Æ (minuscule: æ) is a grapheme named æsc or ash, formed from the letters a and e, originally a ligature representing the Latin diphthong ae. It has been promoted to the full status of a letter in the alphabets of some languages, including Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, and Faroese. As a letter of the Old English Latin alphabet, it was called æsc ("ash tree") after the Anglo-Saxon futhorc rune ᚫ () which it transliterated; its traditional name in English is still ash /æʃ/. It was also used in Old Swedish before being changed to ä. Variants include Ǣ ǣ Ǽ ǽ.
In Classical Latin, the combination AE denotes the diphthong [ai̯], which had a value similar to the long i in fine as pronounced in most dialects of Modern English. Both classical and present practice is to write the letters separately, but the ligature was used in medieval and early modern writings, in part because æ was reduced to the simple vowel [ɛ] during the Roman Empire. In some medieval scripts, the ligature was simplified to ę, an e with ogonek, the e caudata. That was further simplified into a plain e, which may have influenced or been influenced by the pronunciation change. However, the ligature is still relatively common in liturgical books and musical scores.
The digraph ae was used in Latin to transliterate the Greek diphthong αι (alpha iota), but not for ᾳ (alpha iota subscript). Modern scientific vocabulary that borrows from Greek continues to use Latin transliteration conventions.
In the modern French alphabet, æ is used to spell Latin and Greek borrowings like tænia and ex æquo. It was greatly popularized in Serge Gainsbourg's song Elaeudanla Téïtéïa (i.e. "L, A, E dans l'A, T, I, T, I, A"), which is the spelling in French of the name Lætitia.
In English, usage of the ligature varies in different places. In modern typography, if technological limitations make its use difficult (such as in use of typewriters, first telegraphs, or ASCII), æ is often eschewed in favour of the digraph ae. Usage experts often consider that incorrect, especially for foreign words in which æ is considered a letter (such as Æsir, Ærø) or brand names that use the ligature or a variation of it (such as Æon Flux, Encyclopædia Britannica, Ætna, Inc.). In the United States, the problem of the ligature is sidestepped in many cases by use of a simplified spelling with "e", as happened with œ as well. Usage, however, may vary; for example, medieval is now more common than mediaeval (and the now old-fashioned mediæval) even in the United Kingdom, but archaeology is preferred over archeology, even in the US.
Given their long history, ligatures are sometimes used to invoke archaism or in literal quotations of historic sources; for instance, words such as dæmon or æther are often treated so.
The ligature is seen on gravestones of the 19th century, short for ætate ("at the age of"): "Æ xxYs, yyMs, zzDs." It is also common in formal typography (invitations, resolutions, announcements and some government documents).
In Old English, æ represented a sound between a and e (/æ/), very much like the short a of cat in many dialects of Modern English. If long vowels are distinguished from short vowels, the long version /æː/ is marked with a macron (ǣ) or, less commonly, an acute (ǽ).
In most varieties of Faroese, æ is pronounced as follows:
It follows "Z" in the Dano-Norwegian alphabet and is followed by "Ø" and finally "Å". All three are vowels.
In many western, northern and southwestern Norwegian dialects and in the western Danish dialects of Thy and Southern Jutland, æ has a significant meaning: the first person singular pronoun I. It is thus a normal spoken word and is usually written æ when such dialects are rendered in writing.
In western and southern Jutish dialects of Danish, æ is also the proclitic definite article: æ hus (the house), as opposed to Standard Danish and all other Nordic varieties which have enclitic definite articles (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian: huset, Icelandic, Faroese: húsið (the house)). The dialects are rarely committed to writing, except for some dialect literature.
In the normalised spelling of Middle High German, æ represents a long vowel [ɛː]. The actual spelling in the manuscripts varies, however.
Ossetic used the letter æ when it was written using the Latin script from 1923 to 1938. Since then, Ossetian has used a Cyrillic alphabet with an identical-looking letter (Ӕ and ӕ). It is pronounced as a mid-central vowel (schwa).
The symbol [æ] is also used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to denote a near-open front unrounded vowel like in the word cat in many dialects of Modern English, which is the sound that was most likely represented by the Old English letter. In the IPA, it is always in lowercase.
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER AE||LATIN SMALL LETTER AE|
|UTF-8||195 134||C3 86||195 166||C3 A6|
|Numeric character reference||Æ||Æ||æ||æ|
|Named character reference||Æ||æ|
Æ) and U+00E6 æ LATIN SMALL LETTER AE (HTML
Ӕ) and U+04D5 ӕ CYRILLIC SMALL LIGATURE A IE (HTML
ӕ); note the name being A IE), though in practice the Latin letters Æ and æ (U+00C6, U+00E6) are used in Cyrillic texts (such as on Ossetian sites on the Internet).
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