Musing over letters and other symbols for their use in computers raises some questions:
Different languages have somewhat overlapping alphabets. In Spanish there’s the “n” with a tilda, but quite a lot of overlap with English. In Russian there are many letters that don’t appear in English. In Greek an even larger proportion don’t. Clearly a Greek lambda is a separate letter from any English letter including “l”. Is the “a” in Spanish the same letter as the “a” in English? Is an “n” with a tilda a separate letter from an “n” without?
In German there is the “u” with the double dot over it. They tell me it is perfectly correct to write that as “ue”, for example when the double dot is not printable. So is the double dot “u” a full fledged letter or not?
How about the German double “s” that looks somewhat like an English uppercase “B”? Is that a letter?
What about ligatures in English, like “oe” only printed as one larger connected symbol - is that a letter, or two? What about “fl” printed together? What about the older form of “s” that looks like an “f”?
What’s the argument for and against calling the apostrophe in English a letter? I have never heard it called a letter but there are real words that can’t be spelled without it. Seems like the hard sign or the soft sign in Russian, that don’t have any sound of their own but only modify the letters around them.
I guess what I’m getting at is what rules might one use to decide how to provide letters for a multilingual but alphabetic crowd. Is there a name for this topic? Where does one even start?
There is a related topic about mixing up fonts and alphabets, so the letter “l” looks wider in Courier than it does in Times New Roman (a font issue) but has an entirely different name and shape in Symbol (because that is changing the alphabet and isn’t really a font at all). But I’m not asking about that unfortunate and cheesy stopgap measure. I’m interested in letters per se.