Font-related problem for linguists

Christian Lehmann christian.lehmann at UNI-ERFURT.DE
Thu Mar 1 14:57:29 UTC 2012

Dear colleagues,

let me please question the presuppositions of Don's query:

1) Italics are needed (alas, almost only in linguistics) to mark an 
expression as being mentioned rather than used. What matters here in the 
first place is not the status of the material as being object of the 
discourse rather than part of it, but instead marking off the 
*difference* between mention and use. That, however, can be achieved in 
a variety of ways. Among them is setting off the example in an indented 
paragraph of its own (and numbering it). Another is to put it in a 
different type font. If, for instance, you quote Greek examples in your 
English linguistic text and quote them in the Greek alphabet, it is 
superfluous to italicize them. The purpose of marking them as mentioned 
rather than used is achieved sufficiently by the difference in the 
fonts. And has anybody ever seen a quoted piece of text written in 
Chinese characters and italicized? Now the same goes for quoting 
linguistic material in IPA. Since the metalinguistic text is not written 
in IPA, the purpose of marking the object-language material off is 
achieved sufficiently by putting it in IPA. No italics needed.

2) Writing in italics is cursive writing. The slanting is one aspect of 
cursive writing. However, on top of this, a couple of letters used to 
have different shapes in cursive writing. /a/ is among them, but it also 
used to be true for /r/ and /z/. Apparently, /a/ is the only one whose 
special shape in cursive writing has survived in some of the italics 
fonts. (There are, of course, fonts that imitate handwriting and that 
attend to the other letters mentioned, too). Thus, the purpose cannot 
possibly be to ban /a/ from the italic font variants, declare it a 
special letter and always have it appear as /a/ in italics. That must be 
left to the individual fonts. One might argue that a font that provides 
IPA characters should italicize a as /a/ and ?as /?/.(hope my different 
fonts come through here). However (see #1), is it really needed?

Best wishes,

Prof. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft
Universität Erfurt
Postf. 900221
D - 99105 Erfurt

Tel.:   +49/361/737-4201    (selbst)
         +49/361/737-4200    (Sekr.)
Fax:    +49/361/737-4209

E-Post: Christian.Lehmann at Uni-Erfurt.De

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