Written by Ephraim Chambers
Thursday, 01 January 1728 09:00
A Vowel, and the first Letter of the English Alphabet. See LETTER, VOWEL, and ALPHABET ; where what relates to A, consider'd in each of those Capacities, is delivered. The Grammarians will needs have A the first Letter in all Languages ; and some of 'em assign a natural Reason for it, viz. that it is the most simple, and the easiest pronounc'd of all articulate Sounds. To confirm this, Jul. Scaligcr observes, that A is the first Sound Nature puts forth at the crying or smiling of Infants ; and that it needs no other Motion to form it, but a bare opening of the Lips. See VOICE.
Covarruvias, refining on this Sentiment of Scaliger, observes, very gravely, that the first Sound put forth by Boys is A ; but that Girls first put forth E ; each pronouncing the initial Letter of the Name of the first Parent of its respective Sex, Dr. Littleton, setting Adam aside, makes the one speak the final, and the other the initial Letter of the Name of the Mother of Mankind, EvA.
But 'tis in vain that Authors compare the A of the English, Latin, French, &c. with the Aleph of the Hebrews, or the Eliph of the Arabs. Those two Letters have no Conformity with our A, except in this, that they are the first of their several Alphabets. What sets 'em far asunder, is, that these Oriental A's are not Vowels. See VOWEL.
Some Criticks take the Hebrew Aleph to be neither Vowel, nor Consonant, but what the Grammarians call an Aspirate, or pneumatic Letter ; like the H in the Latin and our Language : adding, that S. Jerom appears to have had the same Thought, who probably learnt it from the Jews of the School of Tiberias. But the Jesuits de Trevoux give the thing another Turn : Those Fathers have prov'd that the Hebrew Aleph, Arabic Eliph, and Syriac Oleph, are real Consonants; and that the same holds of all the other Aspirates.
This is a Paradox in Grammar ; but 'tis not the less true for being a Paradox. See ASPIRATE, and CONSONANT.
Of all the Letters, A is observ'd to be that which dumb Persons are soonest taught to pronounce. The Reason is, that it does not depend on the Muscles, and other Organs of the Mouth, and Tongue, which are generally wanting in Mutes ; but on those of the Throat and Nose, which they commonly have. See DUMBNESS.
This first, simplest Sound, yet serves us to express most of the Movement ot the Soul. 'Tis so much the Language of Nature, that upon all sudden and extraordinary Occasions, we are nccessarily led to it, as the Instrument readiest at hand. With this we speak our Admiration, Joy, Anguish, Aversion, Apprehension of Danger, &c. Where the Passion is very strong, we frequently heighten the A, by adding an Aspirate, Ah. See INTERJECTION.
'Tis observ'd of the English Pronunciation, that we speak the a with a slenderer, and more puny Sound than any of our Neighbours : Ordinarily, 'tis scarce broad enough for a French e Neuter ; and comes far short of the groff a of the Germans, which wou'd make our au, or aw, or 0. In some Words, however, as talk, wall, stall, &c. the a is broad, and deep enough. But this, 'tis observ'd, may not be the mere Sound of a ; but the Effect of the antient Orthography, which, as low as Q. Elizabeth, added an u to the a, and wrote taulk, &c.
The Romans laid a mighty Stress on their a; and distinguish'd exactly, both in writing and speaking, when it was Jong, and when short. To denote it long, they first wrote it double, Aala, for Ala ; which not being enough, they inserted an h between 'em, Ahala : At length they sell to the common long Accent āla, or Āla. See ACCENT.
A was one of the Numeral Letters among the Antients, and signify'd 500. With a Dash atop, ā, it slood for 5000. See CHARACTER.
Baronius gives us a Set of antient Technical Verses, wherein the Numeral Value of each Letter of the Alphabet is express'd; whereof this is the first.
Possidet A numeros quingentos, ordine recto.
But we shall here observe, once for all, that it was not strictly among the Antients that this Use of Numeral Letters had place, as is commonly suppos'd. Isidore Hispalensis, an Author of the VIIth Century, affirms it expresly : Latini autem Ninnerof ad Litteras non computant. The Usage was really introduc'd in the Days of Barbarism. M. du Cange, explaining what that Usage was, at the beginning of each Letter of his Glossary, the generality of Dictionary-Writers, who take it from him, mistake him. The account, they all say, is found in Valerius Trobus : whereas du Cange says no such thing ; but only that it is found in a Collection of Grammarians, among whom are Valerius Probus, and Petrus Diaconus. Habetur veso illud cum Valeric Trobo, Paulo Diacono, (it should rather have been Tetro) & aliis qui de numeris scripserunt, editum inter Grammaticof antiquos. See NUMERAL.
A is also us'd in the Julian Calendar, as the first of the seven Dominical Letters. See DOMINICAL.
It had been in use among the Romans long before the Establishment of Christianity, as the first of the eight Nundinales Litteræ ; in imitation whereof it was, that the Dominical Letters were first introduc'd. See NUNDINAL.
A is also an Abbreviature, us'd in divers Arts, and with divers Intentions. See ABBREVIATURE. Thus, Among Logicians, A is us'd to denote an universal Affirmative Proportion ; according to the Verse,
Asserit Ai negat E, verùm generaliter Ambæ.
Thus, in the first Mood, a Syllogism consisting of three universal Affirmative Propositions, is said to be Bar-ba-ra ; the A thrice repeated, denoting so many of the Proportions to be universal, &c. See MOON, BARBARA, &c.
Among the Romans, A was us'd in the giving of Votes, or Suffrages. When a new Law was proposed, each Voter had two wooden Ballets put in his Hand ; the one mark'd with a Capital A, signifying Antiquo, q. d. Anhquam volo ; and the other with V.R. for Uti rogas. Such as were against the Law passing, cast the first into the Urn, as who should say, I refuse it, I antiquate it ; or I like the antient Law, and desire no Innovation. See SUFFRAGE, CENTURY, &c.
In the Trials of Criminal Causes, the same Letter A denoted Absolution : whence Cicero, pro Milone, calls A, Littera salutaris, a Saving Letter. Three Ballots were distributed to each Judge, mark'd with the Letters, A for Absolvo, C for Condemno, and N. L. for Non Liquet, It is not clear. From the Number of each cast into the Urn, the Prætor pronoune'd the Prisoner's Fate. Is they were in equal number, he was absolv'd. See ABSOLUTION, CONDEMNATION, &c.
In the antient Inscriptions of Marbles, &c. A occasionally stands for Augustus, Ager, Aiunt, &c. When double, it denotes Augusti : and when triple Auro, Argento, Ære. Isidore adds, that when it occurs after the Word Miles, it denotes him young. See INSCRIPTION.
On the Reverse of antient Medals, A denotes 'em struck by the City Argot. And among the later Coins, the same Letter is the Mark of 'Paris. See MEDAL, COIN, MONEY, &c.
Among English Writers, A is ordinarily us'd for Anno, as A. D. Anno Domini ; for Artium, as A. M A. B. &c. See CHARACTER.
Among Physicians, a or aa, is us'd in Prescription for Ana ; to denote an equal Portion of divers Ingredients, whether in respect of Measure or Weight. See ANA.
Thus, R Sal. Volat. Oleos. Tinet. Croc. aa expresses Sal Volatile Oleosum, and Tincture of Sassron, of each half an Ounce.
The same ā or āā is also us'd in the like Sense, without expressing any limited Quantity or Weight : Thus, ā or āā P.Æ. denotes simply, equal Parts of the Ingredients there mention'd.
Lastly, among Chymists, AAA signify an Amalgama, or the Operation of Amalgamating. See AMALGAMATION.