The earliest certain ancestor of "A" is aleph (also called 'aleph), the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet (which, by consisting entirely of consonants, is an abjad rather than a true alphabet). In turn, the origin of aleph may have been a pictogram of an ox head in proto-Sinaitic script influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs, styled as a triangular head with two horns extended.
|Latin 300 AD
Another Blackletter A
Modern Roman A
Modern Italic A
Modern script A
When the ancient Greeks adopted the alphabet, they had no use for the glottal stop—the first phoneme of the Phoenician pronunciation of the letter, and the sound that the letter denoted in Phoenician and other Semitic languages—so they used an adaptation of the sign to represent the vowel /a/, and gave it 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 used to write many languages, including English.
During Roman times, there were many variations on the letter "A". First was the monumental or lapidary style, which was used when inscribing on stone or other "permanent" mediums. For perishable surfaces, what was used for everyday or utilitarian purposes, a cursive style was used. Due to the "perishable" nature of the surfaces, these examples are not as prevalent as the monumental. This perishable style was called cursive and numerous variations have survived, such as majuscule cursive, minuscule cursive, semicursive minuscule. There were also variants that were intermediate between the monumental and the cursive. The known variants include the early semiuncial, the uncial, and the later semiuncial.
At the termination of the Roman Empire (5th century AD), several variants of the cursive minuscule appeared through Western Europe. Among these were the semicursive minuscule of Italy, the Merovingian script in France, the Visigothic script in Spain, and the Insular or Anglo-Irish semiuncial or Anglo-Saxon majuscule, of Great Britain. By the 9th 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.
15th-century Italy saw the formation of the two variants that are known today. These variants, the Italics and Roman forms, were derived from the Caroline Script version. The Italics form used in most current handwriting consists of a circle and vertical stroke ("ɑ"), called Latin alpha or "script a". This slowly developed from the fifth-century form resembling the Greek letter tau in the hands of dark-age Irish and English writers. Most printed material uses the Roman form consisting of a small loop with an arc over it ("a"). 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.
Use in English
In English, the letter A currently represents six different vowel sounds: A by itself frequently denotes the near-open front unrounded vowel (/æ/) as in pad; the open back unrounded vowel (/ɑː/) as in father, its original, Latin and Greek, sound; a closer, further fronted sound as in "hare", which developed as the sound progressed from "father" to "ace"; in concert with a later orthographic vowel, the diphthong /eɪ/ as in ace and major, due to effects of the great vowel shift; the more rounded form in "water" or its closely related cousin, found in "was".
The double "a" sequence is not a native English combination; however it is used this way in some foreign words such as Aaron and aardvark.
"A" is the third-most-commonly used letter in English (after "E" and "T"), and the second most common in Spanish and French. In one study, on average, about 3.68% of letters used in English tend to be 'a', while the number is 6.22% in Spanish and 3.95% in French.
"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.
The letter "A" along with other letters at the beginning of the alphabet are used in algebra to represent known quantities. Whereas the letters at the end of the alphabet (x,y,z) are used to denote unknown quantities. Also, in geometry, the capital A, B, C etc. are used to denote segments, lines, rays, etc. Also, A is typically used as one of the letters to represent an angle in a triangle. In logic, A is used to signify the universal affirmative. Finally, the letter A is used to denote sized, as in a narrow size shoe, or a small cup size in a brassiere.
Use in other languages
In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, A denotes an open unrounded vowel: /a/, /ä/, or /ɑ/. An exception is Saanich, in which A (and Á) stand for a close-mid front unrounded vowel /e/. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, variants of A denote various vowels. In X-SAMPA, capital A denotes the open back unrounded vowel and lowercase a denotes the open front unrounded vowel.
Related letters and other similar characters
- Α α : Greek letter Alpha
- А а : Cyrillic letter A
- Ɑ ɑ : Latin letter Alpha / Script A (or: A a)
- ɐ : a turned lowercase letter A, used by the International Phonetic Alphabet for the near-open central vowel
- ∀ : a turned capital letter A, used in predicate logic to specify universal quantification ("for all")
- ª : an ordinal indicator
- Æ æ : Latin letter Æ ligature
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A||LATIN SMALL LETTER A|
|Numeric character reference||A||A||a||a|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- "A" (word), Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989. 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.
- "A", "Encyclopædia Britannica", Volume 1, 1962. p.1.
- Hall-Quest, Olga Wilbourne (1997). "A". In Johnston, Bernard. Collier's Encyclopedia. I A to Ameland (First ed.). New York, NY: P.F. Collier. p. 1.
- Diringer, David (2000). "A". In Bayer, Patricia. Encyclopedia Americana. I A-Anjou (First ed.). Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated. p. 1. ISBN 0-7172-0133-3.
- Gelb, I.J; Whiting, R.M. (1998). "A". In Ranson, K. Anne. Academic American Encyclopedia. I A-Ang (First ed.). Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated. p. 45. ISBN 0-7172-2068-0.
- "Percentages of Letter frequencies per Thousand words", Trinity College, Retrieved 1 May 2006.
- Letters affect exam results. British Psychological Society. 9 March 2010
- History of the Alphabet
- Texts on Wikisource:
Letter A with diacritics