Re: Is there any unambiguous vowel length mark code point for classicists?

From: Jukka K. Korpela (
Date: Sat Oct 23 2010 - 07:29:04 CDT

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    John W Kennedy wrote:

    > On Oct 22, 2010, at 10:06 AM, Győző Dobner wrote:
    >> I would like to know if there is any combining diacritical that
    >> can be added after vowel characters to denote vowel length as
    >> distinguished from syllable length

    The Unicode Standard does not specify which notation be used but just
    defines and encodes characters that are used in different notations. The
    most commonly used combining diacritic to indicate vowel length e.g. in
    Latin texts is U+0304 COMBINING MACRON.

    However, it is common, and advisable on typographic grounds, to use
    precomposed characters such as U+0100 “ā” LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A WITH
    MACRON. The precomposed characters are usually more widely supported by
    software, since a program just has to output a glyph as defined in a font,
    instead of the fairly complex process of positioning a diacritic mark (many
    programs still often fail to do such things properly—if they produce a
    decent “ā”, the “Ā” may be horrendous). Moreover, a precomposed character
    has been designed by a typographer, instead of being the result of an
    algorithmic process.

    Indicating syllable length in poetry discussions is more problematic. I have
    seen a syllable‐wide macron being used for long syllables and a breve mark,
    typically horizontally centered above a short syllable. This appears to go
    above the level of codes characters: it is information presented graphically
    as associated with text, but not as part of the text (in the same sense that
    e.g. a macron on a letter is). Unicode has double diacritics that span over
    (or below) two characters, but that’s really not the same thing.

    > You could employ the macron for intrinsic vowel length and the
    > triangular colon (U+02D0) for syllable length.

    U+02D0 “ː” MODIFIER LETTER TRIANGULAR COLON is a spacing letter, not a
    combining mark, and the only use of it is, as far I as I know, in IPA, where
    it unambiguously denotes vowel length in pronunciation, not syllable length.
    In dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference material, U+003A “:”
    COLON is often used for the same purpose, but in separate pronunciation
    guides or hints, not as inserted into normal text.

    > I'd think most people
    > would read that easily without even needing an explanation.

    Hardly, but if you e.g. teach Latin, then your readers can be assumed to
    know the use of macrons to indicate vowel length, if you are not writing an
    elementary textbook. On the other hand, it doesn’t really take much space
    and time to write a short explanation. The good rule of thumb for notations
    is: use self‐explanatory notations, and explain them. ☺


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