Re: French typographic thin space (was: Fixed Width Spaces)

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Wed Mar 31 2004 - 11:21:04 EST

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    From: "Antoine Leca" <>
    > The French guides of styles (after all, we can use Unicode to write French
    > as well as English, can't we?) generally say that NBSP should not be
    > expanded on justification. I do not know right now (I miss access to
    > definitive references) if this is general to all non-breaking spaces,
    > including those that do have fixed-width per se, or if it specifically
    > applies to U+00A0. It should be outlined that non-breaking spaces occur
    > rather frequently in French (around several punctuation characters), and
    > because many word processors are not rich enough to encode it as it should
    > (i.e., as ZWNBSP+THSP+ZWNBSP, \uFEFF\u2009\uFEFF), well they encode it as
    > U+00A0 :-(.

    In fact the French typographic tradition for French is to use a THIN
    non-breaking space, which is not what NBSP encodes precisely, but what is used
    as a common APPROXIMATION simply because the THIN non-justifiable and
    non-breaking space is absent from legacu 8-bit sets (including ISO-8859-1,
    ISO-8859-15, Windows 1252, CP850, for the most widely used ones).

    The rule is to use this thins space (called "une fine" or "une espace fine" in
    French) before composed punctuations with two separated glyphs: the colon,
    semi-colon, exclamation point and interrogation point, and between and the
    quoted phrase, and between the quoted phrase and .

    A similar rule exists also in traditional English typography, however there's a
    small variant here: the French thin space is a bit wider than the English one,
    so the best approximation for French is to use NBSP, and for English to use
    nothing (also because most fonts made by English typographers already
    incorporate the additional very thin space within the spacing width of the
    punctuation mark)...

    There are pros and cons with the NBSP approximation used in French. Some have
    argued that it would be better to not encode anything here, and instead to use
    fonts containing punctuation marks that already include the appropriate
    additional spacing within the glyph spacing width.

    Still, many French typography composition engines (notably those by newspapers,
    magazines, guides and diaries -- for example the French product "Calligrame"
    distributed by X-Media in various countries, or other composition engines used
    by regional or national newspapers) already recognize the sequence
    NBSP+punctuation or punctuation+NBSP and interpret the NBSP code as meaning the
    presence of the French "espace fine", so printed books, newspapers and magazines
    already apply the correct style (these newspapers in Frnace are already used
    since long to use SGML to create their laser masters, and to use quite advanced,
    precise nd coherent stylesheets, that are part of the "signature" of the
    publication, i.e. its "maquette" design, that also incorporates many custom
    logographs and symbols, notably in dictionnaries, guides and newspapers).

    So yes the "correct" code for French should be ZWNBSP+THSP+ZWNBSP (but beware of
    the difference of spacing between the English and French thin space, with one at
    1/6 em, the other at 1/8 em...)

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