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Not to be confused with Graphene, Graphane, or Graphyne.

A grapheme is the smallest unit used in describing the writing system of any given language,[1] originally coined by analogy with the phoneme of spoken languages. A grapheme may or may not carry meaning by itself, and may or may not correspond to a single phoneme. Graphemes include alphabetic letters, typographic ligatures, Chinese characters, numerical digits, punctuation marks, and other individual symbols of any of the world's writing systems.

The word grapheme is derived from Greek γράφω (gráphō), meaning "write", and the suffix -eme, by analogy with phoneme and other names of emic units. The study of graphemes is called graphemics.

A grapheme is an abstract concept, similar to a character in computing. A glyph is a specific shape that represents that grapheme, in a specific typeface. For example, the abstract concept of "the Arabic numeral one" is a grapheme, which would have two different glyphs (allographs) in the fonts Times New Roman and Helvetica.


Graphemes are often notated within angle brackets, as a, B, etc.[2] This is analogous to the slash notation (/a/, /b/) used for phonemes, and the square bracket notation used for phonetic transcriptions ([a], [b]).


Main article: Allography

In the same way that the surface forms of phonemes are speech sounds or phones (and different phones representing the same phoneme are called allophones), the surface forms of graphemes are glyphs (sometimes "graphs"), namely concrete written representations of symbols, and different glyphs representing the same grapheme are called allographs. Hence a grapheme can be regarded as an abstraction of a collection of glyphs that are all semantically equivalent.

For example, in written English (or other languages using the Latin alphabet), there are many different physical representations of the lowercase letter "a", such as a, ɑ, etc. But because the substitution of any of these for any other cannot change the meaning of a word, they are considered to be allographs of the same grapheme, which can be written a. Italic and bold face are also allographic.

There is some disagreement as to whether capital and lower-case letters are allographs or distinct graphemes. Capitals are generally found in certain triggering contexts which do not change the word: When used as a proper name, for example, or at the beginning of a sentence, or all caps in a newspaper headline. Some linguists consider digraphs like the sh in ship to be distinct graphemes, but these are generally analyzed as sequences of graphemes. Ligatures, however, such as æ, are distinct graphemes, as are various letters with distinctive diacritics, such as ç.

Types of graphemes[edit]

The principal types of phonographic graphemes are logograms, which represent words or morphemes (for example Chinese characters, the ampersand & representing the English word and, Arabic numerals); syllabic characters, representing syllables (as in Japanese kana); and alphabetic letters, corresponding roughly to phonemes (see next section). For a full discussion of the different types, see Writing system § Functional classification.

Not all graphemes are phonographic (write sounds). There are additional graphemic components used in writing, such as punctuation marks, mathematical symbols, word dividers such as the space, and other typographic symbols.

Correspondence between graphemes and phonemes[edit]

Main article: Phonemic orthography

As mentioned in the previous section, in languages that use alphabetic writing systems, the graphemes stand in principle for the phonemes (significant sounds) of the language. In practice, however, the orthographies of such languages entail at least a certain amount of deviation from the ideal of exact grapheme–phoneme correspondence. A phoneme may be represented by a multigraph (sequence of more than one grapheme), as the digraph sh represents a single sound in English (and sometimes a single grapheme may represent more than one phoneme, as with the Russian letter я). Some graphemes may not represent any sound at all (like the b in English debt), and often the rules of correspondence between graphemes and phonemes become complex or irregular, particularly as a result of historical sound changes that are not necessarily reflected in spelling. "Shallow" orthographies such as those of standard Spanish and Finnish have relatively regular (though not always one-to-one) correspondence between graphemes and phonemes, while those of French and English have much less regular correspondence, and are known as deep orthographies.

Multigraphs representing a single phoneme are normally treated as combinations of separate letters, not as graphemes in their own right. However, in some languages a multigraph may be treated as a single unit for the purposes of collation; for example, in a Czech dictionary, the section for words that start with ch comes after that for h.[3] For more examples, see Alphabetical order: Language-specific conventions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coulmas, F. (1996), The Blackwell's Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, Oxford: Blackwells, p.174
  2. ^ The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, second edition, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 196
  3. ^ Zeman, Dan. "Czech Alphabet, Code Page, Keyboard, and Sorting Order". Old-site.clsp.jhu.edu. Retrieved 31 March 2012. 

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapheme — Please support Wikipedia.
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1204 news items

New Scientist

New Scientist
Mon, 08 Feb 2016 10:11:15 -0800

Spend enough time with his touchscreen brain-trainer and you could give yourself grapheme-colour synaesthesia, in which letters evoke specific colours – as they did for the novelist Vladimir Nabokov (the exhibition also has some fun with watercolours ...


Wed, 03 Feb 2016 02:44:53 -0800

Logistic-regression modeling indicated that grapheme/phoneme sequence (letter and speech sound sequence) was the only factor that significantly impacted the accuracy of the proband's performance, with forward-words being processed more accurately ...
The Australian (blog)
Mon, 01 Feb 2016 05:29:50 -0800

Tubes made from grapheme oxide, which can be seen only with powerful microscopes, are filled first with a special emulsion, then with spherical particles that are referred to by the scientists, writing in the Journal of the American Chemical ...

Headlines & Global News

Headlines & Global News
Tue, 02 Feb 2016 13:22:30 -0800

The study was headed by Jak Chakhalian, who was awarded a $1.8 million grant to investigate quantum materials. By Tyler MacDonald | Feb 02, 2016 04:16 PM EST. Artificial Graphene. The team substituted the carbon atoms in real grapheme with transition ...
Wed, 03 Feb 2016 10:56:15 -0800

LETTERRS is his complex ars poetica, a book of love poems to the grapheme and 'its outbreak of silence.'” David Reyes is an MFA candidate in poetry at NMSU. He is currently working on his first book of poetry titled Glitch Switching, in which explores ...

Headlines & Global News

Headlines & Global News
Fri, 29 Jan 2016 10:38:49 -0800

Using untreated grapheme, the scientists were able to integrate it into an interface with neurons in a safe and effective manner. (Photo : Twitter/NeuroscienceNew). For the first time ever, researchers from the University of Cambridge have shown that ...

Asian Scientist Magazine

Asian Scientist Magazine
Mon, 25 Jan 2016 02:08:29 -0800

Their grapheme centers activate as normal, but their color centers light up at the same time—grapheme-color synesthesia is no memory trick. Nevertheless, many synesthetes report using the colors they experience as an extra memory clue. Author and ...

Lifeboat Foundation (blog)

Lifeboat Foundation (blog)
Tue, 02 Feb 2016 20:41:15 -0800

... what graphene does for batteries; is 1 day ago when researchers in Italy released their findings in how graphene can be implanted in the brain without damaging brain cells. Therefore, there is huge potential for grapheme beyond batteries and ...

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