What do you call joined letters? (ae, oe)

One of irishgirl’s posts, of how she hates american spelling, reminded me of a question I’ve had for a long time.

In, for instance, the word “haemoglobin”, or “Aetna”, the ‘a’ and the ‘e’ should compose a single, joined character. I’m positive there’s a term for such a joined letter, but I’m at a loss for how to look up the term. Can anyone enlighten me?
(Preferrably with the term, but telling me how to look it up would be okay too)

Is the term the same for “oe” (as in foetus) as well? Or does it have its own term?

I believe it’s a form of umlaut (the other being the diacritical applied over certain vowel sounds as is common in languages such as German).

I think that the term for such a joined character is “ligature”. But don’t quote me on that.

Well, since I can’t quote Chronos, I’ll quote the online version of the American Heritage dictionary

Ligature is right. Go to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and search for “ligature.” It’s the 4[sup]th[/sup] meaning.

I thought it sounded weird, but apparently Chronos’ term is also correct.

But so is mine. I prefer umlaut. . .ligature makes me think of being strangled.

lig·a·ture 4 : a printed or written character (as æ or [ff]) consisting of two or more letters or characters joined together

Ligature. Got it.

The SDMB rocks.

From looking at those definitions, troub, it seems a ligature is the form of writing the letters as a connected unit, while an umlaut perhaps describes either the blended vowel sound that such structures produce or a rather different form of marking vowels to indicate a similar type of vowel blending. However, the definition is a little ambiguous – it might be that “umlaut,” as it refers to the sound and not the mark, may only mean those specific instances of the sounds which are indicated by the umlaut mark (two dots), and not the similar blending of the OP. I’d incline to this interpretation given that the blend in archaeology and the non-American spelling of foetus are from Latin, while the blend signified by the umlaut mark is of germanic origin.

N.B. A ligature can also be used to join characters that do not change their sound – for instance, in many books, especially those printed more than 20 years ago, you will often see “ft” or “ff” joined into a single letter. This is a ligature as well, but the move from hot to cold type has lead to its near-disppearance.


troub, if you looking for justification for calling it an umlaut, you found it. But I believe, to typesetters and lexicographers, ligature is the more common term.

The M-W dict, in their def of unlaut, doesn’t even give and example of æ-type letters.

Ligature def, from a typography site. This site broadens the def to include not only standalone letters “bumped” together into one, but also symbols like @ and &, originally created (they say) to substitute for multiple characters.

It’s not an umlaut. An umlaut is a modification of a vowel’s sound, or the mark indicating said modification.

The examples in the OP are diphthongs. These are (or were, in the original language) true blendings of two vowel sounds in the same syllable (compare to the definition of umlaut in troub’s link). The physical rendition of diphthongs from Latin and Greek is often done with a ligature.

Yes, I would have called these things dipthongs (or diphthongs), but that doesn’t cover the few examples of joined consonants that come up in older books and in German.

I think there may be some confusion arising here because the sound modification indicated by the Umlaut in German can also be shown by putting an E after the affected letter - thus, ä = ae, ö = oe.

Hmm. Dunno, offhand, if German texts use ligatures for this (i.e. ä = ae = æ) - don’t have a German printed book handy right now - anybody know?

The diaeresis (which is usually used to represent the Umlaut, although I think technically the Umlaut symbol is two small vertical lines, rather than two dots - I think so, it’s been a while) is also used to show that two adjacent vowel sounds are pronounced separately, as in coördinate or naïve. In English, anyway.

I believe the ligatures represent obsolete Old English letters, their names pronounced [ash] (æ and [ethel] (œ) (more or less; œ may not have been a letter by itself, but it did have a name).

Yes, I see the difference now in the actual joined letters and the representation of the modified vowel sound (as in, instead of writing ä, you can substitute ae). Diphthong was the other term in the back of my mind, but couldn’t think of it until Gary T mentioned it. However, from this definition, diphthong seems to have the same “problem” as umlaut, it refers to a combination of sounds rather than the actual printed character.

Ligature it is, then.

Then again, [ae] joined together, or the “ash” (can someone point me to a how-to on putting non-standard characters in posts?), is considered a separate letter to students of, for example, Old English, and is pronounced like the “a” in “cat.”

Ligature, on the other hand, refers to the practice in printing/publishing of joining certain letters together in print. You’ll notice this in many magazines/books; the letter combinations “fi” and “fl” are common examples. In a ligature, unlike the [ae] and [oe] characters, they are still considered two separate letters that happen to be printed touching each other.

Example: Open up MS Word and type “fi fl” in Times New Roman. Now select the text and enlarge it to 72-pt size or larger. The letters touch each other, but there’s a fine boundary still visible, because they are still separate letters; the practice of having them touch is a ligature. Enlarging the ash character, however, shows no such boundary.

Hope I’ve clarified and not obfuscated.

Strictly speaking (from my years of voice training), a diphthong does not have to be a combination of vowel sounds represented by more than one letter, as “encyclopedia.” And in point of fact, it isn’t that.

It’s actually more common to find it in a single letter. “I,” pronounced as the first-person pronoun, can be divided into the two “pure” vowel sounds “ah” and “ee,” which are elided together when pronounced as “I.” Likewise, “a” is like “eh” and “ee,” and is considered a diphthong.

The “ih” sound in, say, “his,” is pure, and is not a diphthong. The long “oh” sound in “go,” on the other hand, is, because it’s two pure sounds that blend together into a single sound.

Hey, I gotta put this voice training to use somewhere.

jackelope, This SDMB thread has some useful reference stuff for odd characters. The sym font doesn’t display properly on my computer, but it does on most, and the lists are still useful.

On a PC, hold down the ALT key, type 4 numbers on the keypad (top of the keyboard will not work), then release the ALT key. For example, ALT-0230 produces æ, and ALT-0198 gives Æ.

Dunno how you do it on a MAC. That’s not a REAL computer, is it? :smiley:

Here’s another list, with HTML codes as well.

The joining of two letters can also be called a digraph.

The primary meaning relates to two letters pronounced with one sound, which is the inverse of diphthong, a letter pronounced with two sounds.

Remember, putting two letters together in typing/writing as a ligature can be done for more than one reason.

While printing by hand, many people will often put one bar stroke through a double t, thus creating a ligature for the simple reason of economy of motion. For the same reason, typesetters have certain common letter combinations on a single typeface die. E.g., they will often have ‘th’ on one typeface die. Over time, it was common for typeface creators to mimic handwritten ligatures, like the double t, and to create new ligatures out of a sense of style, and to save space whenever a certain letter combination can be ligatured without it being confusing to the reader. Some typefaces automatically ligatured every common two-lettered typeface die.

However, some ligatures were created to express pronunciation. This is the case of the oe, and the ae, from foreign languages. The oe from latin is pronouned like oi in oil. English speakers wouldn’t ordinarily do that, unless cued by an oe ligature.


Now on to dipthongs:

Dipthongs are not two vowel letters put together. Dipthongs are two vowel sounds that are mushed (glided, elided, whatever…) together.

As Cervaise has pointed out, ‘eye’ is pronounced as ‘ah’ and ‘ee’ elided together, even though this dipthong can be spelled with one (I), two (bye, guy, Thai), or three (eye) vowel letters. If you start out a vowel with one mouth-toungue-jaw position and glide into a new position, then it’s a dipthong. If you can make the vowel sound with just one static oral position, then it’s a pure vowel sound, like ‘ah.’

Umlauted letters, like ‘ö,’ may or may not be dipthongs. In German, the ö is a pure vowel sound… no movement of the mouth needed to pronounce it (shape your lips for ‘oh,’ but the tongue for ‘ee’).

Annuit cœptus.