Unicode Ruby

From: Dean Snyder (dean.snyder@jhu.edu)
Date: Sat Dec 18 2004 - 13:52:53 CST

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    Can anyone recommend common and/or cross-platform technologies that
    render Unicode ruby text in ways other than simply enclosing it within
    trailing parentheses (in other words, technologies that would place it
    above the annotated text and in a smaller font size, as is typically done
    traditionally)? By technologies I'm thinking of things like internet
    browsers, email clients, word processors, desktop publishing programs,
    computer operating systems, and cross-platform programming platforms
    (like Java).


    So far I've only checked on Mac OS X 10.3.6 and found the following:

    Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and OmniWeb all display Unicode ruby
    in parentheses. (Internet Explorer does, however, display *HTML* ruby
    above and smaller.)

    Word Processors
    Nisus Writer Express, Mellel, and TextEdit all display Unicode ruby in
    parentheses. I don't know about the latest Microsoft Word, which I
    understand does some Unicode, but the previous one, of course, didn't
    even do Unicode at all.

    Email Clients
    PowerMail and Apple Mail use parentheses.

    Desktop Publishing/Graphics
    Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator (all CS) use parentheses.

    Computer Operating Systems
    I can only assume, based on application behavior, that the Mac OS X
    default rendering of Unicode ruby is with parentheses, but I haven't
    explicitly checked the API documentation for this yet. I am not qualified
    to comment on Windows XP or Linux.

    I haven't checked the various Java virtual machines yet, but plan to do so.

    I would be very interested if anyone could provide similar information
    for Windows and Linux.


    Frankly I am disappointed with the results so far. It seems like everyone
    has taken the easy and ugly way out. I'm particularly surprised and
    disappointed by InDesign, a great page layout and desktop publishing
    application. But I would also have thought that the browsers would have
    been motivated to do better; even Internet Explorer, which shows that it
    is both doable and desirable by implementing it for html ruby, punted
    when it came to Unicode ruby.

    Isn't this basically just unacceptable for Japanese readers? Do we really
    put out computer operating systems localized for Japanese users without
    OS support for super-posed ruby?

    Anyway, my interest is in applying the ruby mechanism to cuneiform text,
    where, similar to Japanese, there is a one-to-many relationship between
    any given single (ideographic) character and its many possible context-
    free realizations. It would be important not to clutter the visual
    cuneiform text with roman-transliterations in parentheses after every

    I know custom software can handle ruby any way it wants to, and I am
    working on such software, but at the same time it is very important that
    operating systems and major software do the right thing here - users do
    not want to keep their text isolated in custom applications. And, anyway,
    shouldn't this already be in place and ubiquitous given the importance of
    properly supporting the Japanese script?


    An interesting aside: it is particularly felicitous to note that the
    typical practice of rendering ruby text in smaller font sizes than the
    text it annotates happens to be a PERFECT match for the needs of
    rendering annotated cuneiform plain text. All one needs to do is to look
    at the visual complexity of cuneiform glyphs to realize that, in order to
    be distinguishable on foreseeable display technologies, cuneiform glyphs
    need to be rendered in relatively larger font sizes than, say, Roman
    text. And exactly analogous to the Japanese situation, the secondary
    glyphs used for annotation of cuneiform happen to be glyphically simpler
    that the primary glyphs thereby permitting the reduction in size that
    emphasizes their secondary nature. A nice coincidence the benefits of
    which cuneiformists will simply inherit - no work request will be added
    to anybody's agenda (any implementor that does the right thing for
    Japanese will, by definition, be doing the right thing for cuneiform).
    It's always nice when such unforeseen things happen.


    Dean A. Snyder

    Assistant Research Scholar
    Manager, Digital Hammurabi Project
    Computer Science Department
    Whiting School of Engineering
    218C New Engineering Building
    3400 North Charles Street
    Johns Hopkins University
    Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21218

    office: 410 516-6850
    cell: 717 817-4897

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