Digraph, Ambiguous letter sequences

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Summary

A digraph or digram (from the dís, "double" and γράφω gráphō, "to write") is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme (distinct sound) or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined. The sound is often, but not necessarily, one which cannot be expressed using a single character in the orthography used by the language. Usually, the term "digraph" is reserved for graphemes whose pronunciation is always or nearly always the same.

Details

Some letter pairs should not be interpreted as digraphs, but appear due to compounding, like in hogshead and cooperate. This is often not marked in any way, so must be memorized as an exception. Some authors, however, indicate it either by breaking up the digraph with a hyphen, as in hogs-head, co-operate, or with a trema mark, as in coöperate, though usage of this 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, e.g. when round is used as a final variant of long the English digraph resembling would always be .

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 , which is written as n (or sometimes m), except before vowels or y where it is followed by an apostrophe as n’. 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/.

In several Slavic languages, e.g. Czech, double letters may appear in compound words, but they are not considered digraphs. Examples: bezzubý ‘toothless’, cenný ‘valuable’, černooký ‘black-eyed’.

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