Re: [OpenType] Proposal: Ligatures w/ ZWJ in OpenType

From: David Possin (
Date: Fri Jul 19 2002 - 16:56:04 EDT


let me go back in my personal programming history and tell about two
cases where I was involved with German typesetters. Please excuse as
this might get a little longer.

In the early '80s I was implementing and editing system on a Rair
Supercomputer with ConcurrentCP/M86 (cute!) at one of the major German
printing houses in Essen, Germany. They printed many high-qualty glossy
magazines there. We used German-ASCII (7-bit) for the text, which got
stuufed with print directives (macros?) using a programmer's editor, I
think I chose a CompuView (?) Editor because it had the best single-key
macro support. All commands for the typesetting machine were entered
here _except_ ligature control. When I asked for the reason I was told
that the proofreaders (!) performed that task as final step prior to
printing after proofreading, because only then valid ligatures could be
inserted, which made sense, as that was also when hyphenantion
correction and line alignment was performed.

The proofreaders were a rare breed, I talked to them often. They were
master typesetters with a degree in German linguistics. When I asked
them which rules they followed I always got the reply there are no
strict rules like those for Fraktur, we do what looks best in each case
out of experience. I often watched them with fascination how they made
ad-hoc changes turning text into an artform.

When I was editor for the German AutoCad and Compaq magazines a few
years later I was wondering how they did ligatures there. They didn't
do the manual ligatures anymore, and only a few very basic ones were
automatically inserted after final proofreading, line the was
automatically adjusted, but no new hyphenation was allowed. Needless to
say, the visual quality suffered. I was told by the print house there
are two reasons it isnt done manually anymore: 1. It is too expensive,
2. There aren't enough knowledgable proofreaders around anymore.

From the short research I have done there are only two real rules left
today, combined words may not use ligatures for the combining two
characters, and hyphenation must be able to break and change a

Examples: Hof + Tor = Hoftor (no ligature allowed for ft)
          Stall + Laterne = Stallaterne (note that 3 'l's become 2)
old German rule: Straße hyphanated = Stras- se (because ß was a

Now, if you use Fraktur, the whole issue changes. If anybody has
interest, I can dive into the Fraktur documents I have found and create
a list of ligatures and rules in English. Whenever I get back to
Germany I will go on a search for one of the old typesetters and try to
capture his experience and knowledge.


--- John Hudson <> wrote:
> At 12:14 PM 19-07-02, wrote:
> > >Basically it says at the end you don't need ligatures anymore and
> if
> > >you really need it, leave it to the experts, they have a gut
> feeling,
> > >as nobody understands the old rules anymore. The author is very
> firm
> > >about Americans trying to understand German ligatures: Don't even
> try!
> >
> >This seems to be supporting the suggestion that default rendering
> behaviour
> >for German should be that no standard Latin ligatures should appear.
> It suggests that German ligation should be described by trained
> German
> typesetters who understand the rules, and that this human-held
> knowledge
> should be recorded before the last of these professionals dies.
> John Hudson
> Tiro Typeworks
> Vancouver, BC
> Language must belong to the Other -- to my linguistic community
> as a whole -- before it can belong to me, so that the self comes to
> its
> unique articulation in a medium which is always at some level
> indifferent to it. - Terry Eagleton

Dave Possin
Globalization Consultant

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