A, or a, is the first letter and the first vowel letter of the Latin alphabet,[1][2] used in the modern English alphabet, the alphabets of other western European languages and others worldwide. Its name in English is a (pronounced /ˈ/ AY), plural aes.[nb 1][2]

A
A a
Usage
Writing systemLatin script
TypeAlphabetic
Language of originLatin language
Phonetic usage
Unicode codepointU+0041, U+0061
Alphabetical position1
History
Development
Time periodc. 700 BCE – present
Descendants
Sisters
Other
Other letters commonly used witha(x), ae, eau, au
Writing directionLeft-to-right
This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

It is similar in shape to the Ancient Greek letter alpha, from which it derives.[3] The uppercase version consists of the two slanting sides of a triangle, crossed in the middle by a horizontal bar. The lowercase version can be written in two forms: the double-storey ⟨a⟩ and single-storey ⟨ɑ⟩. The latter is commonly used in handwriting and fonts based on it, especially fonts intended to be read by children, and is also found in italic type.

In English, a is the indefinite article, with the alternative form an.

Name

In English, the name of the letter is the long A sound, pronounced /ˈ/. Its name in most other languages matches the letter's pronunciation in open syllables.

 
Pronunciation of the name of the letter ⟨a⟩ in European languages, /a/ and /aː/ can differ phonetically between [a], [ä], [æ] and [ɑ] depending on the language.

History

Egyptian Proto-Sinaitic Proto-Canaanite Phoenician Western Greek Etruscan Latin
             

The earliest known certain ancestor of "A" is aleph (also written 'aleph), the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet,[4] which only used letters to denote consonants. In turn, the ancestor of aleph may have been a pictogram of an ox head in proto-Sinaitic script[5] influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs, styled as a triangular head with two horns extended.

When the ancient Greeks adopted the alphabet, they had no use for a letter to represent the glottal stop—the consonant sound that the letter denoted in Phoenician and other Semitic languages, and that was the first phoneme of the Phoenician pronunciation of the letter—so they used their version of the sign to represent the vowel /a/, and called it by the similar name of alpha. In the earliest Greek inscriptions after the Greek Dark Ages, dating to the 8th century BC, the letter rests upon its side, but in the Greek alphabet of later times it generally resembles the modern capital letter, although many local varieties can be distinguished by the shortening of one leg, or by the angle at which the cross line is set.

The Etruscans brought the Greek alphabet to their civilization in the Italian Peninsula and left the letter unchanged. The Romans later adopted the Etruscan alphabet to write the Latin language, and the resulting letter was preserved in the Latin alphabet that would come to be used to write many languages, including English.

Typographic variants

 
Different glyphs of the lowercase letter A

During Roman times, there were many variant forms of the letter A. First was the monumental or lapidary style, which was used when inscribing on stone or other more permanent media. There was also a cursive style used for everyday or utilitarian writing, which was done on more perishable surfaces. Due to the perishable nature of these surfaces, there are not as many examples of this style as there are of the monumental, but there are still many surviving examples of different types of cursive, such as majuscule cursive, minuscule cursive, and semi-cursive minuscule. Variants also existed that were intermediate between the monumental and cursive styles. The known variants include the early semi-uncial, the uncial, and the later semi-uncial.[6]

 
Allographs include a double-storey a and single-storey ɑ.
  Blackletter A   Uncial A   Another Blackletter A 
  Modern Roman A   Modern Italic A   Modern script A

At the end of the Roman Empire (5th century AD), several variants of the cursive minuscule developed through Western Europe. Among these were the semi-cursive minuscule of Italy, the Merovingian script in France, the Visigothic script in Spain, and the Insular or Anglo-Irish semi-uncial or Anglo-Saxon majuscule of Great Britain. By the ninth century, the Caroline script, which was very similar to the present-day form, was the principal form used in book-making, before the advent of the printing press. This form was derived through a combining of prior forms.[6]

 
Road sign in Ireland, showing the Irish "Latin alpha" form of ⟨a⟩ in lower and upper case forms

15th-century Italy saw the formation of the two main variants that are known today. These variants, the Italic and Roman forms, were derived from the Caroline Script version. The Italic form, also called script a, is used in most current handwriting; it consists of a circle and vertical stroke on the right: ⟨ɑ⟩. This slowly developed from the fifth-century form resembling the Greek letter tau in the hands of medieval Irish and English writers.[4] The Roman form is used in most printed material; it consists of a small loop with an arc over it: ⟨a⟩.[6] Both derive from the majuscule (capital) form. In Greek handwriting, it was common to join the left leg and horizontal stroke into a single loop, as demonstrated by the uncial version shown. Many fonts then made the right leg vertical. In some of these, the serif that began the right leg stroke developed into an arc, resulting in the printed form, while in others it was dropped, resulting in the modern handwritten form. Graphic designers refer to the Italic and Roman forms as single-decker a and double decker a respectively.

Italic type is commonly used to mark emphasis or more generally to distinguish one part of a text from the rest set in Roman type. There are some other cases aside from italic type where script a ⟨ɑ⟩, also called Latin alpha, is used in contrast with Latin ⟨a⟩ (such as in the International Phonetic Alphabet).

Use in writing systems

Cross-linguistic Variation of Pronunciation of ⟨a⟩
Phonemic Realization Phonetic Realization Orthography
/a/ Chuvash, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Stavangersk Norwegian, Swedish, Tagalog, Turkish, Utrecht Dutch
// Dutch (doubled), German
// Afrikaans, Bulgarian, Spanish
/a̠ː/ New Zealand English, Lithuanian, Limburgish (doubled), Luxembourgish
/ä/ Catalan, Czech, French, Northern England English, Terengganu Malay, Polish
/äː/ West Frisian (doubled)
/ɑ/ Bashkir, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Kaingang, Limburgish, Norwegian, Russian, West Frisian
/ɑː/ Afrikaans (doubled), Danish, German, Southern England English, Kurdish, Norwegian
/ɑ̝/ Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Luxembourgish
/ɒ/ Southern England English, Hungarian, Kedah Malay
/ɒː/ Hungarian
/ɒ̜ː/ Swedish
/ɒ̝ː/ Maastrichtian Limburgish, Ulster Irish
/æ/ Danish, English, Russian, Zeta–Raška Serbo-Croatian
/ɐ/ Australian English, Bulgarian, Central Catalan, Emilian, Galician, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Tagalog, Ukrainian
/ɐ̝/ Mapudungun
/ɛ/ New Zealand English, Perak Malay
/ɜ/ Chemnitz German, Transylvanian Romanian
/ʌ/ Chemnitz German
/ɔː/ Southern England English
/ə/ English, Eastern Catalan
/e/ Saanich
/eɪ/ English

English

 
In English language education, the word apple is consistently associated with the letter A.[7]

In modern English orthography, the letter ⟨a⟩ represents at least seven different vowel sounds, here represented using the vowels of Received Pronunciation, with effects of ⟨r⟩ ignored and mergers in General American mentioned where relevant:

The double ⟨aa⟩ sequence does not occur in native English words, but is found in some words derived from foreign languages such as Aaron and aardvark.[8] However, ⟨a⟩ occurs in many common digraphs, all with their own sound or sounds, particularly ⟨ai⟩, ⟨au⟩, ⟨aw⟩, ⟨ay⟩, ⟨ea⟩ and ⟨oa⟩.

⟨a⟩ is the third-most-commonly used letter in English after ⟨e⟩ and ⟨t⟩, as well as in French; it is the second most common in Spanish, and the most common in Portuguese. ⟨a⟩ represents approximately 8.2% of letters as used in English texts;[9] the number is around 7.6% in French[10] 11.5% in Spanish,[11] and 14.6% in Portuguese.[12]

Other languages

In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, ⟨a⟩ denotes an open unrounded vowel, such as /a/, /ä/, or /ɑ/. An exception is Saanich, in which ⟨a⟩ (and the glyph Á) stands for a close-mid front unrounded vowel /e/.

Other systems

Other uses

  • When using base-16 notation, ⟨A⟩ is conventionally used as the numeral corresponding to the number 10 in decimal.
  • In algebra, the letter a along with various other letters of the alphabet is often used to denote a variable, with various conventional meanings in different areas of mathematics. In 1637, René Descartes "invented the convention of representing unknowns in equations by x, y, and z, and knowns by a, b, and c",[13] and this convention is still often followed, especially in elementary algebra.
  • In geometry, capital Latin letters etc. are used to denote objects including line segments, lines, and rays[6] A capital A is also typically used as one of the letters to represent an angle in a triangle, the lowercase a representing the side opposite angle A.[5]
  • "A" is often used to denote something or someone of a better or more prestigious quality or status: A−, A or A+, the best grade that can be assigned by teachers for students' schoolwork; "A grade" for clean restaurants; A-list celebrities, etc. Such associations can have a motivating effect, as exposure to the letter A has been found to improve performance, when compared with other letters.[14]
  • "A" is used as a prefix on some words, such as asymmetry, to mean "not" or "without" (from Greek).
  • In English grammar, a, and its variant an, are forms of the indefinite article used to introduce noun phrases.
  • "A" is used to denote size, as in a narrow size shoe,[5] or a small cup size in a brassiere.[15]

Related characters

Related characters in the Latin alphabet

Derived signs, symbols and abbreviations

Ancestor and sibling letters

  • 𐤀: Phoenician letter aleph, from which the following symbols originally derive[21]
    • Α α: Greek letter alpha, from which the following letters derive[22]
      • А а: Cyrillic letter A[23]
      • Ⲁ ⲁ: Coptic letter alpha[24]
      • ⟨𐌀⟩: Old Italic A, which is the ancestor of modern Latin A[25][26]
        • : Runic letter ansuz, which probably derives from old Italic A[27]
      • 𐌰: Gothic letter aza
  • Ա ա : Armenian letter ayb

Other representations

Computing

The Latin letters ⟨A⟩ and ⟨a⟩ have Unicode encodings U+0041 A LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A and U+0061 a LATIN SMALL LETTER A. These are the same code points as were used in ASCII and ISO 8859. There are also precomposed character encodings for ⟨A⟩ and ⟨a⟩ with diacritics, for most of those listed above; the remainder are produced using combining diacritics.

Variant forms of the letter have unique code points for specialist use: the alphanumeric symbols set in mathematics and science, Latin alpha in linguistics, and halfwidth and fullwidth forms for legacy CJK font compatibility. The Cyrillic and Greek homoglyphs of the Latin ⟨A⟩ have separate encodings U+0410 А CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER A and U+0391 Α GREEK CAPITAL LETTER ALPHA.

Other

Notes

  1. ^ Aes is the plural of the name of the letter. The plural of the letter itself is rendered As, A's, as, or a's.

References

  1. ^ "Latin alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 9 March 2021. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b Simpson & Weiner 1989, p. 1.
  3. ^ McCarter 1974, p. 54.
  4. ^ a b c Hoiberg 2010, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b c d Hall-Quest 1997, p. 1.
  6. ^ a b c d Diringer 2000, p. 1.
  7. ^ Mankin, Jennifer; Simner, Julia (30 May 2017). "A Is for Apple: the Role of Letter-Word Associations in the Development of Grapheme-Colour Synaesthesia" (PDF). Multisensory Research. 30 (3–5): 409–446. doi:10.1163/22134808-00002554. PMID 31287075. Retrieved 16 December 2023.
  8. ^ Gelb & Whiting 1998, p. 45
  9. ^ "Letter frequency (English)". Archived from the original on 4 March 2021. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  10. ^ "Corpus de Thomas Tempé" (in French). Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2007.
  11. ^ Pratt, Fletcher (1942). Secret and Urgent: The story of codes and ciphers. Garden City, NY: Blue Ribbon. pp. 254–5. OCLC 795065.
  12. ^ "Frequência da ocorrência de letras no Português" (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 3 August 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
  13. ^ Tom Sorell, Descartes: A Very Short Introduction, (2000). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 19.
  14. ^ Ciani & Sheldon 2010, pp. 99–100.
  15. ^ Luciani, Jené (2009). The Bra Book: The Fashion Formula to Finding the Perfect Bra. Dallas: Benbella. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-933-77194-6.
  16. ^ a b c Constable, Peter (19 April 2004), L2/04-132 Proposal to Add Additional Phonetic Characters to the UCS (PDF), archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  17. ^ Everson, Michael; et al. (20 March 2002), L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet Characters for the UCS (PDF), archived (PDF) from the original on 19 February 2018, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  18. ^ Anderson, Deborah; Everson, Michael (7 June 2004), L2/04-191: Proposal to Encode Six Indo-Europeanist Phonetic Characters in the UCS (PDF), archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  19. ^ Everson, Michael; Dicklberger, Alois; Pentzlin, Karl; Wandl-Vogt, Eveline (2 June 2011), L2/11-202: Revised Proposal to Encode "Teuthonista" Phonetic Characters in the UCS (PDF), archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2017, retrieved 24 March 2018 – via www.unicode.org
  20. ^ Suignard, Michel (9 May 2017), L2/17-076R2: Revised Proposal for the Encoding of an Egyptological YOD and Ugaritic Characters (PDF), archived (PDF) from the original on 30 March 2019, retrieved 8 March 2019 – via www.unicode.org
  21. ^ Jensen, Hans (1969). Sign, Symbol, and Script. New York: G. P. Putman's Sons.
  22. ^ "Hebrew Lesson of the Week: The Letter Aleph". 17 February 2013. Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018 – via The Times of Israel.
  23. ^ "Cyrillic Alphabet". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  24. ^ Silvestre, M. J. B. (1850). Universal Palaeography. Translated by Madden, Frederic. London: Henry G. Bohn. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  25. ^ Frothingham, A. L. Jr. (1891). "Italic Studies". Archaeological News. American Journal of Archaeology. 7 (4): 534. JSTOR 496497. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  26. ^ Steele, Philippa M., ed. (2017). Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Systems. Oxford: Oxbow. ISBN 978-1-785-70647-9. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  27. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. (2010). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Wiley. ISBN 978-1-444-35968-8. Retrieved 27 October 2020.

Bibliography

  • "English Letter Frequency". Math Explorer's Club. Cornell University. 2004. Archived from the original on 22 April 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  • "Percentages of Letter Frequencies per Thousand Words". Trinity College. 2006. Archived from the original on 25 January 2007. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  • Ciani, Keith D.; Sheldon, Kennon M. (2010). "A Versus F: The Effects of Implicit Letter Priming on Cognitive Performance". British Journal of Educational Psychology. 80 (1): 99–119. doi:10.1348/000709909X466479. PMID 19622200.
  • Diringer, David (2000). "A". In Bayer, Patricia (ed.). Encyclopedia Americana. Vol. I. Danbury, CT: Grolier. ISBN 978-0-717-20133-4.
  • Gelb, I. J.; Whiting, R. M. (1998). "A". In Ranson, K. Anne (ed.). Academic American Encyclopedia. Vol. I. Danbury, CT: Grolier. ISBN 978-0-717-22068-7.
  • Hall-Quest, Olga Wilbourne (1997). "A". In Johnston, Bernard (ed.). Collier's Encyclopedia. Vol. I. New York: P. F. Collier.
  • Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "A". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1. Chicago. ISBN 978-1-593-39837-8.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • McCarter, P. Kyle (1974). "The Early Diffusion of the Alphabet". The Biblical Archaeologist. 37 (3): 54–68. JSTOR 3210965. S2CID 126182369.
  • Simpson, J. A.; Weiner, E. S. C., eds. (1989). "A". The Oxford English Dictionary. Vol. I (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-198-61213-1.

External links

Listen to this article (14 minutes)
 
This audio file was created from a revision of this article dated 26 June 2023 (2023-06-26), and does not reflect subsequent edits.