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Kāf

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Kāf

Kaph (also spelled Kaf) is the eleventh letter of many Semitic abjads, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic Kāf ك (in Abjadi order), Hebrew Kaf כ.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Kappa (Κ), Latin K, and Cyrillic К.

Origin of Kaph

Kaph is thought to have been derived from a pictogram of a hand (in both modern Arabic and modern Hebrew, kaph means palm/grip).

Hebrew Kaf

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
Hebrew
Rashi
Script
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
כ כ כ

Hebrew spelling: כָּף

Hebrew Pronunciation

The letter Kaf is one of the six letters which can receive a Dagesh Kal. The other five are Bet, Gimel, Daleth, Pe, and Tav (see Hebrew Alphabet for more about these letters).

There are two orthographic variants of this letter which alter the pronunciation:

Name Symbol IPA Transliteration Example
Kaf כּ [k] k kangaroo
Chaf כ ] or ] ch or kh loch

Kaph with the dagesh

When the Kaph has a "dot" in its center, known as a dagesh, then it represents a voiceless velar plosive ([k]). There are various rules in Hebrew grammar that stipulate when and why a dagesh is used.

Kaph without the dagesh (chaph)

When this letter appears as כ without the dagesh ("dot") in its center then it represents ], like the ch in German "Bach".

In modern Israeli Hebrew the sound value of Chaph is the same as that of Heth, but many communities have differentiated between them.

Final form of Kaf

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
Hebrew
Rashi
Script
Standard Sans-serif Serif
ך ך ך

If the letter is at the end of a word the symbol is drawn differently. However, it does not change the pronunciation or transliteration in any way. The name for the letter is, Final Kaf (Kaf Sofit). There are four other Hebrew letters that take final forms, Tsadi, Mem, Nun, and Pei. Kaf/khaf is the only Hebrew letter that can take a vowel in its word-final form that is pronounced after the consonant, that vowel being the qamatz.

Name Alternate Name Symbol
Final Kaf Kaf Sofit ךּ
Final Chaf Chaf Sofit ך

Significance of Kaph in Hebrew

In gematria, Kaph represents the number 20. Its final form represents 500 but this is rarely used, Tav and Qoph (400+100) being used instead.

As a prefix, Kaph is a preposition:

  • It can mean "like" or "as". This is an abbreviation of כמו, kmo (like/as)
  • In colloquial Hebrew, Kaph and Shin together have the meaning of "when". This is a contraction of כאשר, ka'asher (when).

Arabic kāf

The letter is named kāf, and is written in several ways depending on its position in the word (these are the standard letter forms used for the Western variants of the Arabic language):

Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ك ـك ـكـ كـ

It also has a long variant form, which is not distinguished in the Arabic language, but may be seen more frequently in other languages than Arabic (and it is used consistently for the Sindhi language, see below):

Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ڪ ـڪ ـڪـ ڪـ

Kaf is almost universally pronounced as the voiceless velar plosive /k/, but in rural Palestinian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Gulf Arabic in general, it is sometimes pronounced as a voiceless postalveolar affricate [t͡ʃ].

Use in Literary Arabic

In Literary Arabic, Kaf is used as a prefix meaning "like", "as", or "as though". For example, كَطَائِر (/katˤaːʔir/), meaning "like a bird" or "as though a bird" (as in Hebrew, above). The prefix كَـ ka is one of the Arabic words for "like" or "as" (the other, مِثْل /miθl/, is unrelated). The /ka/ prefix sometimes has been added to other words to create fixed constructions. For instance, it is prefixed to ﺫَلِك /ðaːlik/ "this, that" to form the fixed word كَذَلِك /kaðaːlik/ "like so, likewise."

Kaf is used as a possessive suffix for second-person singular nouns (feminine taking kāf-kasrah كِ, /ki/ and masculine kāf-fatḥah كَ /ka/); for instance, كِتَاب kitāb ("book") becomes كِتَابُكَ kitābuka ("your book", where the person spoken to is masculine) كِتَابُكِ kitābuki ("your book", where the person spoken to is feminine). At the ends of sentences and often in conversation the final vowel is suppressed, and thus كِتَابُك kitābuk ("your book"). In several varieties of vernacular Arabic, however, the kaf with no harakat is the standard second-person possessive, with the Literary Arabic harakah shifted to the letter before the kaf: thus masculine "your book" in these varieties is كِتَابَك kitābak and feminine "your book" كِتَابِك kitābik.

Persian and Urdu kaph

In the Persian alphabet and the Urdu alphabet, "Kaph" has slightly different isolated or final forms from the Mashriqi Arabic (ک as opposed to ك) and thus takes a different codepoint in Unicode. But it uses the same final form as the Maghrebi style Arabic. These simplified forms are shown here:


Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: Kāf#Arabic kāf|ک ـKāf#Arabic kāf|ک ـKāf#Arabic kāf|کـ Kāf#Arabic kāf|کـ

In addition, these variants are used distinctly in the Sindhi as separate letters, to differentiate khē (using the simplified forms) from kāf (written in Sindhi with the long variant form shown in the subsection above).

Character encodings

See also

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