A letter is an element in an alphabetic system of writing, that is, in the Greek alphabet and its descendants. Written signs in earlier writings are best called syllabograms (which denote a syllable) or logograms (which denote a word or phrase).
Overview and usage
As symbols that denote segmental speech, letters are associated with phonetics. In a purely phonemic alphabet, a single phoneme is denoted by a single letter, but in history and practice letters often denote more than one phoneme. A pair of letters designating a single phoneme is called a digraph. 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.
Letters also have specific names associated with them. These names may differ with language, dialect and history. Z, for example, is usually called zed in all English-speaking countries except the U.S., where it is named zee.
Letters, as elements of alphabets, have prescribed orders. This may generally be known as "alphabetical order" though collation is the science devoted to the complex task of ordering and sorting of letters and words in different languages. In Spanish, for instance, ñ is a separate letter being sorted after n. In English, n and ñ are sorted alike.
- Main article: History of the alphabet
The invention of letters was preceded by the West Semitic script, which appeared in Canaan around 1000 BC. Antecedents are suspected in the Proto-Canaanite writing, dated to around 1800 BC, Virtually all alphabets have their ultimate origins from this system. The Greek alphabet was invented around 800 BC.
Types of letters
The following "alphabets" (not all are alphabets) and individual letters are discussed in related articles. Each represents a different script:
Upper and lower case
Some writing systems have two major forms for each letter: an upper case form (also called capital or majiscule) and a lower case form (also called miniscule). Upper and lower case forms 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 in inscriptions or headers. They may also serve other functions, such as in the German language where all nouns begin with capital letters.
- Alphabets derived from the Latin
- Artificial script
- Greek letters used in mathematics
- Roman letters used in mathematics
- History of the alphabet
- Digraph (orthography)
- Daniels, Peter T., and William Bright, eds. 1996. The World's Writing Systems. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
- Powell, Barry B.. 1991. Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet. ISBN-13: 9780521589079 | ISBN-10: 052158907X.
- decodeunicode.org Wiki with all 98,884 Unicode characters (german/english, full text search)
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