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What Is a Unicase?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 23, 2024
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A unicase alphabet is one without uppercase and lowercase letters, instead, there is only one case for each letter. The letters in these alphabets are usually also uniform in size. This most often happens in Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages because these alphabets contain symbols that are complicated and contain many accents. The idea is that a unicase alphabet is easier to learn and to write.

Some languages have developed a unicase format simply out of practicality. The Tamil alphabet, for example, contains over 468 symbols. These symbols denote consonants, consonant combinations, vowels, and vowel-consonant combinations. Adding an upper and lower case to this alphabet would only increase it to over 1,000 symbols, generally making it much more difficult to learn.

Practicality may also dictate the need for unicase in Arabic and Hebrew. In each of these languages, the letter symbols are made up of a series of loops and different kinds of accents. Often, if the loops and accents are not perfectly placed, the symbol becomes a different letter. If students had to learn a different symbol for each letter case, learning the language could become extremely confusing.

The letters in Arabic and Hebrew also each have their own specific meaning. A single letter could represent a word in some cases, making these alphabets extremely fluid. In English, a letter doesn’t generally have a meaning unless it is paired with other letters. The only exceptions to this rule are “a” and “I.” “A” is an article which has no significant, concrete meaning. “I” is a pronoun which has plenty of existential meaning, but no real significance without words and context. The letters in the above alphabets can each send a message on their own, so adding cases to these alphabets could disrupt the structure of the entire language.

Some languages, such as Old Hungarian, contain only one case because it is easier to write the letters that way. Old Hungarian unicase closely resembles Celtic runes, with each letter looking a little like bent twigs. These letters were often carved into wood or stone. It was simpler, and generally more visually pleasing, to carve all of the letters in unicase.

The Georgian alphabet actually started out with two cases, an upper and a lower, and later simplified to unicase for practical purposes. The original sacred alphabet, used for ecclesiastical writing, contained two cases. A secular unicase alphabet was developed to differentiate secular works from sacred texts. Today, the secular alphabet is used more often than the ecclesiastical alphabet.

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Discussion Comments
By JackWhack — On Jul 28, 2012

I wonder how people can ever learn to write and remember all of the letters of some unicase alphabets. The ones with multiple squiggly characters per letter are just so complicated!

Imagine having to make entire words and paragraphs out of letters like these. I don't think I could do it. If the placement of each little part matters so much, it must be painstaking.

With our alphabet, the precise placement of lines isn't quite as important. Handwriting can affect the way letters look, and as long as they have their basic shape, the letter is recognizable.

By Perdido — On Jul 27, 2012

Some people today, particularly teenagers, are attempting to make the English alphabet unicase. I am seeing an increasing number of text messages, social media network posts, and emails from young people written totally in lowercase.

This frustrates me, because I have a great respect for the English language and for its proper use. I think it is a disgrace that using unicase has become so acceptable in our modes of written communication.

I always make it a point to capitalize proper nouns and the first letter of the first word of a sentence when corresponding via any means. I really hope that our young people don't lose the ability to recognize when a word needs to be capitalized because of their flippant use of the language.

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