Re: Accessing alternate glyphs from plain text (from Re: Draft Proposal to add Variation Sequences for Latin and Cyrillic letters)

From: William_J_G Overington (
Date: Tue Aug 10 2010 - 02:52:18 CDT

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    Thank you for replying.
    On Saturday, 7 August 2010, Doug Ewell <> wrote:
    > I think the "alternate ending glyph" is supposed to be
    > specified in more detail than that. The example Asmus
    > gave was U+222A UNION with serifs. Even though the exact
    > proportions of the serifs may differ from one font to the
    > next, this is still a relatively precise and constrained
    > definition, unlike "Latin small letter e with some
    > 'alternate ending' which is completely up to the discretion
    > of the font designer."
    > Because of stylistic differences among calligraphers—this
    > is a calligraphy question, not a poetry question—it is
    > hard to imagine how this aspect of the proposal would not
    > result in an unbounded number of glyphic variations.
    > 'e' is not the only letter to which calligraphers like to
    > attach special endings, and a swash cross-stroke is not the
    > only special ending that calligraphers like to attach to
    > 'e'.
    It seems to me that there are at least two ways to have an alternate ending e. One is to extend the cross-stroke to the right beyond the e and end the extension with a flourish of some sort, another is to extend the lower line out to the right and end that extension in some way. I can imagine that a proposal would lead to wanting to be able to express a choice of the two, or more, possible variants of a letter, should the font have alternate glyphs of both types. Then there is the question of what is to happen if the requested one is not available in the font: does the other alternate glyph become displayed or does the basic character glyph become displayed?
    > I'd like to see an FAQ page on "What is Plain Text?"
    > written primarily by UTC officers. That might go a
    > long way toward resolving the differences between William's
    > interpretation of what plain text is, which people like me
    > think is too broad, and mine, which some people have said is
    > too narrow.
    That is a good idea.
    Thank you also for the careful precision with which you describe the situation of who thinks what.
    Yet is producing such a document an impossible task? Some years ago there was a suggestion in this mailing list to produce an Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page about what should not be encoded. Is the document that is now suggested effectively the same thing?
    I thought of an analogy of trying to produce a FAQ document of "What is art?". Such a document produced in 1550 might well have been very different from one produced in 1910, and those different from one produced in 1995 and those all different from one produced in 2010. Maybe the analogy is not perfect, but it seems to convey the meaning to me that if a "What is Plain Text?" document is produced, with a view to being able to decide what could and could not in the future be encoded in Unicode as plain text, then it could quickly become either out of date or a restriction of progress in technology. The recent encoding of the emoticons shows a dramatic change in what can be encoded as plain text from the situation some years ago. Some of my ideas have been refuted as not being suitable for encoding in plain text. Yet the refutation all seems to be based on unchangeable rules from about twenty years ago.
    Yet change is part of progress.
    I remember once being referred, in this mailing list, to an ISO document about encoding. The document made reference to a definition of character within the same document.
    The document was ISO/IEC TR 15285.
    I have found that the document is available here (the link used at the previous time no longer works).

    The introduction includes the following.
    This Technical Report is written for a reader who is familiar with the work of SC 2 and SC 18. Readers without this background should first read Annex B, “Characters”, and Annex C, “Glyphs”.
    end quote
    Annex B has the following.
    In ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993, SC 2 defines a character as:
    A member of a set of elements used for the organisation, control, and representation of data.
    end quote
    On the accessing of alternate glyphs from plain text, I feel that as there are 256 variation selectors that could be used with each of the Latin letters, then, provided that no harm is done to those who choose not to use them, that some should be encoded so that alternate glyphs can be accessed from fonts.
    Some readers might find the following of interest.

    It is a thread entitled "An unusual glyph of an Esperanto character in the Arno font".
    I had been looking through the following document.

    I had found an alternate ending glyph for the h circumflex character and had then tried to produce some text where it could be used.
    I felt that it was a situation of typography inspiring creative writing.
    Readers who enjoyed that thread might also like the fourth post in the following thread about the Maestro Pro font.

    William Overington
    10 August 2010

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