Re: Why blackletter letters?

From: Gerrit Ansmann <>
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2013 12:39:15 +0200

First of all, I am afraid that fraktur and blackletter get mixed up. So just that everybody talks about the same things:
• Fraktur: the predominant typeface for the German language from the 16th century until 1941, which has also been used by many other languages for roughly the same time period. Still used today, e.g., in German-speaking countries to make things look old-fashioned and elswhere to make things look German. (This one:
• Blackletter: “gebrochene Schriften” (broken fonts) in German. A range of scripts and typefaces that originated from the Corlingian minuscle and is characterised by its broken strokes. These scripts include medieval handwriting, Textura, Schwabacher, Fraktur and Sütterlin. (These ones:

On Wed, 11 Sep 2013 00:06:32 +0200, Philippe Verdy <> wrote:

> IPA is a well-cntrained environment which does not attempt to reproduce an orthography or grammatical rules of the language, but only its phonology at best (using conventional "perceived" equivalences between relized phonemes, even if there are many exceptions probably in all languages, depending on ontext of use where disambiguation is still needed). Phonetic notations are completely orthogonal to writing systems, so they don't interact and in fact they are typesetted in compeltely distinct environments which are easily separable (except if looking at a basic OCR or only a plain-text representation without conventional syntaxic rules suchas delimiting punctuations).

So? The blackletter letters in Latin Extended E (and everything else therein) are also for phonology (of German dialects), if I am not fully mistaken.

> On theopposite the Fraktur script has its own distinctive behavior, with lot of complex and historic conventions, sometimes contraditing with each other, but more frequently contradicting with the modern use (or Classical Roman use) of the Latin script

Fraktur (not blackletter) has only two special conventions that I am aware of which were (almost) never used in antiqua scripts:
• The r rotunda (ꝛ). This can be properly realized in unicode with the respective character or with an intelligent font feature and the occasional ZWNJ. Also this got out of use long before Fraktur did.
• The four “required” ligatures ch, ck, ſt and tz, which were never separated in typesetting. These can be realised in the very same way as antiqua ligatures.
(The long s (ſ) is not one of them since there were many Antiqua text, which also used it with the same rules.)

> many modern extensions of the script are simply impossible to reproduce clearly in the Fraktur script, […]

So? Not all of Unicode’s latin can be reproduced in italics or small-caps fonts either.

> […] some features of Fraktur are unified where they are not in the Latin script.

I do not know, what you are talking about.

> There are so many caveats that most medieval texts stillcannot be reliably rendered if the modern extensions of the Latin script are applied (and it's not reasonnable tothink that these extensions will be disabled, their current use everywhere is too much frequent, including in documents that frequently mix now Fraktur texts and Latin texts).

This may be true for medieval handwriting and may be even early printing. However, I have been aiming at creating a blackletter font ( that is able to reproduce everything that has ever been printed with Fraktur. So far, I have not encountered anything that cannot be realised with Unicode¹. If you know of any such thing, I would be very interested in it.

¹ With exception of some special character (w with stroke) that has been used in at least one early Sorbian print and that is missing in unicode. But that’s just a missing character, nothing complex.

> These incompatiblities are so huge that even writing modern German in Fraktur requires a orthography than in modern Latin (some examples include the modern umlauts which were plain letters in Fraktur and that have been unified with diaeresis, modern sharp S as a single letter where it was a ligature of two letters in Fraktur, and the many ligatures and abreviations inFraktur that simply no longer exist in the modern Latin alphabet (even with its extensions).

As already said, I would be very interested in any Fraktur letters or abbrevations that cannot be realised with Unicode.

As for writing modern German in Fraktur: Since 1996, there are no official rules regarding the Fraktur script anymore, so it’s perfectly possible to “just change the font” and this is what is mostly done nowadays. There certainly is no difference between Fraktur umlauts and Antiqua umlauts or the Antiqua ß (sharp s) and the Fraktur ß that have to be addressed by encoding in any way.

If you want to use the long s (ſ) with its historical complex spelling rules, you can’t just change the font, but that’s not a Fraktur-only issue, since this character was also used in Antiqua scripts.

The history of the umlauts is very basically ae → aͤ → ä (for lowercase) and Ae → Ä (for uppercase), but at least the latter also holds for Antiqua scripts. Either way, nothing that cannot be realised with Unicode as it is.

The Eszett (ß), while originating from a ligature, had orthographic relevance from the time spelling “was invented” in Germany² – this is why the Antiqua-ß was created in the first place. Either way, there are other latin characters that somewhat are a ligature, like w, æ and œ, and this is no issue either, or is it? Again, I do not know of anything that cannot be realised with Unicode as it is.

² There were very few loanwords, e.g. “ſzeniſch” which contained the letters ſz and here no ligature was used.

> Other examples include the desunifications of many accents in the modern Latin script.

I have no idea what you are talking about.

> The desunification of the two scripts would not cause a major problem, if we use transliteration schemes, because these schemes will just continue using hueristics that are applied without any indication in texts currently encoded with a single script. So nobofy is really satisfied and we still have to live with interoperable OpenType fonts and rendere which only know the modern Latin rules but ignores compeltely the Fraktur rules, and with incompatible fonts specifically tweaked for Fraktur but that miserably fail to render the modern script correctly if Fraktur features are enabled.

I am not sure that I understood what you are implying, but:
As already mentioned, I am working on a Fraktur font (, which to my knowledge can be used to reproduce any historical Fraktur text. If you use it to render a modern text, there are no “miserable failures” happening. You will have some unusual ligatures (ch, ck and tz) but there is no rule against this (and most readers will not even notice, just like they do not notice ligatures in Antiqua scripts).

> For now the inly solution requires enabling specific OpenType features, but this requires document formats where these features can be selected and enabled/disabled on demand. Fraktur texts still cannot be rendered correctly from a pure plain-text representation.
> […]
> Of course there will be people attempting to render and handle the modern Latin script with fonts that *look like* Fraktur, but they'll do it using the modern Latin rules, not the correct rules for Fraktur. IF they use then a transliteration scheme, this will work correctly most of the time but not always. Transliterators sometime need to perform arbitrary choices between options, even though the original Fraktur texts had theur own orthographic rules (or historic exceptions).

Again, I would be very interested in any Fraktur text, that cannot be represented correctly with unicode as it is (or my font, v.s.). You do not need to switch on and off any features, you just need ligatures, which can be enabled by default. You might need the occasional ZWNJ to avoid an automatic ligature, but in that respect there is no difference to Antiqua fonts with ligatures.

Gerrit Ansmann
Received on Wed Sep 11 2013 - 05:41:08 CDT

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