Re: German ligatures

From: Otto Stolz (
Date: Tue Nov 06 2007 - 04:07:44 CST

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    Philippe Verdy had written:
    > In fact, the rule that determines if syllable break are
    > disallowed is based on radicals, not on syllables...

     From the original context, I guess, Philippe meant to write
    "the rule that determines if ligatures are disallowed...".

    Hence, I had replied:
    > True. (I prefer to call those radicals "constituents".)

    Michael Maxwell wrote:
    > As a linguist, I'm not sure I understand either term-
    > And a linguistic 'constituent' can be at any level

    Sorry for not being explicit enough. I meant "constituent of a compound word";
    as will become clear, in the sequel, this holds also for prefixed words.

    German allows for compound words to be formed by the speaker/author,
    on the fly, in situations where an English speaker would use
    attributes, or adverbs. Example.
    - English: "I am not a morning person."
    - German: "Ich bin kein Morgenmensch", "Ich bin ein Morgenmuffel", or
       "Ich bin eine Nachteule".
    In this example, a noun is used attributively (in English), or as
    the determinative constituent (in German), and another noun is used
    as the noun (in English), or the basic constituent (in German). There
    are many other possibilities for compound words, in German: the basic
    constituent could likewise be an adjective, or a verb, and the de-
    terminative constituent can be virtually anything.

    The official German spelling rules,
    <>, devote its
    chapter B (9 pages) to this topic.

    > My *guess* as to what people are saying about German is that a word
    > can be broken (hyphenated?) across lines (and perhaps more relevantly
    > to this discussion of ligatures, will not be undergo ligature formation)
    > at morpheme boundaries.

    Chapter F (3 pages) of the official German spelling rules cover the hyphenation
    (breaking a word across lines). The basic rules are:
    - a compound word, or a prefixed word, may be hyphenated between its constituents,
       (but there is no similar rule for the suffixes used for word-derivation or
    - each constituent (i. e. stem + suffixes, if any), may be hyphenated between
       its syllables. However, hyphenations should not mislead the reader: "An-alphabet"
       (illiterate person), not: "Anal-phabet" ("anal" = anal); "Sprech-erziehung"
       (pronounciation training), not: "Sprecher-ziehung" (could be construed as:
       dragging a speaker); "Ur-instinkt" (basic instinct), not: "Urin-stinkt" (in
       two words: urine stinks).

    The ligaturing rules are not contained in the official German orthography
    rules, but rather in orthographic dictionaries (e. g. Duden, Wahrig), and
    in training material for typographers. There is a wide consensus, that no
    ligature may be formed across the boundery between the constituents of a
    prefixed, or compound, word. Even Cassell's English-German Dictionary
    (printed in London & New York) complies with it (my copy is from 1978).

    As Asmus Freytag has written,
    > Because of the way compound words work, they do require that the reader
    > mentally break (most of) them apart when reading and every subtle bit of
    > help from typography is welcome in that task.
    Let me remind English speaking readers that, in most cases, English has
    a word gap in the place corresponding to a German non-ligation point.
    So, grant us Germans our non-ligation rule, at least ;-)

    Best wishes,
       Otto Stolz

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