Alif maqsurah is transliterated as á
in ALA-LC , ā in
DIN 31635 , à in ISO 233-2, and ỳ in
ISO 233 .
As a numeral, Alaph/Olaf stands for the number one. With a dot below,
it is the number 1,000; with a line above it, Alaph/Olaf will
represent 1,000,000. With a line below it is 10,000 and with two dots
below it is 10,000,000.
The Aramaic reflex of the letter is conventionally represented with
Hebrew א in typography for convenience, but the actual graphic
form varied significantly over the long history and wide geographic
extent of the language. Maraqten identifies three different aleph
traditions in East Arabian coins, a lapidary Aramaic form that
realizes it as a combination of a V-shape and a straight stroke
attached to the apex, much like a
Latin K; a cursive Aramaic form he
calls the "elaborated X-form", essentially the same tradition as the
Hebrew reflex ; and an extremely cursive form with of two crossed
oblique lines, much like a simple
It is written as א and spelled as אָלֶף
In Modern Israeli
Hebrew , the letter either represents a glottal
stop () or indicates a hiatus (the separation of two adjacent vowels
into distinct syllables , with no intervening consonant ). It is
sometimes silent (word-finally always, word-medially sometimes:
הוּא "he", רָאשִׁי "main", רֹאשׁ "head",
רִאשׁוֹן "first"). The pronunciation varies in different
Jewish ethnic divisions .
In gematria , aleph represents the number 1, and when used at the
Hebrew years , it means 1000 (e.g. א'תשנ"ד in
numbers would be the date 1754).
Aleph, along with
Resh , and
Heth , cannot receive a dagesh .
(However, there are few very rare examples of the
Masoretes adding a
dagesh or mappiq to an
Aleph or Resh. The verses of the
for which an
Aleph with a mappiq or dagesh appears are Genesis 43:26,
Leviticus 23:17, Job 33:21 and
In Modern Hebrew, the frequency of the usage of alef, out of all the
letters, is 4.94%.
Aleph is sometimes used as a mater lectionis to denote a vowel,
usually /a/. That use is more common in words of Aramaic and Arabic
origin, in foreign names, and some other borrowed words.
VARIOUS PRINT FONTS
Aleph is the subject of a midrash that praises its humility in not
demanding to start the Bible. (In
Hebrew , the Bible begins with the
second letter of the alphabet , Bet .) In this folktale,
rewarded by being allowed to start the
Ten Commandments . (In
the first word is אָנֹכִי, which starts with an aleph.)
Sefer Yetzirah , the letter aleph is king over breath, formed
air in the universe, temperate in the year, and the chest in the soul.
Aleph is also the first letter of the
Hebrew word emet
(אֶמֶת), which means truth. In
Jewish mythology , it was the
letter aleph that was carved into the head of the golem that
ultimately gave it life.
Aleph also begins the three words that make up God's mystical name in
Exodus , I Am who I Am (in
Hebrew , Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh אהיה אשר
אהיה), and aleph is an important part of mystical amulets and
Jewish mysticism , represents the oneness of God. The
letter can be seen as being composed of an upper yud (
Yodh ), a lower
yud, and a vav (
Waw (letter) ) leaning on a diagonal. The upper yud
represents the hidden and ineffable aspects of God while the lower yud
represents God's revelation and presence in the world. The vav
("hook") connects the two realms.
Jewish mysticism relates aleph to the element of air, the Fool (Key
0, value 1) of the major arcana of the tarot deck, and the
Scintillating Intelligence (#11) of the path between Kether and
Chokmah in the Tree of the Sephiroth.
Syriac alphabet , the first letter is ܐ, Syriac :
ܐܵܠܲܦ, Alap (in eastern dialects) or Olaph (in western
dialects). It is used in word-initial position to mark a word
beginning with a vowel, but some words beginning with i or u do not
need its help, and sometimes, an initial Alap/Olaph is elided . For
example, when the Syriac first-person singular pronoun ܐܵܢܵܐ is
in enclitic positions, it is pronounced no/na (again west/east),
rather than the full form eno/ana. The letter occurs very regularly at
the end of words, where it represents the long final vowels o/a or e.
In the middle of the word, the letter represents either a glottal stop
between vowels (but West Syriac pronunciation often makes it a palatal
approximant ), a long i/e (less commonly o/a) or is silent.
In the Ancient South Arabian alphabet , 𐩱 appears as the
seventeenth letter of the South Arabian abjad. The letter is used to
render a glottal stop /ʔ/.
In the Ge\'ez alphabet , ʾÄlef አ appears as the thirteenth letter
of its abjad. This letter is also used to render a glottal stop /ʔ/.
Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian
The Egyptian "vulture " hieroglyph (Gardiner G1 ), by convention
pronounced ) is also referred to as aleph, on grounds that it has
traditionally been taken to represent a glottal stop , although some
recent suggestions tend towards an sound instead. Despite the name
it does not correspond to an
Aleph in cognate Semitic words, where
instead the single "reed" hieroglyph is found instead.
The phoneme is commonly transliterated by a symbol composed of two
Unicode (as of version 5.1, in the
range) encoded at U+A722 Ꜣ LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF
and U+A723 ꜣ LATIN SMALL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF. A fallback
representation is the numeral 3, or the Middle English character ȝ
Yogh ; neither are to be preferred to the genuine Egyptological
In set theory , the
Hebrew aleph glyph is used as the symbol to
denote the aleph numbers , which represent the cardinality of infinite
sets. This notation was introduced by mathematician
Georg Cantor . In
older mathematics books, the letter aleph is often printed upside down
by accident, partly because a Monotype matrix for aleph was mistakenly
constructed the wrong way up.
HEBREW LETTER ALEF
ARABIC LETTER ALIF
SYRIAC LETTER ALAPH
SAMARITAN LETTER ALAF
UGARITIC LETTER ALPA
PHOENICIAN LETTER ALF
224 160 128
E0 A0 80
240 144 142 128
F0 90 8E 80
240 144 164 128
F0 90 A4 80
226 132 181
E2 84 B5
Numeric character reference
Named character reference
Aleph , a short story by
Jorge Luis Borges describing a point
in space that contains all other spaces at once
* The letter
Wikimedia Commons has media related to א .
* ^ "BBC News - Middle East - Oldest alphabet found in Egypt".
* ^ Andersen, F.I.; Freedman, D.N. (1992). "
Aleph as a vowel in Old
Aramaic". Studies in
Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography. Winona Lake,
Indiana: Eisenbrauns. pp. 79–90.
* ^ "What did the letter A originally sound and look like? -
Dictionary.com Blog". Dictionary Blog.
* ^ Wehr, Hans (1994). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic:
(Arabic-English) (4th ed.). Urbana: Spoken Language Services. pp.
28–29. ISBN 0879500034 .
* ^ Jones, Alan (2005).
Arabic Through The Qur'an. Cambridge: The
Islamic Texts Society. p. 4. ISBN 0946621 68 3 .
* ^ Maraqten, Mohammed (1996). "Notes on the Aramaic script of some
coins from East Arabia".
Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy . 7:
* ^ "Tarot Journey with Leisa ReFalo". tarotjourney.net.
* ^ Schneider, Thomas. 2003. "Etymologische Methode, die
Phoneme und das ägyptologische
Transkriptionsalphabet." Lingua aegyptia: Journal of Egyptian Language
* ^ Swanson, Ellen; O'Sean, Arlene Ann; Schleyer, Antoinette
Tingley (1999) , Mathematics into type. Copy editing and proofreading
of mathematics for editorial assistants and authors (updated ed.),
Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, p. 16, ISBN
0-8218-0053-1 , MR 0553111
* Influence on other languages
Ancient North Arabian
Ancient South Arabian script
* Zabūr script
* Eastern numerals
Ancient North Arabian
Old South Arabian
* Modern Standard
Modern South Arabian
Modern South Arabian
ETHNIC / RELIGIOUS
* Babalia Creole
Sun and moon letters
* ʾIʿrāb (inflection)
* Triliteral root
* Jawi script
* Shahmukhī script
Arabic script in
* MS-DOS codepages
Transliteration to English / from English
* Biblical (northern dialect )
* Mizrahi (Syrian )
* Tiberian (extinct)
* Palestinian (extinct)
* Babylonian (extinct)
Kubutz and Shuruk
* Sin/Shin Dot
Niqqud / missing / full