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In typography, a grapheme is the atomic unit in written language. Graphemes include letters, Chinese characters, Japanese characters, numerals, punctuation marks, and other glyphs.

In a phonological orthography, a grapheme corresponds to one phoneme. In spelling systems that are non-phonemic — such as the spellings used most widely for written English — multiple graphemes may represent a single phoneme. These are called digraphs (two graphemes for a single phoneme) and trigraphs (three graphemes). For example, the word ship contains four graphemes (s, h, i, and p) but only three phonemes, because sh is a digraph.

Different glyphs can represent the same grapheme, meaning they are allographs. For example, the minuscule letter a can be seen in two variants, with a hook at the top, and without. Not all glyphs are graphemes in the phonological sense; for example the logogram ampersand (&) represents the Latin word et (English word and), which contains two phonemes.

See also

  • Sign (semiotics)
  • Glyph
  • Digraph (orthography)
  • Trigraph (orthography)
  • Allograph (orthography)
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