Graph (linguistics)

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A graph (also Graf ; of ancient Greek γραφή graphs , German , font ' ) is in the linguistics the smallest graphic unit of a writing system or magazine similar sign system . Usually it is a letter or any other single character . Graphs are the subject of investigation in graphetics .

The word is (that is, in linguistics..) With this meaning a neuter with strong diffraction ( the graph of the graph , plural the graphs ) - in contrast to the function graph in math and science ( the graph of the graph ; plural graphs ).

Definition of terms


Kurrent U.svg
Latin alphabet Uu.png

Allographs of the grapheme ⟨ U
Попа (лаосская буква) .png

These are graphs too. In German, however, they do not belong to a grapheme.

Several graphs that fulfill the same function or have the same meaning within a writing system and can replace one another are called allographs . Each class of allographs forms a grapheme. Example:

  • The grapheme ⟨ ö ⟩ combines several allographs together. In the past, today's graph ‹ ö › preferred the form ‹ oe ›, ‹ › or ‹ ›. It can also (e.g. in calligraphy ) look like ‹ ō ›, ‹ õ › or ‹ ő ›. In other languages, ‹ œ › and ‹ ø › largely correspond to it . In spelling today, ‹ oe › is a valid replacement for ‹ ö ›.

Grapheme are abstract units of the font linguistics that a difference in meaning in pairs as ⟨ load ⟩ against ⟨ desire can mark⟩: ⟨ a ⟩, ⟨ u ⟩. A graph, on the other hand, is a “concrete, classifiable graphic appearance”. While graphemes only occur in full-fledged fonts, graphs can also be components of predecessors of the font.


Like graphs, glyphs are actually realized characters and the smallest units of writing. The term “glyph” belongs primarily to the field of typography , it relates to aspects of font design and the technical implementation of fonts.

  • Most of the time, a single glyph corresponds to a single graph.
  • A glyph can also contain several graphs. Example: The graph sequence ‹ oe › can be created as a ligatureœ › - an independent, single glyph.
  • On the other hand, a glyph can only be part of a graph. For example, the graph ‹ ö › can be composed of a glyph for the letter ‹ o › and a glyph for the umlaut points¨ ›. Usually, however, the glyph ‹ ö › is used.

Character sequences

If several graphs follow one another in the flow of writing, they may be considered together. A distinction must be made between a functional and a statistical approach.

  • Functionally, several “monographs” are combined into digraphs and trigraphs (in general: plurigraphs) (for example in German the character strings ch and sch ). Digraphs and trigraphs can be allographs to simple graphs, which enables them to be assigned to a common grapheme.
  • On the other hand, in computational linguistics and cryptography , for example, every motivated or unmotivated character string is statistically analyzed as a bigram , trigram ... N-grams , that is, the frequency of occurrence of the character strings is determined. This can be a preliminary stage to functional analysis.


  • Hans Peter Althaus : Graphetics . In: Hans Peter Althaus, Helmut Henne, Herbert Ernst Wiegand (eds.): Lexicon of German linguistics . 2nd, completely revised and enlarged edition. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1980, ISBN 3-484-10389-2 , p. 138-142 .
  • Christa Dürscheid : Introduction to handwriting linguistics . In: Study books on linguistics . 2nd Edition. tape 8 . Verlag für Sozialwissenschaft, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-531-33680-0 .
  • Peter Gallmann : Graphic elements of the written language. Basis for a reform of the orthography . In: Series German linguistics . tape 60 . Niemeyer, Tübingen 1985, ISBN 3-484-31060-X , 2.2 “On the concept of grapheme”.
  • Manfred Kohrt : Problem history of the grapheme concept and the early phoneme concept . In: Series German linguistics . tape 61 . Niemeyer, Tübingen 1985, ISBN 3-484-31061-8 , chapters 5-6.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Duden online: Graph, Graf, das (Linguistics).
  2. See Duden online: Graph, Graf, der (mathematics, natural sciences).
  3. ^ Gallmann (1985), § 47.