(from the Greek
: δίς dís
, "double" and γράφω gráphō
, "to write") is a pair of characters
used in the orthography
of a language
to write either a single phoneme
(distinct sound), or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined.
Some digraphs represent phonemes that cannot be represented with a single character in the writing system of a language, like the English sh
. Other digraphs represent phonemes that can also be represented by single characters. A digraph that shares its pronunciation with a single character may be a relic from an earlier period of the language when the digraph had a different pronunciation, or may represent a distinction that is made only in certain dialects
, like the English wh
. Some such digraphs are used for purely etymological
reasons, like rh
in English. Digraphs are used in some Romanization
schemes, like the zh
often used to represent the Russian
. As an alternative to digraphs, orthographies and Romanization schemes sometimes use letters with diacritics
, like the Czech š
, which has the same function as the English digraph sh
In some languages' orthographies, digraphs (and occasionally trigraphs
) are considered individual letters
, which means that they have their own place in the alphabet
and cannot be separated into their constituent graphemes
words. Examples of this are found in Hungarian (cs, dz, dzs, gy, ly, ny, sz, ty, zs
), Czech (ch
), Slovak (ch
), Albanian (dh
) and Gaj's Latin alphabet
(lj, nj, dž
). In Dutch, when the digraph ij
is capitalized, both letters are capitalized (IJ
Digraphs may develop into ligatures
, but this is a distinct concept: a ligature involves a graphical combination of two characters, as when a
are fused into æ
Digraphs may consist of two different characters (heterogeneous digraphs) or two instances of the same character (homogeneous digraphs). In the latter case, they are generally called double (or doubled) letters.
letters are commonly used to indicate a long vowel
sound. This is the case in Finnish
, for instance, where ⟨uu⟩ represents a longer version of the vowel denoted by ⟨u⟩, ⟨ää⟩ represents a longer version of the vowel denoted by ⟨ä⟩, and so on. In Middle English
, the sequences ⟨ee⟩ and ⟨oo⟩ were used in a similar way, to represent lengthened "e" and "o" sounds respectively; both spellings have been retained in modern English orthography
, but the Great Vowel Shift
and other historical sound changes
mean that the modern pronunciations are quite different from the original ones.
letters can also be used to indicate a long or geminated
consonant sound. In Italian
, for example, consonants written double are pronounced longer than single ones. This was the original use of doubled consonant letters in Old English
, but during the Middle English
and Early Modern English
period, phonemic consonant length was lost and a spelling convention developed in which a doubled consonant serves to indicate that a preceding vowel is to be pronounced short. In modern English, for example, the ⟨pp⟩ of tapping
differentiates the first vowel sound from that of taping
. In rare cases, doubled consonant letters represent a true geminate consonant in modern English; this may occur when two instances of the same consonant come from different morphemes
, for example ⟨nn⟩ in unnatural
In some cases, the sound represented by a doubled consonant letter is distinguished in some other way than length from the sound of the corresponding single consonant letter:
- In Welsh and Greenlandic, ⟨ll⟩ stands for a voiceless lateral consonant, while in Spanish and Catalan it stands for a palatal consonant.
- In several languages of western Europe, including English, French, Portuguese and Catalan, the digraph ⟨ss⟩ is used between vowels to represent the voiceless sibilant /s/, since an ⟨s⟩ alone between vowels normally represents the voiced sibilant /z/.
- In Spanish, Catalan, and Basque, ⟨rr⟩ is used between vowels for the alveolar trill /r/, since an ⟨r⟩ alone between vowels represents an alveolar flap /ɾ/ (the two are different phonemes in those languages).
- In Spanish, the digraph ⟨nn⟩ formerly indicated /ɲ/ (a palatal nasal); it developed into the letter ñ.
- In Basque, double consonant letters generally mark palatalized versions of the single consonant letter, as in ⟨dd⟩, ⟨ll⟩, ⟨tt⟩. However, ⟨rr⟩ is a trill that contrasts with the single-letter flap, as in Spanish, and the palatal version of ⟨n⟩ is written ⟨ñ⟩.
In several European writing systems, including the English one, the doubling of the letter ⟨c⟩ or ⟨k⟩ is represented as the heterogeneous digraph ⟨ck⟩ instead of ⟨cc⟩ or ⟨kk⟩ respectively. In native German words, the doubling of ⟨z⟩, which corresponds to /ts/, is replaced by the digraph ⟨tz⟩.
Some languages have a unified orthography with digraphs that represent distinct pronunciations in different dialects (diaphonemes
). For example, in Breton
there is a digraph ⟨zh⟩ that represents [z] in most dialects, but [h] in Vannetais.
Similarly, the Saintongeais
dialect of French has a digraph ⟨jh⟩ that represents [h] in words that correspond to [ʒ] in standard French. Similarly, Catalan has a digraph ⟨ix⟩ that represents [ʃ] in Eastern Catalan
, but [jʃ] or [js] in Western Catalan
The pair of letters making up a phoneme are not always adjacent. This is the case with English silent e
. For example, the sequence a...e
has the sound /eɪ/ in English cake.
This is the result of three historical sound changes: cake
was originally /kakə/, the open syllable
/ka/ came to be pronounced with a long vowel
, and later the final schwa
dropped off, leaving /kaːk/. Later still, the vowel /aː/ became /eɪ/. There are six such digraphs in English, ⟨a—e, e—e, i—e, o—e, u—e, y—e⟩.
However, alphabets may also be designed with discontinuous digraphs. In the Tatar Cyrillic alphabet
, for example, the letter ю
is used to write both /ju/ and /jy/. Usually the difference is evident from the rest of the word, but when it is not, the sequence ю...ь
is used for /jy/, as in юнь
The Indic alphabets
are distinctive for their discontinuous vowels, such as Thai เ...อ /ɤː/ in เกอ /kɤː/. Technically, however, they may be considered diacritics
, not full letters; whether they are digraphs is thus a matter of definition.
Ambiguous letter sequences
Some letter pairs should not be interpreted as digraphs but appear because of compounding
. They are often not marked in any way and so must be memorized as exceptions. Some authors, however, indicate it either by breaking up the digraph with a hyphen
, as in hogs-head
, or with a trema mark
, as in coöperate
, but the use of the diaeresis has declined in English
within the last century. When it occurs in names such as Clapham
, Townshend and Hartshorne, it is never marked in any way. Positional alternative glyphs may help to disambiguate in certain cases: when round, ⟨s⟩ was used as a final variant of long ⟨ſ⟩, and the English digraph resembling /ʃ/ would always be ⟨ſh⟩.
In romanization of Japanese
, the constituent sounds (morae
) are usually indicated by digraphs, but some are indicated by a single letter, and some with a trigraph. The case of ambiguity is the syllabic ん
, which is written as n
(or sometimes m
), except before vowels or y
where it is followed by an apostrophe
. For example, the given name じゅんいちろう is romanized as Jun’ichirō, so that it is parsed as "Jun-i-chi-rou", rather than as "Ju-ni-chi-rou". A similar use of the apostrophe is seen in pinyin
where 嫦娥 is written Chang'e
because the g belongs to the final (-ang) of the first syllable, not to the initial of the second syllable. Without the apostrophe, Change would be understood as the syllable chan (final -an) followed by the syllable ge (initial g-).
In several Slavic languages
, e.g. Czech
, double letters may appear in compound words, but they are not considered digraphs. Examples: bezzubý
In some languages, certain digraphs and trigraphs
are counted as distinct letters in themselves, and assigned to a specific place in the alphabet
, separate from that of the sequence of characters that composes them, for purposes of orthography
. For example:
- In the Gaj’s Latin alphabet used to write Serbo-Croatian, the digraphs ⟨dž⟩, ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩, which correspond to the single Cyrillic letters ⟨џ⟩, ⟨љ⟩, ⟨њ⟩), are treated as distinct letters.
- In the Czech and Slovak alphabet, ⟨ch⟩ is treated as a distinct letter, coming after ⟨h⟩ in the alphabet. Also, in the Slovak alphabet the relatively rare digraphs ⟨dz⟩ and ⟨dž⟩ are treated as distinct letters.
- In the Danish and Norwegian alphabet, the former digraph ⟨aa⟩, where it appears in older names, is sorted as if it were the letter ⟨å⟩, which replaced it.
- In the Norwegian alphabet, there are several digraphs and letter combinations representing an isolated sound.
- In the Dutch alphabet, the digraph ⟨ij⟩ is sometimes written as a ligature and may be sorted with ⟨y⟩ (in the Netherlands, though not usually in Belgium); however, regardless of where it is used, when a Dutch word starting with 'ij' is capitalized, the entire digraph is capitalized (IJmeer, IJmuiden). Other Dutch digraphs are never treated as single letters.
- In Hungarian, the digraphs ⟨cs⟩, ⟨dz⟩, ⟨gy⟩, ⟨ly⟩, ⟨ny⟩, ⟨sz⟩, ⟨ty⟩, ⟨zs⟩, and the trigraph ⟨dzs⟩, have their own places in the alphabet (where ⟨cs⟩ follows ⟨c⟩, ⟨dz⟩ and ⟨dzs⟩ follow ⟨d⟩, etc.)
- In Spanish, the digraphs ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨ll⟩ were formerly treated as distinct letters, but are now split into their constituent letters.
- In Welsh, the alphabet includes the digraphs ⟨ch⟩, ⟨dd⟩, ⟨ff⟩, ⟨ll⟩, ⟨ng⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨rh⟩, ⟨th⟩. However, ⟨mh⟩, ⟨nh⟩ and ⟨ngh⟩, which represent mutated voiceless consonants, are not treated as distinct letters.
Most other languages, including English, French, German, Polish, etc., treat digraphs as combinations of separate letters for alphabetization purposes.
English has both homogeneous digraphs (doubled letters) and heterogeneous digraphs (digraphs consisting of two different letters). Those of the latter type include the following:
- ⟨sc⟩ normally represents /s/ (voiceless alveolar fricative - scene) or /ʃ/ (voiceless postalveolar fricative - conscious) before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩.
- ⟨ng⟩ represents /ŋ/ (velar nasal) as in thing.
- ⟨ch⟩ usually corresponds to /tʃ/ (voiceless postalveolar affricate - church), to /k/ (voiceless velar plosive) when used as an etymological digraph in words of Greek origin (christ), less commonly to /ʃ/ (voiceless postalveolar fricative) in words of French origin (champagne).
- ⟨ck⟩ corresponds to /k/ as in check.
- ⟨gh⟩ represents /ɡ/ (voiced velar plosive) at the beginning of words (ghost), represents /f/ (voiceless labiodental fricative in enough) or is silent at the end of words (sigh).
- ⟨ph⟩ represents /f/ (voiceless labiodental fricative), as in siphon.
- ⟨rh⟩ represents English /r/ in words of Greek origin, such as rhythm.
- ⟨sh⟩ represents /ʃ/ (voiceless postalveolar fricative), as in sheep.
- ⟨ti⟩ usually represents /ʃ/ word-medially before a vowel, as in education.
- ⟨th⟩ usually corresponds to /θ/ (voiceless interdental fricative) in thin or /ð/ (voiced interdental fricative) in then. See also Pronunciation of English ⟨th⟩.
- ⟨wh⟩ represents /hw/ in some conservative dialects; /w/ in other dialects (while); and /h/ in a few words in which it is followed by ⟨o⟩, such as who and whole. See also Phonological history of ⟨wh⟩.
- ⟨zh⟩ represents /ʒ/ in words transliterated from Slavic languages[which?], and in American dictionary pronunciation spelling.
- ⟨ci⟩ usually appears as /ʃ/ before vowels, like in facial and artificial. Otherwise it is /si/ as in fancier and icier or /sɪ/ as in acid and rancid.
- ⟨wr⟩ represents /r/. Originally, it stood for a labialized sound, while ⟨r⟩ without ⟨w⟩ was non-labialized, but the distinction has been lost in most dialects, the two sounds merging into a single alveolar approximant, allophonically labialized at the start of syllables, as in red[ɹʷɛd]. See also rhotic consonant.
- ⟨qu⟩ usually represents /kw/; ⟨q⟩ is conventionally followed by ⟨u⟩ and a vowel letter as in quick, with some exceptions.
Digraphs may also be composed of vowels. Some letters ⟨a, e, o⟩ are preferred for the first position, others for the second ⟨i, u⟩. The latter have allographs
⟨y, w⟩ in English orthography
English vocalic digraphs
Other languages using the Latin alphabet
The digraph ⟨aa
⟩ represented /ɔ/ until 1917 in Norway and 1948 in Denmark, but is today spelt ⟨å
⟩. The digraph is still used in older names, but sorted as if it were the letter with the diacritic mark.
, several sounds can be represented only by a digraph or a combination of letters. They are the most common combinations, but extreme regional differences exists, especially those of the eastern dialects
. A noteworthy difference is the aspiration
in eastern dialects, where it corresponds to skj
. Among many young people, especially in the western regions of Norway and in or around the major cities, the difference between ç
has been completely wiped away and are now pronounced the same.
- ⟨kj⟩ represents /ç/ as in ch in German ich or x in México.
- ⟨tj⟩ represents /ç/ as in ch in German ich or x in México.
- ⟨skj⟩ represents /ʃ/ as in sh in English she.
- ⟨sj⟩ represents /ʃ/ as in sh in English she.
- ⟨sk⟩ represents /ʃ/ (before i or y) as in sh in English she.
- ⟨ng⟩ represents /ŋ/ as in ng in English thing.
French vocalic digraphs
In Manx Gaelic
, ⟨ch⟩ represents /χ/, but ⟨çh⟩ represents /tʃ/.
- ⟨ll⟩ is traditionally (but now usually not) pronounced /ʎ/
- ⟨ch⟩ represents /tʃ/ (voiceless postalveolar affricate). Since 2010, neither is considered part of the alphabet. They used to be sorted as separate letters, but a reform in 1994 by the Spanish Royal Academy has allowed that they be split into their constituent letters for collation. The digraph ⟨rr⟩, pronounced as a distinct alveolar trill, was never officially considered to be a letter in the Spanish alphabet, and the same is true ⟨gu⟩ and ⟨qu⟩ (for /ɡ/ and /k/ respectively before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩).
The digraphs listed above represent distinct phonemes and are treated as separate letters for collation purposes. On the other hand, the digraphs ⟨mh
⟩, and the trigraph ⟨ngh
⟩, which stand for voiceless consonants
but occur only at the beginning of words as a result of the nasal mutation
, are not treated as separate letters, and thus are not included in the alphabet.
⟨gb⟩ is an alphabet, and a plosive most accurately pronounced by trying to say /g/ and /b/ at the same time.
Modern Slavic languages written in the Cyrillic alphabet make little use of digraphs apart from ⟨дж⟩ for /dʐ/, ⟨дз⟩ for /dz/ (in Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Bulgarian), and ⟨жж⟩ and ⟨зж⟩ for the uncommon Russian phoneme /ʑː/. In Russian, the sequences ⟨дж⟩ and ⟨дз⟩ do occur (mainly in loanwords) but are pronounced as combinations of an implosive (sometimes treated as an affricate) and a fricative; implosives are treated as allophones of the plosive /d̪/ and so those sequences are not considered to be digraphs. Cyrillic has few digraphs unless it is used to write non-Slavic languages, especially Caucasian languages
Because vowels are not generally written, digraphs are rare in abjads
like Arabic. For example, if sh
were used for š,
then the sequence sh
could mean either ša
However, digraphs are used for the aspirated
and murmured consonants
(those spelled with h-
digraphs in Latin transcription) in languages of South Asia
such as Urdu
that are written in the Arabic script by a special form of the letter h
, which is used only for aspiration digraphs, as can be seen with the following connecting (kh)
and non-connecting (ḍh)
The Georgian alphabet
uses a few digraphs to write other languages. For example, in Svan
, /ø/ is written ჳე ⟨we⟩, and /y/ as ჳი ⟨wi⟩.
- αι (ai) represents /e̞/
- ει (ei) represents /i/
- οι (oi) represents /i/
- ου (oy) represents /u/
- υι (yi) represents /i/
They are called "diphthongs" in Greek; in classical times, most of them represented diphthongs
, and the name has stuck.
- γγ (gg) represents /ŋɡ/ or /ɡ/
- τσ represents the affricate /ts/
- τζ (tz) represents the affricate /dz/
- Initial γκ (gk) represents /ɡ/
- Initial μπ (mp) represents /b/
- Initial ντ (nt) represents /d/
Ancient Greek also had the "diphthongs" listed above although their pronunciation in ancient times is disputed. In addition Ancient Greek also used the letter γ combined with a velar stop to produce the following digraphs:
- γγ (gg) represents /ŋɡ/
- γκ (gk) represents /ŋɡ/
- γχ (gkh) represents /ŋkʰ/
has a few additional digraphs: ρζ
/ʒ/ (historically perhaps a fricative trill
/ʃ/. In addition, palatal consonants
are indicated with the vowel letter ι
, which is, however, largely predictable. When /n/ and /l/ are not palatalized before ι
, they are written νν
, the digraphs ββ
were used for /b/, /d/, /ŋg/.
In the Hebrew alphabet
may sometimes be found for צ
/. Modern Hebrew also uses digraphs made with the ׳
symbol for non-native sounds: ג׳
/; and other digraphs of letters when it is written without vowels: וו
for a consonantal letter ו
in the middle of a word, and יי
for /aj/ or /aji/, etc., that is, a consonantal letter י
in places where it might not have been expected. Yiddish
has its own tradition of transcription and so uses different digraphs for some of the same sounds: דז
/, and דזש
/, also available as a single Unicode
or as a single character in Unicode ױ
/ej/, and ײַ
/aj/. The single-character digraphs are called "ligatures
" in Unicode. י
may also be used following a consonant to indicate palatalization in Slavic loanwords.
Most Indic scripts
have compound vowel diacritics
that cannot be predicted from their individual elements. That can be illustrated with Thai
in which the diacritic เ, pronounced alone /eː/, modifies the pronunciation of other vowels:
In addition, the combination รร is pronounced /a/ or /am/, there are some words in which the combinations ทร and ศร stand for /s/ and the letter ห, as a prefix to a consonant, changes its tonic class to high, modifying the tone of the syllable.
rk for q
ᙯ qai, ᕿ qi, ᖁ qu, ᖃ qa, ᖅ q
ng for ŋ
The latter forms trigraphs and tetragraphs.
may be combined into a CV
syllable by subscripting the second; the convention cancels the vowel of the first. That is commonly done for CyV
syllables called yōon
, as in ひょ hyo
⟩. They are not digraphs since they retain the normal sequential reading of the two glyphs. However, some obsolete sequences no longer retain that reading, as in くゎ kwa,
and むゎ mwa,
now pronounced ka, ga, ma
. In addition, non-sequenceable digraphs are used for foreign loans that do not follow normal Japanese assibilation
patterns, such as ティ ti
, トゥ tu
, チェ tye / che
, スェ swe
, ウィ wi
, ツォ tso
, ズィ zi
. (See katakana
and transcription into Japanese
for complete tables.)
Long vowels are written by adding the kana for that vowel, in effect doubling it. However, long ō
may be written either oo
, as in とうきょう toukyou [toːkʲoː]
'Tōkyō'. For dialects that do not distinguish ē
, the latter spelling is used for a long e
, as in へいせい heisei [heːseː]
'. In loanwords, chōonpu
, a line following the direction of the text, as in ビール bīru [bi:ru] bīru
'beer'. With the exception of syllables starting with n
, doubled consonant sounds are written by prefixing a smaller version of tsu
(written っ and ッ in hiragana and katakana respectively), as in きって kitte
'stamp'. Consonants beginning with n use the kana n
character (written ん or ン) as a prefix instead.
There are several conventions of Okinawan kana
that involve subscript digraphs or ligatures. For instance, in the University of the Ryukyu's system, ウ is /ʔu/, ヲ is /o/, but ヲゥ is /u/.
As was the case in Greek, Korean has vowels descended from diphthongs that are still written with two letters. Those digraphs, ㅐ /ɛ/ and ㅔ /e/ (also ㅒ /jɛ/, ㅖ /je/), and in some dialects ㅚ /ø/ and ㅟ /y/, all end in historical ㅣ /i/.
was designed with a digraph series to represent the "muddy
" consonants: ㅃ *[b], ㄸ *[d], ㅉ *[dz], ㄲ *[ɡ], ㅆ *[z], ㆅ *[ɣ]; also ᅇ, with an uncertain value. Those values are now obsolete, but most of the doubled letters were resurrected in the 19th century to write consonants that did not exist when hangul was devised: ㅃ /p͈/, ㄸ /t͈/, ㅉ /t͈ɕ/, ㄲ /k͈/, ㅆ /s͈/.
Ligatures and new letters
Digraphs sometimes come to be written as a single ligature. Over time, the ligatures may evolve into new letters or letters with diacritics. For example sz
in German, and "nn" became ñ
Generally, a digraph is simply represented using two characters in Unicode
However, for various reasons, Unicode sometimes provides a separate code point
for a digraph, encoded as a single character.
- ^ Brooks (2015) Dictionary of the British English Spelling System, p. 460 ff
- ^ "FAQ – Ligatures, Digraphs and Presentation Forms". The Unicode Consortium: Home Page. Unicode Inc. 1991–2009. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- ^ https://unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1D00.pdf
Last edited on 11 May 2021, at 18:15
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