Re: ligature usage - WAS: How do we find out what assigned code points aren't normally used in text?

From: Stephan Stiller <>
Date: Sun, 11 Sep 2011 20:06:58 -0700

>> From my background I never perceived a need, but I guess I (and most
>> people??) wouldn't really mind the tradition coming back (in Germany)
>> if things are designed well (which is the job of the font designer)
>> and for the user everything is handled automatically in the
>> background by the available technology ...
> Which cannot happen for German, as it is one of the languages where
> the same letter pair may or may not have a ligature based on the
> *meaning* of the word - something that you can't automate.

You are absolutely right!

> We had famous discussions on this list on this subject. Take an "st"
> ligature. There are two meanings for the German word "Wachstube", only
> one allows the st ligature. A human would have to decide when the
> ligature is appropriate. (Incidentally, the same goes for hyphenation
> for this word, one meaning allows a hyphen after the "s" the other
> does not).
> Certain layout processes, in certain cases, in certain languages,
> simply can't be fully automated.

And interestingly, there is a crucial difference between ligatures and
hyphenation in this regard: While a conservative processor could simply
omit hyphenation in ambiguous cases (potentially leading to suboptimal
linebreaking though), a decision ought to be made for ligatures if one
uses a font requiring them. But then, although getting ligatures wrong
in this case is categorically somehow "worse" than too-wide inter-word
spacing, who knows which visual effect actually has more adverse effect
on the reading process ...

There are two ways of generalizing from a situation where a locale tends
to preferably use fonts without (and not necessitating) ligatures: If
fonts with ligatures are introduced ...
(1) [generalizing: "we're not using ligatures"] ... the community is
going to find it distracting because it is not used to the ligatures,
plus there may be inherent problems with this for the respective locale
(2) [generalizing: "presently used fonts don't use ligatures"] ... the
community won't find it distracting because good fonts will do ligatures
(while the great majority of laymen might neither notice nor care ...)

This theoretical ambiguity in generalizing simply arises from the fact
that "not using ligatures" is equivalent to "not using fonts
having/necessitating ligatures" in Germany.

Lots of the English-language discussion of ligatures I've seen tacitly
assumes that "good" typesetting with "good" fonts" "should" use
ligatures in certain cases, and I just disagree with this assumption.
Well, forgive me if maybe I'm just getting the wrong impression, being a
layman on this matter.

Received on Sun Sep 11 2011 - 22:10:30 CDT

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