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Characters (as a synonym for “linguistic sign ” also Signe ; also outdated character (from Middle High German karacter , “letter, holy sign, magic sign, impression”)) are the smallest units of a font (e.g. the Latin and Cyrillic alphabet , the Devanagari , the Kana - syllabary or sinograms ).


Characters form the inventory of a font ( character set ) independent of certain written languages . Graphemes, on the other hand (analogous to phonemes ), form the inventory of an individual language writing system and require a system of rules ( orthography ) for their application . This distinction is difficult or even invalid when a font is used exclusively for one language. The common, cultural demarcation of people, country, religion, language and writing was particularly widespread in antiquity, but is still evident today, for example. B. in Hebrew Judaism in Israel.

Both characters and graphemes manifest themselves through glyphs in graphs .

Types of characters

According to phonographic aspects, a distinction is made depending on the correspondence to sounds:

Segmental characters
Alphabetic characters
Consonants and vowels are notated separately from each other on the same level (e.g. Greek , Latin , Cyrillic )
Consonant sign
the consonants are noted on the main level (e.g. Semitic scripts, phonics), vowels either not or on a subordinate level as diacritical free or bound characters with or without their own character body
Syllable characters
a syllabogram stands for a syllable (e.g. Mycenaean , Kana )
Symbolic characters
a character represents a syntactic or semantic unit ( word , morpheme )

According to Peirce 's semiotic terminology, one can categorize the graphic signs used for writing as follows:

Iconic characters
There is a non-arbitrary, motivated relationship between what is labeled and what is significant.
the designated is represented graphically (horse head for "horse")
associative (feet or legs for "walking")
Symbolic characters
There is an arbitrary, conventionalized relationship between what is designated and what is significant.
abstract mathematical symbols such as '=', letters
Indexical characters
There is a directional, deictic relationship between what is designated and what is significant .

The classification is not comprehensive in each case.

Through the development of written language, there are intermediate forms of the function of characters as well as symbols that have changed their shape after their creation. Through the mechanical implementation of fonts ( lead type , typewriters , printer), the representation of the characters in a font is defined by a complete listing. The emergence of various fonts sets (including fonts ) give the development of characters but still room.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Characters  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Beate Henning: Small Middle High German Dictionary. 6th edition. De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2014 ( karacter ).