Font-related problem for linguists

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Mar 2 11:22:51 UTC 2012

On 02/03/2012 10:18, Michael Cysouw wrote:
> Dear all,
> I really don't seen any problem here, except that SIL does not want to make a separate glyph for the italics ɑ (U+0251) in their Charis SIL font (at least, that is what Don claimed SIL said to him). Currently, the italics variants of U+0251 and U+0061simply use the same glyph in Charis SIL. I think (with many of you here) that this is not ideal.
> However, other fonts do make a difference (e.g. Times New Unicode, or STIX, or Arial, or Helvetica), and there is nothing in the Unicode definitions that would speak against doing this. It is simply (IMHO) a bad typographic decision in the design of Charis SIL.
It's true that it is POSSIBLE to make a distinction between italic open 
a and italic script a, but the fonts that Michael mentions are generally 
considered ugly.

Nice fonts that fulfill the usual typographical standards have an italic 
a that looks very much like the script a, and this is what Charis does.

The original "mistake" was made by the creators of the alphabets that 
distinguish the two a's – they should not have adopted IPA's script a, 
which only works properly for phonetic transcription, but not for 
orthographic characters.
> As for Martin's suggestion to add a symbol to Unicode: no, they won't do that because IPA is considered an extension of the Latin alphabet.
I was not suggesting one should change anything about IPA, but that 
Unicode should add a character for open a when used in orthographies.

There's a more general problem with the use of IPA symbols for 
orthographies: In orthographic writing, one normally needs upper-case 
counterparts of all symbols, and there are many IPA characters which 
have no upper-case counterparts. Thus, while ɗ has the upper-case 
counterpart Ɗ (probably because Hausa's lobby was strong enough), there 
is no upper-case counterpart of ɖ.

One could try to change the orthographies of the relevant languages, or 
the IPA, or the typographical taste, but adding characters to Unicode 
seems the best solution – that's what Unicode was created for, after all.


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list