Re: Greek curled beta in Unicode code chart

From: Alexej Kryukov (
Date: Mon Jul 04 2005 - 15:51:16 CDT

  • Next message: John Hudson: "Re: Greek curled beta in Unicode code chart"

    On Monday 04 July 2005 05:46, you wrote:
    > But no rendering engines apply the <medi> and <fina> features for the
    > Greek script.

    So, that's a bug in rendering engines, because Adobe's specification
    says that <init>, <medi> and <fina> "Can be used in any alphabetic
    script". The specification also has some examples showing how these
    tags can be applied to Roman typefaces, like Poetica. And I think
    everything that is applicable to the Latin script, should be
    applicable to Greek/Cyrillic too.

    > 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.

    Do you mean Garamond Premier Pro? IMHO it is a clear example
    of excessive use of OpenType features. Yes, this font provides
    correct capitalization, but as a result it can't be used anywhere
    except InDesign. And even in InDesigh all "ligatures" are broken
    if you just enlarge letterspacing a bit...

    > 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.

    Well, there is some difference between the shapes of curly beta in
    Romantic types and Renaissance typefaces, but, I think, common
    features are more important. The image you have provided a link to
    (as well as examples of early Greek printing, available at just confirms the fact
    that the gap between two bowls forms an important part of the letter
    shape. I agree that the "telephone"-styled beta, similar to
    displayed in that image, should be more compatible with Renaissance
    antiqua, while the form used in Monotype fonts is more appropriate for
    modern antiqua and Times families. But, since the most part of serif
    typefaces belongs to one of the 3 groups mentioned above, we should come
    to conclusion that the form shown in the code chart should be treated
    as an exception (if not as something incorrect at all) in the context
    of almost any serif family.

    BTW, your font itself looks nice. Is it available for purchase?

    > 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 non-cursive types of 15th century were based on handwriting.
    Ralph Hancock reports that curly beta of a "telephone" style was used
    in the edition of Isocrates, on which he based his Mediolanum font.
    This font surely represent a modification of the same pre-Aldine
    style, though less modernized than Scholderer's Hellenic.

    > 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.

    And which shape of cursive beta would you prefer for that typeface?
    Note that the given form is more similar to Renaissance typefaces at
    least at one point: it also has strokes of exactly the same weight
    in both bowls. So it is not just an imitation of the glyph form
    present in Romantic style. May be, the lower bowl should be smaller --
    I am not sure. Nevertheless, Monotype's version of New Hellenic
    was extremely popular in France for a half century or so, and its
    version of curly beta looks quite nice for me in the context of other
    letters of this family.

    > 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).

    That's exactly what I am trying to prove. But the things are even worse.
    If you look at the central element of the glyph shown in the code
    chart, you can see that its two bowls contact each other, but don't
    contact the left stem, exactly as in standard beta. So it is absolutely
    clear that this glyph really was produced by a modification of standard
    beta. But this is surely wrong. The designer should have considered the
    fact that, if you are drawing Greek beta by hand, the initial pen
    positioning will be quite different for its standard and script forms.
    So they just can't have a similar design.

    > 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.

    First, there is a group of "multilingual" fonts, designed
    especially to support a maximally possible number of Unicode ranges.
    Of course the designer of such font can't be an expert in the history
    of all writing systems he wants to support. So sometimes he have to rely
    on glyph images shown in the standard, and this is especially true for
    rarely used, variant glyph forms.

    And even if a Greek font is developed by a classically educated person,
    its designer may be just unfamiliar with any typographic traditions,
    except just one (and usually Anglo-American one). I think, there are
    enough experts in Greek language, who however just don't know what is
    curly beta and how it should be designed. For example, have a look at
    the fonts itself are usable, but curly beta is surely not. I think,
    that's the Unicode code chart who is responsible for that :)

    And, finally, even after studying various styles of Greek printing
    it is still possible that one just doesn't identify various styles
    of curly beta with the glyph shown at 03D0. I suspect that's the only
    reason why there is no curly beta at all in Garamond Premier Pro,
    although the Aldine form (similar to one used in your own font) might
    be quite appropriate here.

    > 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 would be interesting to discuss (at least I would like to hear your
    opinion), what else is wrong in that font. But, anyway, I have already
    stated that any mistake in the design of rarely used glyphs (like curly
    beta) is usually more dangerous than in more common ones. There are
    thousands of good examples of Greek alphabet except the Unicode code
    chart, but few of them include script beta (at least if you don't know
    where to search for it).

    > 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.

    Well, I would be very happy too, but I'm afraid it is hardly possible
    for several reasons. First, there are very few Didot-styled typefaces
    available on the market. That's why I don't think any font foundry will
    permit embedding their font into the code chart, given that anybody
    can easily extract it.

    Second, I think that at least Roman, Greek and
    Cyrillic letters in Unicode code charts should have a compatible style.
    So if you decide to use Didot 'apla' for Greek, you should also
    select a modern antiqua typeface both for Latin and Cyrillic. I am sure
    this would be a quite nice solution for Cyrillic too (but, again, where
    you can find a Cyrillic font of reasonable quality for this purpose?),
    but Latin typefaces belonging to this group look not enough "newtral"
    at the present time.

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

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