Re: Medievalist ligature character in the PUA

From: John H. Jenkins (
Date: Mon Dec 14 2009 - 13:59:14 CST

  • Next message: Julian Bradfield: "Re: Medievalist ligature character in the PUA"

    On Dec 14, 2009, at 11:59 AM, André Szabolcs Szelp wrote:

    > On Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 6:50 PM, John H. Jenkins <> wrote:
    > From what I've read in this thread, we're dealing with a case where people reproducing medieval texts can't find all the ligatures they need to reproduce the visible content of the texts in the fonts they want to use. If medievalists are able to send texts to one another via plain-text email and understand what the text is supposed to be, then these ligatures don't belong in plain text. The people to bug would be the font vendors.
    > I've always wondered, why philology is preferred to diplomatics. The researchers studying the art of writing the employment or non-employment of ligatures is at least as important a plain-text distinction, as it is important to a philologist whether the word in question is fickle or ſickle (=sickle).

    Unicode's original intent was to provide a common way of supporting the needs of the average, modern-day computer users. It was originally assumed that people with specialized needs (such as typesetting math, working with dead languages, or accurately representing the visual appearance of older texts) would develop a common way of using the PUA to interchange data.

    This assumption has proven to be false, because most people with specialized needs would really prefer to have a standard way of doing their work, and because the Internet and Web have created a world where data is visible to everybody and not just people who have made the effort to work out a common PUA use.

    For modern Latin typography—and certainly for almost all day-to-day use of the Latin script—ligation is a stylistic choice and font-specific. I certainly don't feel any need to specify which ligatures to use when typing this email, or when setting up a meeting, writing my Christmas letter, or playing an online game, and I certainly don't read text closely enough to even notice when ligatures are being used and when they're not. (Well, I do tend to find the ct and st ligatures intrusive and ugly when they show up.) Almost everybody almost all of the time will be content to just let the computer do whatever is necessary to make the text look nice.

    This does create a problem for the people who *do* want and need to be very specific about where ligatures are being formed, even when dealing with mass-media forms such as email and Web pages. Unicode has therefore added the use of ZWJ and ZWNJ as a means of specifying this level of control in plain text when it is necessary. The expectation is that this is an exceptional mechanism for exceptional needs.

    As with other mechanisms Unicode has developed over the years to deal with specialized needs (using combining marks for unusual accented letters and the use of variation sequences in Han springs to mind), the onus then falls on the font developers and rendering engines to add support for these features. And sometimes there is a significant lag before everybody catches up. For some specialties, there's a significant lag before *anybody* catches up.

    From Apple's perspective, our rendering engine supports the use of ZWNJ and ZWJ as Latin ligature controls if the fonts do, and we do make an effort to keep our own fonts updated appropriately. We also provide free tools for font developers to use in order to add this functionality to their font.

    Unfortunately, the only font we ship with a really rich set of ligatures is Zapfino, and it's not really the kind of font a medievalist would typically use. If, however, there is a font which has the right data in it, it should work just fine on Mac OS.

    John H. Jenkins

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