The letter R

Monica Silva Radiant R Every word in the English language derives from 26 seemingly simple letters. Each letter has gone through a unique transition in order to end up how it is today. Some letters have been erased, while some added, and others Just transformed. The complex Journey of the written language can somewhat be seen through the transition of R. The letter R is one of the letters that has been around since the very beginning of writing. R is a unique letter in its pronunciation, history and its place in cultural artifacts as well as math and sciences.
While looking at the English alphabet, one would come across the eighteenth letter of the alphabet; R. R can be classified as an ancestor for written language today. While most letters have been around for a very long time, R is one that has residency and that has not had a very large change throughout history. R is a letter that has appeared in some of the oldest writings found. These include inscriptions from the Semitic culture. In these writings, R was represented by something that looked like a “human head in profile” (David Sacks 283) (figure 1).
They called this ymbol resh, which translates to ‘head’ in the Semitic language. This letter also appears in the Phoenician alphabet. At this time it still represented the word ‘head’ but its shape had changed. The illustration turned from a human head profile to something that looked a lot like a modern day backwards P (fgure 2). This illustration could still be classified as a human head, Just with more defined, longer neck. As the Greeks studied the Phoenician alphabet, they took great influence on their letters and took a large part of it as basis for their own alphabet.

As for the letter R, they did not hange it much from what it had originally been. They decided to only modify its name so that it would fit better into the sound of their language, thus it became rho. This had “no special meaning in Greek aside from the letter” (Sacks 285). In early Greek writing, rho could be either turned to the left or the right. It was not until about 500 B. C. that the Greeks decided to permanently have rho facing towards the right, thus making the visual practically the same as the Phoenician alphabet.
They made this change because the Greek reading permanently changed from left to right. The tail that is on the R today did not appear until in was formed in ancient Rome. The tail was at first a very short line, but then developed into a complete stroke all the way to the baseline. The lowercase version of r is unique in the fact that it is the only letter that has an uppercase closed section, while its lowercase version does not. This was due to the style of handwriting in the early Middle Ages. Instead of drawing the entire loop and tail, they only drew the top of the curved line (fgure 3).
They did this in order to save time and pen strokes while writing. This shortcut has been carried along all the way up to modern day writing. The letter R has a variety of different sounds depending on what word you are saying, what language you are speaking, or even what part of the country you are from due to different accents. The eight different rhetoric consonants are alveolar trill, alveolar approximant, alveolar tlap, voiced retrotlex tricative, retrotlex approximant, retroflex flap, uvular trill, and voiced uvular fricative (Wikipedia).
One sound heard in English is the alveolar trill; it is described as a rolling R. Leading air ver articulator so that it can vibrate makes this sound. This sound deals with the tip of the tongue and while making this sound the vocal cords will vibrate. Another rhetoric consonant found in the English language is alveolar approximant. Narrowing the vocal tract where it articulates creates this sound and it also deals with the tip of the tongue and the vocal cords vibrate while making it as well. Another consonant found in English is retroflex approximant.
Like alveolar approximant, narrowing the vocal tract at articulation creates this sound. This sound deals with the tip of the ongue as it is turned up and vocal cords will vibrate while creating this sound. The last rhetoric consonant found in English is retroflex flap. This sound is created with one contraction of the muscle, making the tongue thrown against the bottom of the mouth. Like retroflex approximant, the tongue is curled up when making this sound and the vocal cords will vibrate as well. Each of these explained sounds are oral consonants meaning that air can escape from the mouth only.
They are also all central consonants meaning that the sound is produced by instructing airstream on he center of the tongue instead of to the sides of the mouth. (Wikipedia). Recordings of all eight rhetoric consonants can be found on the reference page. While making some simple R sounds you could find that if you lift up your tongue, you will then be making the sound of the letter L. This would be because of the fact that R and L are phonetically sisters and they are called liquids. The term liquid consonants mean that these two letters behave in a similar way.
These two letters are going to have “an effect on a vowel sound that precedes them in a word” (Sacks 280). This effect is that of drawing out the vowel’s pronunciation and thus making it stronger. Some examples that Sacks gives are the words ‘pole’ and ‘poke’. Saying these words aloud, one can hear how the ‘e’ in ‘pole’ is more prominent than the ‘e’ in ‘poke’. This is unique in the fact that the only other letter that makes this effect in the English alphabet is obviously L. Phonetic writing is not the only place you will land eyes on the letter R, it has an importance in science as well as mathematics.
In the sciences, the gas constant is represented by the uppercase R. The reason R was chosen to represent the gas constant is unknown but there are three ideas as to why this may be. The first idea is simply that it was random. The second idea is that it could possibly stand for ratio. Scientists thought this could be because of the fact that this value of R was found by calculating the constancy of the ratio over pressure and time. The third idea for this representation is that it was named after Henri Victor Regnault. Regnault was the French chemist who calculated the early value of the constant densen 2).
In mathematics, the letter R represents the set of all real numbers. R was chosen because Rn refers to the Cartesian product of n copies of R. Another reason is it thought to represent all real numbers is because of the fact that the word real starts with an r (O’Connor 1). Just like R plays a role in mathematics and science, it can be caught playing a role in cultural artifacts as well. The letter R is also known as the dogs letter’. There are many people who have made a connection between the sound of r and a dog. In 1529 Geotry Tory compared the r growling sound to dogs when they are angry and about to bite each other.
During the mid first century, a poet named Persius referred to R as ‘dog letter’ as well. Also in the Spanish language it is called canina littera, which may be of even greater importance because in Spanish language rolled r’s is a major part of their pronunciation. Another person who referred to R as the dogs letter was Ben Jonson in his book English Grammar (Sacks 280). This reference can be found in the famous Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare in Act 2, scene 4. In this part of the play, Juliet’s nurse calls the letter R, the dogs name’ referring to Romeo as a dog.

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