Re: Contra Universal Writing Systems

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Mon Aug 23 1999 - 03:27:44 EDT

Gregg Reynolds wrote on 1999-08-23 04:17 UTC:
> "Bilingual Typography", by Alistair Crawford, in "Visible Langauge",
> Vol. XXI, nbr 1, Winter 1987.
> From the article:
> "The shape and style of the typefaces used in the visual
> presentation of any language must be determined, not by habit or
> expediency, but by the visual characteristics of that language."
> "'Technological' typefaces, in fact, reflect a monopolistic cultural
> arrogance on a grander scale than previously seen."

There is certainly some truth in that. Practical examples:

  - German has capitalized nouns, therefore capital characters appear
    quite frequently in the text. In English on the other hand, a
    capital letter only denotes the start of a new sentence, a name,
    or shouting corporate lawyers. Many good German fonts have therefore
    less prominent capitals. They are usually a bit less wide then
    what is common practice in fonts designed for English publications.
    The dominance of fonts designed for English writing markets has
    certainly had a negative impact on the quality of typography found
    in German texts today (except for some high-quality publishers who
    still care about such issues). Even horrible constructs like a
    beta-shaped sharp-s U+00df become acceptable today (as opposed to
    a sharp s that is correctly shaped as a ligature of s + long s
    (U+0073 + U+017f))

  - The kerning of some fonts is often only carefully tested for
    the small subset of letter pairs that is common in English.
    Other languages have a different subset of common digraphs
    and fonts that were originally designed for the US market sometimes
    fail badly.

Unicode 2.0 errata:

Would it be possible to add to LATIN SMALL LETTER SHARP S U+00DF a
cross-reference to U+0073 + U+017f in the Unicode 3.0 book? The current
cross-reference to beta and the glyph used for sharp s (just a beta
without long leg) really gives the reader (and font designer) the
impression that the sharp s is a glyph variant of the beta, which would
be definitely wrong. Making the reader aware that the sharp s derives
historically from a U+0073 + U+017f ligature will hopefully lead font
designers without experience in German typography to coming up with more
appropriate glyphs than the common beta variant.


Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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