Re: Synonyms in Unicode Terminology

From: Rick McGowan (
Date: Wed Jan 27 1999 - 16:17:01 EST

Since John Cowan gave his take, I'll give my take...

- script / alphabet

A script is a collection of written symbols viewed as a unit. An alphabet
is the complete collection of such symbols used for a particular purpose,
such as a single language. Generally, "alphabet" implies that it is a
collection of units representing phonological units, rather than syllabic
units. The term "syllabary" is preferred for the latter. "Alphabet" is
often used in normal discourse to mean "script", but technically speaking in
the standard, they are different. The "Latin Alphabet" technically refers
ONLY to the subset of the "Latin Script" which is used to write the "Latin

- character set / repertoire

A repertoire is just a collection of specified entities. A character set is
a collection of such, for the purpose of being enumerated, and is typically
assigned to some sequence of integers. They're both rather vague. Just as
the "repertoire" of a fine mezzo-soprano is the collection of lieder she can
sing at will. The "repertoire" of a character set is the collection of
graphical or semantic entites it comprises.

- font / typeface / glyph collection

A typeface is a sort of abstract unified design of some script (or alphabet
or other symbology) for the purpose of printing or making visible; it must be
instantiated somehow. A font is an instance of a typeface, sometimes
referred to by a specific size, or weight. A glyph collection is a nominal
(or "abstract") collection of semantic entites, which may be represented by
instances of a font, or designed into a coherent unit as a typeface.

- glyph / glyph shape / glyph image / glyph representation

A glyph is a picture of a unit of writing. Sometimes it is considered to
involve a particular design, such as being part of a particular typeface,
sometimes it's thought to exist as a more abstract entity. A glyph shape is
very particularly the precise shape that a more abstract glyph takes in a
specified typeface. A glyph image is the pattern of bits (or lines or
outlines or ink) on a representational medium. A glyph representation is
synonymous with glyph shape.

What else?

Another term that I use a lot is "glyph complement" -- the abstract set of
entites in a particular font, enumerated in a specific sequence, and capable
of being designed in various typefaces or instantiated in various fonts. My
claim for implementations is that all our lives would be made easier if some
body set about standardizing glyph complements for various purposes, such as
for designing fonts of specific scripts, and so forth. (That is rather than
trying to define a universal glyph encoding, which is a doomed project.)

Well, I hope some of that is of interest...


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