After reading a little bit about glyphs, and their importance in typography, I am left wondering whether the letter α would count as a glyph in Ancient Greek, or whether only diacritical marks such as accents and breathing marks would count as glyphs. Could anyone answer this question for me? Are there multiple answers depending on context (e.g. typography in the pre-computing era versus typography in computing) or would α in Greek and the letter a in English be universally recognized as glyphs?

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    In typography and character encoding, there is a distinction between characters and glyphs. The mapping between the two is not 1-to-1: There can be several glyphs representing the same character (like A, A with swash, script A, blackletter A) and there are glyphs representing more than one character (like fl, fi, and other typographic ligatures). However, this whole buisiness has nothing to do with linguistics at all. – jk - Reinstate Monica Jul 11 '17 at 16:49
  • @jknappen I never asked whether there was a 1-to-1 mapping - only if characters counted as glyphs. If this is not a linguistics question, then where should I ask it? Is this not a topic in graphemics (the study of writing), a glyph being "a single unit of writing"? – ktm5124 Jul 11 '17 at 16:55
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    Characters and glyphs are different thing altogether, they live on different levels of abstraction.—Where to ask ... the Graphic Design could be a place to discuss characters and glyphs. – jk - Reinstate Monica Jul 12 '17 at 9:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because typography and letter encoding aren't part of linguistics as such. – Mark Beadles Jul 12 '17 at 18:05


A glyph is a single unit of writing, which has a meaning within an agreed-upon method of communication. So for example, i is a single glyph, while the dot part of it isn't (since the dot means nothing on its own).

Note that glyphs are defined within a method of communication: in Turkish, for example, i with a dot and ı without a dot are distinct glyphs, because they have distinct meanings within Turkish. In English ı only has meaning as part of i, so it's not its own glyph.

In the typesetting days, ligatures were also often treated as glyphs, because they were single blocks of type. Nowadays that's less common, except in cases like the German ß (originally a ligature of ſz) where they've taken on their own meanings.

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