Re: Too narrowly defined: DIVISION SIGN & COLON

From: Julian Bradfield <>
Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2012 11:33:32 +0100

On 2012-07-11, Eric Muller <> wrote:
> On 7/11/2012 9:20 AM, Julian Bradfield wrote:
>> Unicode is about plain text. TeX is about fine typesetting.
> Too narrowly defined: Unicode.
> I think Unicode is not just for plain text, but rather concerns itself
> with only the lower layer of /any /text system.

According to the Unicode standard, "The Unicode Standard encodes plain
text." If you don't agree, you should get the text of the standard

> When it's plain text, Unicode has the burden of solving all the
> problems. When it's a richer system, there is the issue of cooperation
> between the layers, a situation that Unicode cannot ignore.

Unicode can ignore it - it's the lowest layer. It should leave the
problems entirely to the layers above it. In all those cases where it
deviates from the principle of plain text (Arabic shaping,
mathematical alphanumeric symbols, and so on), it should not attempt
to dictate what the higher, and more intelligent, layers do with the
not quite so plain text. The people who write those layers
(e.g. designers of LaTeX mathematics packages) know better than
Unicode what their users are trying to achieve.

In practice, no working mathematician is going to use the mathematical
alphanumerical symbols to write maths in (La)TeX, because it's
fantastically inconvenient compared to the usual way (supplementary
plane support is far from universal, and most publishers won't have
the appropriate TeX unicode support; and as I've said in another post,
the Unicode mathematical symbol model does not match how one uses
mathematical symbols.

Most mathematicians don't even use the existing Unicode BMP
facilities; if I'm having an email discussion, I write
"do you think we need the \alpha_i in that definition?", not
"do you think we need the αᵢ in that definition?". I don't believe
I've *ever* had a working mathematical email in which anything other
than TeX and its control sequences were used.

Long ago, when I was a student and had too much time to spare, I
implemented Emacs functionality which replaced common control
sequences by high-bit characters, and had a font to display them, so
that I could edit files semi-wysiwyg - the functionality that is now
provided by the xsymbol package. Do you know what? I gave it up after
a couple of years; it was more hassle than just typing and reading the
control sequences as usual.

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Received on Thu Jul 12 2012 - 05:37:38 CDT

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