Re: Greek curled beta in Unicode code chart

From: Alexej Kryukov (
Date: Sun Jul 03 2005 - 17:56:50 CDT

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    On Sunday 03 July 2005 21:36, John Hudson wrote:
    > This is still no reason to use a different codepoint from that for
    > the standard beta. Using smart font technology, one can contextually
    > substitute the appropriate form at the beginning of words.

    Well, there would be no problem if such a codepoint had never
    existed. However, curled beta is already encoded. You may say that
    it was added in order to support legacy encodings, that one should
    not use this glyph at all, and so on. Well, I don't argue. The
    problem is that, once a glyph is present in a code chart, its
    form greatly influences font designers. There are already dozens
    of fonts with curly beta similar to Latin script "b", not because
    this shape is really appropriate to the corresponding font
    design, but just because it is shown in Unicode.

    > In an
    > OpenType font, this would be done with the Contextual Alternates
    > <calt> feature.

    I think, "calt" is not very convenient for this purpose, because
    one should consider all possible contexts, i. e. in our case just all
    letters of the Greek alphabet, including their accented variants.
    So I supposed a combination of the "medi" and "fina" tags might
    be more appropriate (but a user should not forgot to enable them
    both at the same time). Another possibility is to replace all
    occurrences of standard beta with its curly form using the
    "aalt" feature, and then convert it back to the standard form
    at the beginnings of words by applying the "init" feature. As you
    can see, there are several possible solutions, and none is
    perfect. So a user may just prefer typing U+03D0 directly in
    order to avoid all these difficulties...

    > Regarding the 'correct' look of U+03D0, I think the version shown in
    > the Unicode charts is an adequate form of the cursive beta, and the
    > difference in detail to which you point is simply a stylistic
    > variation in particular typefaces.

    Well, I have already confessed that *sometimes* the form shown in
    unicode is possible. However, note that:

    -- The French typographic rule in question is a legacy of older
    (18th -- early 19th century) typesetting traditions. So any book
    were this rule is applied has a specific "charm" of the olden

    -- All typefaces, inherited from that time or designed later
    especially for typesetting classical Greek (of course I mean
    only those commonly used both in Greece and France) included
    curly beta with disjoined loops;

    -- The form currently shown in the code chart was introduced
    only in some recently hellenized Roman fonts (of course it may well
    be based on some handwriting shapes, but that's another matter).

    I think, from the point above should be clear, which version
    should be treated as a preferred form, and which just as a
    stylistic variation.

    > I wouldn't object to the change
    > that you suggest, but I don't think it is necessary.

    I also thought it is not very important, until I compared ALL
    publicly available and some commercial fonts designed for
    typesetting classical Greek and realized that practically
    none of them has curly beta with an acceptable shape. The
    problem is not only with the position of the upper loop, but
    just with the fact that two forms of beta shown in Unicode
    are quite similar, causing an illusion that curly beta
    may be obtained by applying some modifications to the
    standard form. If you only see how ugly the resulting glyph looks
    in some quite nice fonts... In fact it would be really much better
    if all these font designers just implemented U+03D0 as a
    reference to U+03B2.

    > By the way, I believe there is also a French convention regarding the
    > use of the cursive theta at the beginning of words, yes?

    Well, I have an impression that I really have seen such a convention
    applied in some books printed in 19th century. However, it is
    surely not used in modern French editions, and French manuals of
    Greek language don't mention it. Yannis Haralambous mentions that
    were was a similar rule for omega-shaped pi, but... Generally
    speaking, I would be quite happy if it was possible to restore some
    features of 18th century Greek typography, which knew much more
    alternate shapes and contextual ligatures. However, now I want
    at least to preserve the only such feature, which really survived until

    Alexej Kryukov <akrioukov at newmail dot ru>
    Moscow State University
    Historical Faculty

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