Alpha (letter)
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

. In the system of Greek numerals
Greek numerals
Greek numerals are a system of representing numbers using letters of the Greek alphabet. They are also known by the names Ionian numerals, Milesian numerals , Alexandrian numerals, or alphabetic numerals...

 it has a value of 1. It was derived from the Phoenician letter
Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia...

Aleph (letter)
' is the reconstructed name of the first letter of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, continued in descended Semitic alphabets as Phoenician ' , Syriac ' , Hebrew Aleph , and Arabic ' ....

. Letters that arose from Alpha include the Latin A
A is the first letter and a vowel in the basic modern Latin alphabet. It is similar to the Ancient Greek letter Alpha, from which it derives.- Origins :...

 and the Cyrillic letter А
A (Cyrillic)
A is a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.It commonly represents an open front unrounded vowel , like the pronunciation of ⟨a⟩ in "father".The Cyrillic letter A is romanized using the Latin letter A.-History:...


In English the noun alpha is used as a synonym for "beginning", or "first" (in a series), reflecting its Greek roots.


In Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, alpha was pronounced a when short and aː when long. Where there is ambiguity, long and short alpha are sometimes written with a macron and breve today: Ᾱᾱ, Ᾰᾰ.
  • ὥρα = ὥρᾱ hōrā hɔ̌ːraː "a time"
  • γλῶσσα = γλῶσσᾰ glôssa ɡlɔ̂ːssa "tongue"

In Modern Greek
Modern Greek
Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

, vowel length
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 has been lost, and all instances of alpha represent the short a.

In the polytonic orthography of Greek, alpha, like other vowel letters, can occur with several diacritic marks: any of three accent symbols , and either of two breathing marks , as well as combinations of these. It can also combine with the iota subscript
Iota subscript
Iota subscript in Greek polytonic orthography is a way of writing the letter iota as a small vertical stroke beneath a vowel. It was used in the so-called "long diphthongs" in Ancient Greek, that is, diphthongs the first part of which is a long vowel: and...


Greek grammar

In the Attic
Attic Greek
Attic Greek is the prestige dialect of Ancient Greek that was spoken in Attica, which includes Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek, and is the standard form of the language studied in courses of "Ancient Greek". It is sometimes included in Ionic.- Origin and range...

Ionic Greek
Ionic Greek was a subdialect of the Attic–Ionic dialect group of Ancient Greek .-History:Ionic dialect appears to have spread originally from the Greek mainland across the Aegean at the time of the Dorian invasions, around the 11th Century B.C.By the end of the Greek Dark Ages in the 5th Century...

 dialect of Ancient Greek, long alpha aː fronted to ɛː (eta
ETA , an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. The group was founded in 1959 and has since evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group with the goal of gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country...

). In Ionic, the shift took place in all positions. In Attic, the shift did not take place after epsilon
Epsilon is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, corresponding phonetically to a close-mid front unrounded vowel . In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 5. It was derived from the Phoenician letter He...

, iota
Iota is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 10. It was derived from the Phoenician letter Yodh . Letters that arose from this letter include the Roman I and J and the Cyrillic І , Yi , Je , and iotified letters .Iota represents...

, and rho
Rho is the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 100. It is derived from Semitic resh "head"...

 (ε, ι, ρ; e, i, r). In Doric
Doric Greek
Doric or Dorian was a dialect of ancient Greek. Its variants were spoken in the southern and eastern Peloponnese, Crete, Rhodes, some islands in the southern Aegean Sea, some cities on the coasts of Asia Minor, Southern Italy, Sicily, Epirus and Macedon. Together with Northwest Greek, it forms the...

 and Aeolic
Aeolic Greek
Aeolic Greek is a linguistic term used to describe a set of dialects of Ancient Greek spoken mainly in Boeotia , Thessaly, and in the Aegean island of Lesbos and the Greek colonies of Asia Minor ....

, long alpha is preserved in all positions.
  • Doric, Aeolic, Attic — Ionic , "country"
  • Doric, Aeolic — Attic, Ionic , "report"

Privative a
Privative a
In Ancient Greek grammar, privative a is the prefix a-  that expresses negation or absence . It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European syllabic nasal *, the zero ablaut grade of the negation *ne, i.e. /n/ used as a vowel...

 is the Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 prefix ἀ- or ἀν- a-, an-, added to words to negate them. It originates from the Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 * (syllabic
Syllabic consonant
A syllabic consonant is a consonant which either forms a syllable on its own, or is the nucleus of a syllable. The diacritic for this in the International Phonetic Alphabet is the under-stroke, ⟨⟩...

 nasal) and is cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 with English un-.

Copulative a
Copulative a
The copulative a is the prefix ha- or a- expressing unity in Ancient Greek, derived from Proto-Indo-European *, cognate to English same ....

 is the Greek prefix ἁ- or ἀ- ha-, a-. It comes from Proto-Indo-European *.

Math and science

The letter alpha represents various concepts in physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

, including alpha radiation, angular acceleration
Angular acceleration
Angular acceleration is the rate of change of angular velocity over time. In SI units, it is measured in radians per second squared , and is usually denoted by the Greek letter alpha .- Mathematical definition :...

, alpha particle
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

s and alpha carbon
Alpha carbon
The alpha carbon in organic chemistry refers to the first carbon that attaches to a functional group . By extension, the second carbon is the beta carbon, and so on....

. Alpha also stands for thermal expansion coefficient of a compound
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

 in physical chemistry
Physical chemistry
Physical chemistry is the study of macroscopic, atomic, subatomic, and particulate phenomena in chemical systems in terms of physical laws and concepts...

. It is also commonly used in mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 in algebraic solutions
Algebra is the branch of mathematics concerning the study of the rules of operations and relations, and the constructions and concepts arising from them, including terms, polynomials, equations and algebraic structures...

 representing quantities such as angles. Furthermore, in mathematics, the letter alpha is used to denote the area underneath a normal curve in statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

 to denote significance level
Statistical significance
In statistics, a result is called statistically significant if it is unlikely to have occurred by chance. The phrase test of significance was coined by Ronald Fisher....

  when proving null and alternative hypotheses. In zoology, is used to name the dominant individual in a wolf or dog pack.

The uppercase letter alpha is not generally used as a symbol because it tends to be rendered identically to the uppercase Latin A
A is the first letter and a vowel in the basic modern Latin alphabet. It is similar to the Ancient Greek letter Alpha, from which it derives.- Origins :...


International Phonetic Alphabet

In the International Phonetic Alphabet
International Phonetic Alphabet
The International Phonetic Alphabet "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself that resistance seems pedantic...

, a letter based on the lower case of alpha represents the open back unrounded vowel.


Alpha was derived from aleph, which in Phoenician means "ox
An ox , also known as a bullock in Australia, New Zealand and India, is a bovine trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle; castration makes the animals more tractable...


According to a medieval folk etymology attested in Etymologicum Magnum
Etymologicum Magnum
Etymologicum Magnum is the traditional title of a Greek lexical encyclopedia compiled at Constantinople by an unknown lexicographer around 1150 AD. It is the largest Byzantine lexicon and draws on many earlier grammatical, lexical and rhetorical works...

, alpha was connected to álphō (άλφω) "to invent": thus alpha is the "first invented letter".


Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, in Moralia
The Moralia of the 1st-century Greek scholar Plutarch of Chaeronea is an eclectic collection of 78 essays and transcribed speeches. They give an insight into Roman and Greek life, but often are also fascinating timeless observations in their own right...

, presents a discussion on why the letter alpha stands first in the alphabet. Ammonius asks Plutarch what he, being a Boeotia
Boeotia, also spelled Beotia and Bœotia , is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central Greece. It was also a region of ancient Greece. Its capital is Livadeia, the second largest city being Thebes.-Geography:...

n, has to say for Cadmus
Cadmus or Kadmos , in Greek mythology was a Phoenician prince, the son of king Agenor and queen Telephassa of Tyre and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. He was originally sent by his royal parents to seek out and escort his sister Europa back to Tyre after she was abducted from the shores...

, the Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n who reputedly settled in Thebes and introduced the alphabet to Greece, placing alpha first because it is the Phoenician name for ox
An ox , also known as a bullock in Australia, New Zealand and India, is a bovine trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle; castration makes the animals more tractable...

 — which, unlike Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

, the Phoenicians considered not the second or third, but the first of all necessities. "Nothing at all," Plutarch replied. He then added that he would rather be assisted by Lamprias
Lamprias was Plutarch's grandfather as he attested in Moralia, and in his Life of Antony. According to Plutarch, Lamprias was a man of eloquence and imagination. His name is also given by Suida...

, his own grandfather, than by Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

' grandfather, i.e. Cadmus. For Lamprias had said that the first articulate sound made is "alpha", because it is very plain and simple — the air coming off the mouth does not require any motion of the tongue — and therefore this is the first sound that children make.

According to Plutarch's natural order of attribution of the vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s to the planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

s, alpha was connected with the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...


Alpha and Omega

Alpha, both as a symbol and term, is used to refer to or describe a variety of things, including the first or most significant occurrence of something. The New Testament has God declaring himself to be the "Alpha and Omega
Alpha and Omega
The term Alpha and Omega comes from the phrase "I am the alpha and the omega" , an appellation of Jesus in the Book of Revelation ....

, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

 22:13, KJV, and see also 1:8).

Computer encoding

Uppercase and lowercase Greek alpha are represented in Unicode
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems...

 as U+0391 (Α) and U+03B1 (α) respectively. For a table of accented Greek characters, see Greek diacritics: Computer encoding. Other related characters are encoded as follows:
description character Unicode HTML

The HTML character entities for uppercase and lowercase alpha are
  • Α
  • α
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.