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|Egyptian hieroglyph ꜥ||Phoenician|
In Semitic, the letter may have originated in a hieroglyph for an arm that represented a voiced pharyngeal fricative (/ʕ/) in Egyptian, but was reassigned to /j/ (as in English "yes") by Semites, because their word for "arm" began with that sound. This letter could also be used to represent /i/, the close front unrounded vowel, mainly in foreign words.
The Greeks adopted a form of this Phoenician yodh as their letter iota (〈Ι, ι〉) to represent /i/, the same as in the Old Italic alphabet. In Latin (as in Modern Greek), it was also used to represent /j/ and this use persists in the languages that descended from Latin. The modern letter 'j' was firstly a variation of 'i', and both were used interchangeably for both the vowel and the consonant, coming to be differentiated only in the 16th century. The dot over the lowercase 'i' is sometimes called a tittle. In the Turkish alphabet, dotted and dotless I are considered separate letters, representing a front and back vowel, respectively, and both have uppercase ('I', 'İ') and lowercase ('ı', 'i') forms.
In modern English, 'i' represents several different sounds, either a "long" diphthong /aɪ/ as in kite, which developed from Middle English /iː/ after the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century, or the "short" /ɪ/ as in bill.
In English orthography, the letter 'i' has a "long" and "short" sound like the other vowel letters as a result of the Great Vowel Shift: "long" 'i' has the sound // and "short" 'i' has the sound //. The letter 'i' may also take the sound // in loanwords from other languages. Some digraphs that include 'i' are ai, oi, ei, ui and ie.
In many languages' orthographies, 'i' is used to represent the sound /i/ or more rarely, /ɪ/.
It is also used in mathematics to denote the imaginary unit .
In some san serif typefaces, the uppercase letter I, 'I' may be difficult to distinguish from the lowercase letter L, 'l', the vertical bar character '|', or the digit one '1'. In serifed typefaces, the capital form of the letter has both a baseline and a cap-height serif, while the lowercase L has generally a hooked ascender and a baseline serif.
The uppercase I does not have a dot (tittle) while the lowercase i has one in the most of Latin alphabets. However, some schemes, such as the Turkish alphabet, have two kinds of I's: the dotted one (İi) and the dotless one (Iı).
The uppercase I has two kinds of shapes, which are one with crossbars () and without crossbars (). Usually, they are considered the same, but they are distinguished in some extended Latin alphabet systems such as the 1978 version of the African reference alphabet. In the system, the former is the uppercase counterpart of ɪ and the latter is the counterpart of 'i'.
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER I||LATIN SMALL LETTER I|
|Numeric character reference||I||I||i||i|