Re: Greek curled beta in Unicode code chart

From: John Hudson (
Date: Sun Jul 03 2005 - 20:46:18 CDT

  • Next message: Donald Z. Osborn: "Font companies serving academia/linguists"

    Alexej Kryukov wrote:

    > 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).

    But no rendering engines apply the <medi> and <fina> features for the Greek script. Trust
    me: <calt> is the correct way to handle this for the Greek script, and other Greek
    contextual rules, e.g. for accents in all-cap settings, are already implemented using this
    feature in some fonts.

    > 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
    > time.

    I think it is important to understand the origins and development of this cursive
    alternate form, otherwise one ends up with a false nostalgia (which is already evident in
    one of the typefaces to which you attacted our attention at

    The cursive beta form shown in these fonts is derived from that which appears in
    Renaissance cursive types of the Aldine model, which in turn derives from the Bazantine
    cursive manuscript style. This illustration


    shows the typical Renaissance cursive beta form (top) in the brevier size of the St
    Augustin Greek cut at Lyon by Robert Granjon in the 16th century. The same form is also
    found in the slightly early grecs du roi cut for the imprimerie royale by Claude Garamond.
    As you can see, in this form the lower bowl of the cursive beta is much smaller than the
    x-height (vertical alignment zones in the Byzanntine cursive model are less consistent
    than in later styles) and -- contrary to the examples shown at -- the strokes of both bowls are
    of roughly equal weight, conforming to the basic ductus of the design. Below the Granjon
    illustration is a recent Greek type in the Renaissance style (my own Clio Greek).

    The form of the cursive beta that is shown in all the types at is in the style of Romantic types
    of the mid-18th century. It is entirely appropriate to the first two families shown on
    that page, the Monotype 90 series and the Elsevier/Times fonts, both of which are derived
    from the Romantic types of the Didot family and their imitators. Other types in this style
    are the GFS Didot and GFS Bodoni families.

    The ductus of the Romantic types is based on an expansion model derived from split nib
    calligraphy, first made popular in the 18th century by engravers and then in type by the
    Didots in France and Giambattista Bodoni in Italy. A sharp, split steel nib produces thick
    or thin strokes based on a combination of pressure and direction, rather than the
    Renaissance broad nib ductus, which produces thick and thin strokes based on direction
    alone. This allows great variation in stroke weight, and results in the characteristic
    form of the cursive beta seen in these types, in which the lower bowl is larger and shares
    the characteristic stroke weight of bowls of other letters, while the upper bowl is much
    smaller and made with a barely modulated hairline stroke. This form of the cursive beta is
    entirely appropriate to Romantic types, but is in no way appropriate to all Greek types.
    In the examples shown at, I find
    the application of this model to Victor Scholderer's New Hellenic type quite bizarre. This
    is a typeface that deliberately references the pre-Aldine *non-cursive* types of the
    Complutensian Polyglot Bible. A cursive beta is out of place in this design -- Scholderer
    did not use one --, but even if one wanted to design one for it following the Romantic
    model is doubly anachronistic. This is what I mean by a 'false nostalgia': what is
    appropriate to a particular style of typeface popular in French publishing is being
    applied to types in which it makes no structural, stylistic or historical sense.

    The form of the cursive beta shown in the Unicode chart, in which the two bowls meet, is a
    more recent form; one of the notable things about it is that angle of the ductus is
    strongly Latinised, as is common in many recent Greek types (I don't like this trend, but
    that's another topic). It is an appropriate form for several styles of Greek types, and
    the decision about the form of this glyph should be made by the designer based upon
    knowledge of the historical styles of Greek writing and type and, crucially, understanding
    of the relationship of ductus to form. Yes, there may be some people making fonts who just
    look at the Greek Unicode block and copy the form they see there, without knowing whether
    it is appropriate to their particular type design. But changing the glyph in the chart to
    reflect the French Romantic model isn't going to cure anyone's ignorance: I don't think
    using that form inappropriately is any better than using the currently displayed form
    inappropriately. At the end of the day, people shouldn't be designing Greek type if they
    don't know anything about the development of the Greek letters and the norms of the
    various styles. There is a lot of published material on Greek palaeography, calligraphy
    and type design; there are lots of examples of 500+ years of Greek typography in
    university libraries. No one should be looking at the Unicode charts to determine what
    form Greek letters should take.

    Now, rather than being concerned about the details of one particular glyph in the Unicode
    Greek chart, we might point out that the entire font used in this chart is *hideous* and
    itself completely outside the norms of any historical Greek style. It is a pathetic hack
    job, displaying almost total ignorance of the normal construction of Greek letters. It
    isn't even suitable for maths symbol use. Rather than pondering changing the form of
    U+03D0 to reference the particular charm of 18th and 19th century French typography, we
    might urge the editors to completely replace the Greek type used in the charts. And the
    form of the cursive beta should be appropriate to whatever type style is chosen for this
    purpose. I would be very happy to see the Didot 'aplá' style used in the Unicode Greek
    chart -- it would be a huge improvement, and would reflect the most popular style of Greek
    text face of the past 250 years -- in which case it would be entirely appropriate to
    employ the Romantic form for this letter, which would satisfy Mr Kryukov.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC
    Currently reading:
    Truth and tolerance, by Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger as was
    An autobiography from the Jesuit underground, by William Weston SJ
    War (revised edition), by Gwynne Dyer

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Jul 03 2005 - 20:47:07 CDT