Aleph (letter)

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ʾĀlp is the first letter of many Semitic abjads (alphabets), including Phoenician Aleph Image:Phoenician aleph.svg, Syriac 'Ālaph ܐ, Hebrew Aleph א, and 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 ˈ|ɑː|l|ɛ|f originally represented the glottal stop (ʔ), 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.



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 depicting an ox's head,
<hiero> F1 </hiero>

In Modern Standard Arabic, there is a word أليف /ʔaliːf/ which literally means "tamed" or "coy", derived from the root !ʔ-l-f! from which the past tense verb آلَفَ /ʔaːlafa/ means to "to coy". This has sometimes been connected with the name of alif in folk etymology. In modern Hebrew, the same root t !ʔ-l-f! (alef-lamed-pe) gives "me'ulaf", the passive participle of the verb "le'alef", and means 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.


Written as ا, spelled as ألف and transcribed as ʾalif is the first letter in Arabic and Perso-Arabic alphabet.

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: ا

Historically, the Perso-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 Template:Transl . Hamzah is not considered a full letter in Arabic orthography: in most cases it appears on a carrier, either a wāw (ؤ), a dotless yāʾ (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 qatʿ in that it is elided after a preceding vowel. Again, alif is always the carrier.

The ʾalif maddah is, as it were, a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop and a long vowel: آ (final ـآ)ʾā /ʔaː/, for example in آخر ʾāḫir /ʔaːxir/ "last".


The ʾalif maqṣūrah (ألف مقصورة), or "broken alif;" commonly known in Egypt as ʾalif layyinah (ألف لينة, ˈʔælef læjˈjenæ "flexible alif"). It looks like a dotless yāʾ, ى (final ـى   not to be confused with Persian ye). It may only appear at the end of a word. Although it looks different from a regular Alif, it represents the same sound (long /aː/). ʾAlif maqsurah is transliterated as ā in DIN 31635, á in ALA-LC, à in ISO 233-2 and ỳ in ISO 233. ʾAlif maqṣūrah can be confused with a yāʾ because they are both normally written finally as ى in Egypt, Sudan and sometimes other places, but anyway its occurrence in Modern Standard Arabic is not very common. In the case when ى represents final /-aː/, it may also be called, especially in Egypt, ألف لينة Template:Transl ˈʔælef læjˈjenæ and when it represents final /-iː/, it is called je. In Egypt, it is always short [-æ, -ɑ] if used in Egyptian Arabic and most commonly short in Modern Standard Arabic, as well.


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

In Modern Israeli Hebrew, the letter represents either a glottal stop, or has no pronunciation besides that of the vowel attached to it. 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 to an Aleph or Resh.)

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
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
א א א Image:Hebrew letter Alef handwriting.svg

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, a lower yud, and a vav leaning on a diagonal. The upper yud represents the hidden and ineffible 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,[] 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 b'aleph rabati - לא באלף רבתי) means Absolutely not!.

Syriac Alaph/Olaf

Image:Syriac Eastern alap.svg Madnḫaya Alaph
Image:Syriac Serta alap.svg Serṭo Alaph
Image:Syriac Estrangela alap.svg Esṭrangela Alaph


In the Syriac alphabet, the first letter is ܐ — 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.


As a numeral it 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

See Also Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian

The Egyptian "vulture" hieroglyph (Gardiner G1), by convention pronounced [a]) is also referred to as alef, on grounds that it has traditionally been taken to represent a glottal stop, although some recent suggestions[] tend towards an Template:IPAblink 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 Ꜣ LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF and U+A723 ꜣ 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


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.

See also


See Also

  • Aleph is also the shorthand designation for Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th-century manuscript of the Bible
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