Re: AW: Ligatures fi and ffi

From: Asmus Freytag (
Date: Wed Jun 01 2005 - 20:08:50 CDT

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    At 10:14 AM 6/1/2005, Jukka K. Korpela wrote:
    >Subject: Re: AW: Ligatures fi and ffi
    >On Wed, 1 Jun 2005, Hans Aberg wrote:
    > > Suppose that we today started afresh, defining a universal character
    > > set with the intent to enable semantically correct electronic writing
    > > of natural languages.
    >We won't, since we want to be compatible with existing bulk of data in
    >digital format. But as a thought experiment...

    Agreeing with Jukka's sentiment here, but and supporting his statement:

    > > The ligatures would not be needed to be added
    > > at all, as long as there are simple rules for computing which
    > > ligatures or other renderings to use, because it would be much better
    > > to let the computer program to compute the correct rendering.
    >No, that's not correct. The use of optional ligatures cannot be reasonably
    >decided on algorithmic grounds alone. Whether you use a ligature for "fi"
    >or for "st" is a stylistic choice. If you say that ligatures would not be
    >needed at character level at all, you are saying that typographic styling
    >must be handled elsewhere. While that's surely a possible view, and shared
    >by many, it is far from self-evident.

    It's actually worse than that. In some typographic traditions, such as
    typesetting German in Fraktur, you have the situation that the semantics
    of the word define whether or not the style (in this case Fraktur) requires
    a ligature or prohibits it.

    If the information about ligatures is left to a separate layer, and can
    be separated from the text, it cannot be reconstituted without human
    intervention - and potentially not fully faithfully unless the original
    author can be consulted.

    >Drawing lines between orthography and typography is sometimes very

    Indeed. This is one of the reasons why people who persist in trying
    to derive a 'pure' implementation of an abstract encoding model will
    be bound to fail.

    >It can well be argued that in English, the letter combination
    >"ae" (in words of Greek or Latin origin) can be written as a ligature
    >with no change in meaning, as a purely stylistic matter. On the other
    >hand, in some languages, such a "ligature" is definitely a character on
    >its own.

    "Style" is a term that's a bit vague. There are several aspects to it.

    One is a the selection of a consistent appearance, for example when someone
    selects the typeface(s) for the various elements in a structured document
    (think book design).

    Another is the (personal) choice between equivalent renditions of the same
    characters. This may, in turn be systematic or vary ad-hoc in the document.
    Not all that long ago, (compared to the entire history of writing) such
    personal variability was considered quite acceptable down to the spelling
    level. Vestiges of this persist in commercial and personal names, but
    even there, the trend is towards more uniformity (I don't alternate my
    last name between Freitag and Freytag, but 250 years ago both might have
    been equally acceptable).


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