A, first letter and the first vowel of the English alphabet and most alphabets of the Indo-European languages. The A shape apparently originated in an Egyptian hieroglyph of an eagle (ahom) in cursive hieratic writing. The Phoenicians renamed the letter aleph (“ox”), from a fancied resemblance to the head and horns of that animal.
In the earliest Greek alphabet, aleph became the letter alpha; in turn, this became the Roman A, the form and general value of which were passed on to the peoples who later adopted the Roman alphabet. At present the sound of the a in “late” (long a) is the name of the letter in English. The English a may indicate many other sounds, as in “bat” (short a), “care,” and “sofa.” Modifications of its sound appear also in other modern languages.
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