Regional accents have a significant effect; the letter a can range from five to twelve sounds depending on the origin of the speaker. 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 is a case of polygraphy consisting of two graphemes.
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A phoneme can also be represented by three letters, called a trigraph [ citation needed ]. An example is the combination sch in German. Specific names are associated with letters, which may differ with language, dialect, and history. 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.
Letters may also have a numerical or quantitative value. This applies to Roman numerals and the letters of other writing systems. In English, Arabic numerals are typically used instead of letters. Greek and Roman letters are used as mathematical symbols in equations and expressions [ citation needed ]. The Consistori del Gay Saber was the first literary academy in the world and held the Floral Games to award the best 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 — , a book aimed at regulating then-flourishing Occitan poetry:.
Worldwide there are many alphabets used at present, with Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin in widest use [ citation needed ]. The following alphabets, abjads , and individual letters are discussed in related articles. Each represents a different script:. For other writing systems and their letters, see List of writing systems.
A letter can have multiple variants, or allographs , related to variation in style of handwriting or printing. Some writing systems have two major types of allographs for each letter: an uppercase form also called capital or majuscule and a lowercase 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.
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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 [ citation needed ]. 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 [ citation needed ]. A 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 , 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. Serifs are the finishing strokes of letters, small extensions considered to enhance readability.
Sans serif fonts such as the one you are reading here 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.
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 and for other purposes, such as song lyrics.
Letter frequencies vary in different types of writing [ citation needed ]. Before there were alphabets there were pictographs: small pictures representing objects and concepts. Ancient Egyptian examples date to about BCE . Pictographs could communicate basic ideas, but were general and ambiguous if they were comprehensible at all.
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Tense, for example, could not be specified, and symbols do not necessarily carry meaning across cultures. Memorization of tens of thousands of symbols is a daunting task; children from cultures that use logograms—word symbols—to represent words take years longer to learn to read and write than children learning an alphabet.
The relative ease of memorizing 26 letters contributed to the spread of literacy throughout the world. The first consonantal alphabet found emerged around BCE to represent the language of the Phoenicians, Semitic workers in Egypt see Middle Bronze Age alphabets , and was derived from the alphabetic principles of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Age. Opinion Climate change: In the face of disaster, it's hard to be cheerful Readers discuss the anxiety about climate change and the speech by activist Greta Thunberg.
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