Aleph (Hebrew)

For other uses, see Aleph (disambiguation).

ʾĀlp is the first letter of many Semitic Arabic Alif ا.

The Phoenician letter 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.

The aleph is in Unicode at U+05D0 א hebrew letter alef (HTML: א).

In phonetics, aleph /ˈɑːlɪf/ originally represented the glottal stop (]), often transliterated as U+02BE ʾ modifier letter right half ring (HTML: ʾ), based on the Greek spiritus lenis ʼ, for example, in the transliteration of the letter name itself, ʾāleph.

Origin

The name aleph is derived from the West Semitic word for "ox", and the shape of the letter derives from a Proto-Sinaitic glyph based on a hieroglyph F1 which depicts an ox's head.

In 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'.[1] 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.

Arabic

Written as ا, spelled as ألف and transliterated as alif it is the first letter in Arabic. Together with Hebrew Aleph, Greek Alpha and 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: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ا ـا ـا ا

Arabic variants

Historically, the Arabic letter was used to render either a long /aː/, or a glottal stop /ʔ/. This led to orthographical confusion, and to introduction of the additional letter hamzat qaṭ‘ . Hamzah is 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 where the only adjacent vowel is fatḥah. It is the only possible carrier where hamzah is the first phoneme of a word. Where alif acts as a carrier for hamzah, hamzah is added above the alif, or, for initial alif-kasrah, below it, indicating that the letter so modified does indeed signify a glottal stop, and not a long vowel.

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, as it were, a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop and a long vowel: 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"[2] (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 only appear 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 written, alif maqṣūrah is indistinguishable from final Persian ye or Arabic yā’ as it is written in Egypt, Sudan, and sometimes other places. Alif maqsurah is transliterated as á in ALA-LC, ā in DIN 31635, à in ISO 233-2, and in ISO 233.

Code point Isolated Final Medial Initial Unicode character name (or descriptive synonyms used in the JoiningType and JoiningGroup datatables)
U+0622 آ ـآ ـآ آ ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH MADDA ABOVE
U+0623 أ ـأ ـأ أ ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH HAMZA ABOVE
U+0625 إ ـإ ـإ إ ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH HAMZA BELOW
U+0627 ا ـا ـا ا ARABIC LETTER ALEF
U+0671 ٱ ـٱ ـٱ ٱ ARABIC LETTER ALEF WASLA
U+0672 ٲ ـٲ ـٲ ٲ ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH WAVY HAMZA ABOVE
U+0673 ٳ ـٳ ـٳ ٳ ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH WAVY HAMZA BELOW
U+0675 ٵ ـٵ ـٵ ٵ ARABIC LETTER HIGH HAMZA ALEF
U+0773 ݳ ـݳ ـݳ ݳ ARABIC LETTER WITH EXTENDED ARABIC-INDIC DIGIT TWO ABOVE
U+0774 ݴ ـݴ ـݴ ݴ ARABIC LETTER WITH EXTENDED ARABIC-INDIC DIGIT THREE ABOVE

Hebrew

Written as א, spelled as אָלֶף and transcribed as Aleph.

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), as well as sometimes being silent (as word-final always, as word-medial sometimes, e.g. הוּא [hu] "he", רָאשִׁי [ʁaˈʃi] "main", רֹאשׁ [ʁoʃ] "head", רִאשׁוֹן [ʁiˈʃon] "first"). The pronunciation varies among Jewish ethnic groups.

In gematria, aleph represents the number 1, and when used at the beginning of Hebrew years, it means 1000 (i.e. א'תשנ"ד in numbers would be the date 1754).

Aleph, along with Ayin, Resh, He, and Heth, cannot receive a dagesh. (However, there are few very rare examples where the Masoretes added a dagesh or mappiq to an Aleph or Resh. The verses of the Hebrew Bible wherein an Aleph with a mappiq or dagesh appears are Genesis 43:26, Leviticus 23:17, Job 33:21 and Ezra 8:18.)

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/. Such use is more common in words of Aramaic and Arabic origin, in foreign names and some other borrowed words.

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
Hebrew
Rashi
Script
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
א א א

Rabbinic Judaism

Aleph is the subject of a midrash which 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, Aleph is rewarded by being allowed to start the Ten Commandments. (In Hebrew, the first word is אָנֹכִי, which starts with an aleph.)

In the 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, which means truth. In Jewish mythology it was the letter aleph that was carved into the head of the golem which 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 formulas.

Aleph in Jewish mysticism represents the oneness of God. The letter can been 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,[3] and the Scintillating Intelligence (#11) of the path between Kether and Chokmah in the Tree of the Sephiroth.

Hebrew sayings with aleph

From aleph to tav describes something from beginning to end, the Hebrew equivalent of the English "From A to Z."

One who doesn't know how to make an aleph is someone who is illiterate.

No...with a big aleph! (lo be-aleph rabbati - לא באלף רבּתי) means 'Absolutely not!'.

Syriac Alaph/Olaf

Alaph
Madnḫaya Alaph
Serṭo Alaph
Esṭrangela Alaph

In the Syriac alphabet, the first letter is ܐSyriac: ܐܵܠܲܦ — Alaph (in eastern dialects) or Olaf (in western dialects). It is used in word-initial position to mark a word beginning with a vowel — although some words beginning with i or u do not need its help, and sometimes an initial Alaph/Olaf 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 this a palatal approximant), a long i/e (less commonly o/a) or is silent.

Numeral

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.

Ancient Egyptian

A
"Aleph"
in hieroglyphs

The Egyptian "vulture" hieroglyph (Gardiner G1), by convention pronounced [a]) is also referred to as aleph, on grounds that it has traditionally been taken to represent a glottal stop, although some recent suggestions[4] tend towards an ] sound instead.

The phoneme is commonly transliterated by a symbol composed of two half-rings, in Unicode (as of version 5.1, in the Latin Extended-D range) encoded at U+A722 LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF and U+A723 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 characters.

Other uses

Mathematics

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.

Character encodings

See also

References

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