Alpha

Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α; Ancient Greek: ἄλφα, álpha, modern pronunciation álfa) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 1.

It was derived from the Phoenician and Hebrew letter aleph - an ox or leader.[1]

Letters that arose from alpha include the Latin A and the Cyrillic letter А.

In English, the noun "alpha" is used as a synonym for "beginning", or "first" (in a series), reflecting its Greek roots.[2]

Uses

Greek

In Ancient Greek, alpha was pronounced [a] and could be either phonemically long ([aː]) or short ([a]). Where there is ambiguity, long and short alpha are sometimes written with a macron and breve today: Ᾱᾱ, Ᾰᾰ.

  • ὥρα = ὥρᾱ hōrā Greek pronunciation: [hɔ́ːraː] "a time"
  • γλῶσσα = γλῶσσᾰ glôssa Greek pronunciation: [ɡlɔ̂ːssa] "tongue"

In Modern Greek, vowel length has been lost, and all instances of alpha simply represent IPA: [a].

In the polytonic orthography of Greek, alpha, like other vowel letters, can occur with several diacritic marks: any of three accent symbols (ά, ὰ, ᾶ), and either of two breathing marks (ἁ, ἀ), as well as combinations of these. It can also combine with the iota subscript ().

Greek grammar

In the AtticIonic dialect of Ancient Greek, long alpha [aː] fronted to [ɛː] (eta). In Ionic, the shift took place in all positions. In Attic, the shift did not take place after epsilon, iota, and rho (ε, ι, ρ; e, i, r). In Doric and Aeolic, long alpha is preserved in all positions.[3]

  • Doric, Aeolic, Attic χώρᾱ chṓ — Ionic χώρη chṓrē, "country"
  • Doric, Aeolic φᾱ́μᾱ phā́ — Attic, Ionic φήμη phḗmē, "report"

Privative a is the Ancient Greek prefix ἀ- or ἀν- a-, an-, added to words to negate them. It originates from the Proto-Indo-European *n̥- (syllabic nasal) and is cognate with English un-.

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

Mathematics and science

The letter alpha represents various concepts in physics and chemistry, including alpha radiation, angular acceleration, alpha particles, alpha carbon and strength of electromagnetic interaction (as Fine-structure constant). Alpha also stands for thermal expansion coefficient of a compound in physical chemistry. It is also commonly used in mathematics in algebraic solutions representing quantities such as angles. Furthermore, in mathematics, the letter alpha is used to denote the area underneath a normal curve in statistics to denote significance level[4] when proving null and alternative hypotheses. In zoology, it is used to name the dominant individual in a wolf or dog pack. In aerodynamics, the letter is used as a symbol for the angle of attack of an aircraft and the word "alpha" is used as a synonym for this property.

The proportionality operator "" (in Unicode: U+221D) is sometimes mistaken for alpha.

The uppercase letter alpha is not generally used as a symbol because it tends to be rendered identically to the uppercase Latin A.

International Phonetic Alphabet

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the letter ɑ, which looks similar to the lower-case alpha, represents the open back unrounded vowel.

History and symbolism

Etymology

Alpha was derived from aleph, which in Phoenician means "ox".[5]

Plutarch

Plutarch, in Moralia,[6] presents a discussion on why the letter alpha stands first in the alphabet. Ammonius asks Plutarch what he, being a Boeotian, has to say for Cadmus, the Phoenician who reputedly settled in Thebes and introduced the alphabet to Greece, placing alpha first because it is the Phoenician name for ox—which, unlike Hesiod,[7] 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, his own grandfather, than by Dionysus' 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 vowels to the planets, alpha was connected with the Moon.

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, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Revelation 22:13, KJV, and see also 1:8). Because of this symbolism, the characters and denote the left and right arguments in the APL programming language.

Language

The term "alpha" has been used to denote position in social hierarchy, examples being "alpha males" or pack leaders.

Computer encodings

  • Greek alpha / Coptic alfa[8]
CharacterΑα
Unicode nameGREEK CAPITAL LETTER ALPHAGREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHACOPTIC CAPITAL LETTER ALFACOPTIC SMALL LETTER ALFA
Encodingsdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhex
Unicode913U+0391945U+03B111392U+2C8011393U+2C81
UTF-8206 145CE 91206 177CE B1226 178 128E2 B2 80226 178 129E2 B2 81
Numeric character referenceΑΑααⲀⲀⲁⲁ
Named character referenceΑα
CP 437224E0
DOS Greek1288015298
DOS Greek-2164A4214D6
Windows 1253193C1225E1
TeX\alpha

For accented Greek characters, see Greek diacritics: Computer encoding.

  • Latin / IPA alpha
Characterɑɒ
Unicode nameLATIN SMALL LETTER ALPHALATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED ALPHALATIN SMALL LETTER ALPHA
WITH RETROFLEX HOOK
MODIFIER LETTER
SMALL ALPHA
MODIFIER LETTER
SMALL TURNED ALPHA
Encodingsdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhex
Unicode593U+0251594U+02527568U+1D907493U+1D457579U+1D9B
UTF-8201 145C9 91201 146C9 92225 182 144E1 B6 90225 181 133E1 B5 85225 182 155E1 B6 9B
Numeric character referenceɑɑɒɒᶐᶐᵅᵅᶛᶛ
  • Mathematical / Technical alpha
Character𝚨𝛂𝛢𝛼
Unicode nameAPL FUNCTIONAL SYMBOL ALPHAAPL FUNCTIONAL SYMBOL
ALPHA UNDERBAR
MATHEMATICAL BOLD
CAPITAL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL BOLD
SMALL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL ITALIC
CAPITAL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL ITALIC
SMALL ALPHA
Encodingsdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhex
Unicode9082U+237A9078U+2376120488U+1D6A8120514U+1D6C2120546U+1D6E2120572U+1D6FC
UTF-8226 141 186E2 8D BA226 141 182E2 8D B6240 157 154 168F0 9D 9A A8240 157 155 130F0 9D 9B 82240 157 155 162F0 9D 9B A2240 157 155 188F0 9D 9B BC
UTF-169082237A9078237655349 57000D835 DEA855349 57026D835 DEC255349 57058D835 DEE255349 57084D835 DEFC
Numeric character reference⍺⍺⍶⍶𝚨𝚨𝛂𝛂𝛢𝛢𝛼𝛼
Character𝜜𝜶𝝖𝝰𝞐𝞪
Unicode nameMATHEMATICAL BOLD ITALIC
CAPITAL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL BOLD ITALIC
SMALL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF
BOLD CAPITAL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF
BOLD SMALL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF
BOLD ITALIC CAPITAL ALPHA
MATHEMATICAL SANS-SERIF
BOLD ITALIC SMALL ALPHA
Encodingsdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhexdecimalhex
Unicode120604U+1D71C120630U+1D736120662U+1D756120688U+1D770120720U+1D790120746U+1D7AA
UTF-8240 157 156 156F0 9D 9C 9C240 157 156 182F0 9D 9C B6240 157 157 150F0 9D 9D 96240 157 157 176F0 9D 9D B0240 157 158 144F0 9D 9E 90240 157 158 170F0 9D 9E AA
UTF-1655349 57116D835 DF1C55349 57142D835 DF3655349 57174D835 DF5655349 57200D835 DF7055349 57232D835 DF9055349 57258D835 DFAA
Numeric character reference𝜜𝜜𝜶𝜶𝝖𝝖𝝰𝝰𝞐𝞐𝞪𝞪

References

  1. Chambers concise dictionary p.30 Allied Publishers, 2004 ISBN 9798186062363 Retrieved 2017-02-06
  2. Alpha - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  3. Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek grammar for colleges. paragraph 30 and note.
  4. "Chapter 5: Analysing the Data Part II : Inferential Statistics". Research Methods and Statistics PESS202 Lecture and Commentary Notes. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011.
  5. alpha on the Online Etymology Dictionary
  6. Symposiacs, Book IX, questions II & III On-line text Archived 13 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine at Adelaide library
  7. Hesiod, in Works and Days (see on Perseus Project), advises the early Greek farmers, "First of all, get a house, then a woman and third, an ox for the plough."
  8. "Character Encodings". Retrieved 14 January 2013.
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