In English, the noun "alpha" is used as a synonym for "beginning", or "first" (in a series), reflecting its Greek roots.
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 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 (ᾳ).
In the Attic–Ionic 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.
- Doric, Aeolic, Attic χώρᾱ chṓrā — Ionic χώρη chṓrē, "country"
- Doric, Aeolic φᾱ́μᾱ phā́mā — Attic, Ionic φήμη phḗmē, "report"
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 when proving null and alternative hypotheses. In ethology, it is used to name the dominant individual in a group of animals. 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 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
History and symbolism
The Phoenician alphabet was adopted for Greek in the early 8th century BC, perhaps in Euboea. The majority of the letters of the Phoenician alphabet were adopted into Greek with much the same sounds as they had had in Phoenician, but ʼāleph, the Phoenician letter reresenting the glottal stop [ʔ], was adopted as representing the vowel [a]; similarly, hē [h] and ʽayin [ʕ] are Phoenician consonants that became Greek vowels, epsilon [e] and omicron [o], respectively.
Plutarch, in Moralia, 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, 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.
Alpha and Omega
As the first letter of the alphabet, Alpha as a Greek numeral came to represent the number 1. Therefore, Alpha, both as a symbol and term, is used to refer to the "first", or "primary", or "principal" (most significant) occurrence or status of a thing.
Consequently, the term "alpha" has also come to be used to denote "primary" position in social hierarchy, examples being "alpha males" or pack leaders.
- Greek alpha / Coptic alfa
|Unicode name||GREEK CAPITAL LETTER ALPHA||GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA||COPTIC CAPITAL LETTER ALFA||COPTIC SMALL LETTER ALFA|
|UTF-8||206 145||CE 91||206 177||CE B1||226 178 128||E2 B2 80||226 178 129||E2 B2 81|
|Numeric character reference||Α
|Named character reference||Α||α|
For accented Greek characters, see Greek diacritics: Computer encoding.
- Latin / IPA alpha
|Unicode name||LATIN SMALL LETTER ALPHA||LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED ALPHA||LATIN SMALL LETTER ALPHA
WITH RETROFLEX HOOK
SMALL TURNED ALPHA
|UTF-8||201 145||C9 91||201 146||C9 92||225 182 144||E1 B6 90||225 181 133||E1 B5 85||225 182 155||E1 B6 9B|
|Numeric character reference||ɑ
- Mathematical / Technical alpha
|Unicode name||APL FUNCTIONAL SYMBOL ALPHA||APL FUNCTIONAL SYMBOL
|UTF-8||226 141 186||E2 8D BA||226 141 182||E2 8D B6||240 157 154 168||F0 9D 9A A8||240 157 155 130||F0 9D 9B 82||240 157 155 162||F0 9D 9B A2||240 157 155 188||F0 9D 9B BC|
|UTF-16||9082||237A||9078||2376||55349 57000||D835 DEA8||55349 57026||D835 DEC2||55349 57058||D835 DEE2||55349 57084||D835 DEFC|
|Numeric character reference||⍺
|Unicode name||MATHEMATICAL BOLD ITALIC
|MATHEMATICAL BOLD ITALIC
BOLD CAPITAL ALPHA
BOLD SMALL ALPHA
BOLD ITALIC CAPITAL ALPHA
BOLD ITALIC SMALL ALPHA
|UTF-8||240 157 156 156||F0 9D 9C 9C||240 157 156 182||F0 9D 9C B6||240 157 157 150||F0 9D 9D 96||240 157 157 176||F0 9D 9D B0||240 157 158 144||F0 9D 9E 90||240 157 158 170||F0 9D 9E AA|
|UTF-16||55349 57116||D835 DF1C||55349 57142||D835 DF36||55349 57174||D835 DF56||55349 57200||D835 DF70||55349 57232||D835 DF90||55349 57258||D835 DFAA|
|Numeric character reference||𝜜
|Look up Α or α in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary article A (letter).|
- "alpha". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- Chambers concise dictionary p.30 Allied Publishers, 2004 ISBN 9798186062363 Retrieved 2017-02-06
- Alpha - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek grammar for colleges. paragraph 30 and note.
- "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.
- The date of the earliest inscribed objects; A.W. Johnston, "The alphabet", in N. Stampolidis and V. Karageorghis, eds, Sea Routes from Sidon to Huelva: Interconnections in the Mediterranean 2003:263-76, summarizes the present scholarship on the dating.
- Symposiacs, Book IX, questions II & III On-line text Archived 13 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine at Adelaide library
- 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."
- "Character Encodings". Retrieved 14 January 2013.