British and American English have many difference both in vocabulary and spelling. But I just learned that they also use af few different letters. While copying a British text for a blog and typing the British word “anæsthetic”, I stopped. I knew that the Brits spelled “anesthetic” with an “ae” instead of an “e”, but as I look carefully at the text I noticed that the two letters were printed as one blurred letter. Because I wanted to quote the text faithfully, I researched how to get my Mac to type that letter, thus, yesterday’s “Mac Diacritics” post. While looking, I also learned that those class of letters were called “ligatures” — a new linguistic word for me, so I explored it.
For fun, I made a pictorial collage of my exploration of “ligature”. Since this blog discusses religion I have to mention my discovery that tracing the etymology back, it seems ligature and religion are related to the Latin word “ligare”. This ‘etymology” may not be accurate but indeed, it is a commonly quoted etymology from ancient times.
Also related to “ligare” are medical words: the anatomical word “ligament” and the word “ligature” used in surgery for a knot used to tie around a vessel to stop flow. Below this diagram I discuss the linguistic ligatures shown.
On the right side of my diagram, I show Typographic Ligatures from the following languages:
- English: First, as I mentioned, the Brits use the Æ ligature and the Œ ligature). Sometimes they use the actual ligature but often they type them separately. I also learned that the ampersand is a combination of “e” and “t” from the Latin word “et” which means “and” in English.
- German: a letter representing a double “s” is a ligature of a classic “long S” and a “small s”.
- Tibetan: Tibetan is packed full of ligatures. For instance, the Tibetan word for “stone” is “rdo”. The word is a single glyph ligature as you see in the collage. It is composed of these three letters:
r–> ར + d–> ད + o–> ོ . Sorry if your browser does not display Tibetan.
In Tibetan, many of the stacked consonant ligatures are historical deadweights and not pronounced (much like the g and h in the English word “light” but more abundant).
- Chinese/Japanese: Finally, if you’ve gotten this far, the Chinese character shown in the diagram is the combination of three characters to mean hemorrhoid. Read my post describing the hemorrhoid character and how to treat hemorrhoids.
Hope this post helps bind these words for you!