Alphabet Essay: The letter R

Topics: International Phonetic Alphabet, X-SAMPA, Latin alphabet Pages: 5 (1527 words) Published: December 5, 2013
Monica Silva
Radiant R

Every word in the English language derives from 26 seemingly simple letters. Each letter has gone through a unique transition in order to end up how it is today. Some letters have been erased, while some added, and others just transformed. The complex journey of the written language can somewhat be seen through the transition of R. The letter R is one of the letters that has been around since the very beginning of writing. R is a unique letter in its pronunciation, history and its place in cultural artifacts as well as math and sciences.

While looking at the English alphabet, one would come across the eighteenth letter of the alphabet; R. R can be classified as an ancestor for written language today. While most letters have been around for a very long time, R is one that has residency and that has not had a very large change throughout history. R is a letter that has appeared in some of the oldest writings found. These include inscriptions from the Semitic culture. In these writings, R was represented by something that looked like a “human head in profile” (David Sacks 283) (figure 1). They called this symbol resh, which translates to ‘head’ in the Semitic language. This letter also appears in the Phoenician alphabet. At this time it still represented the word ‘head’ but its shape had changed. The illustration turned from a human head profile to something that looked a lot like a modern day backwards P (figure 2). This illustration could still be classified as a human head, just with more defined, longer neck. As the Greeks studied the Phoenician alphabet, they took great influence on their letters and took a large part of it as basis for their own alphabet. As for the letter R, they did not change it much from what it had originally been. They decided to only modify its name so that it would fit better into the sound of their language, thus it became rho. This had “no special meaning in Greek aside from the letter” (Sacks 285). In early Greek writing, rho could be either turned to the left or the right. It was not until about 500 B.C. that the Greeks decided to permanently have rho facing towards the right, thus making the visual practically the same as the Phoenician alphabet. They made this change because the Greek reading permanently changed from left to right. The tail that is on the R today did not appear until in was formed in ancient Rome. The tail was at first a very short line, but then developed into a complete stroke all the way to the baseline. The lowercase version of r is unique in the fact that it is the only letter that has an uppercase closed section, while its lowercase version does not. This was due to the style of handwriting in the early Middle Ages. Instead of drawing the entire loop and tail, they only drew the top of the curved line (figure 3). They did this in order to save time and pen strokes while writing. This shortcut has been carried along all the way up to modern day writing.

The letter R has a variety of different sounds depending on what word you are saying, what language you are speaking, or even what part of the country you are from due to different accents. The eight different rhetoric consonants are alveolar trill, alveolar approximant, alveolar flap, voiced retroflex fricative, retroflex approximant, retroflex flap, uvular trill, and voiced uvular fricative (Wikipedia). One sound heard in English is the alveolar trill; it is described as a rolling R. Leading air over articulator so that it can vibrate makes this sound. This sound deals with the tip of the tongue and while making this sound the vocal cords will vibrate. Another rhetoric consonant found in the English language is alveolar approximant. Narrowing the vocal tract where it articulates creates this sound and it also deals with the tip of the tongue and the vocal cords vibrate while making it as well. Another consonant found in English is retroflex approximant. Like alveolar approximant,...

Cited: Jensen, William. “The Universal Gas Constant.” Ask the Historian. 80 (2003):1-2. Web. 28
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O’Connor, J. The Real numbers: Attempts to understand. 2005. Web. 28 Sep. 2013.
“R” Wikipedia. n.p. 23 Sep. 2013. Web. 28 Sep. 2013.
Sacks, David. Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet from A to Z. New York:
Broadway Books, 2003. Print.
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