Font-related problem for linguists

Michael Cysouw cysouw at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Mar 2 14:08:41 UTC 2012

On 2 Mar 2012, at 13:26, Peter Kahrel wrote:

> Martin and I seem to be agreed that the best (if not the only) way to solve this is to add a character to a Unicode range. Here's why. Suppose you have some roman text in, say, English, in which a word or a phrase is used from language B, using the open a. In the roman text, all the a's look the same. But when you italicise the text, you want the English a's to look like italic script a's, and the a's in the bits from language B like slanted a's.

Please note that there is no way to refer to italics in the UNICODE description of a character. UNICODE does specify capitalization, but not italicization!

From the perspective of UNICODE, the "a" and "ɑ" are simply two different characters. If you put them in italics, they are still two different characters (even if they might look similar). Try searching for one or the other, and you will find only one of them. The basic rule of UNICODE: it's not about the looks, it's about the encoding. Here there is no problem in encoding, there is a problem in the looks. That's not UNICODE's business.

The only way to solve this problem in the Unicode standard would be to apply for a separate italic symbol, e.g.

This is also not feasible, because it assumes that the italic version really "means" something different. It doesn't in our case.

Really: the only solution is to explain to TYPOGRAPHERS that the italic versions of "a" and "ɑ" should look different. They have to come up with a nice way to have both of them look good, and still look different. Sometimes typographers appear to have been lazy, and simply re-use a glyph. That is mostly not a problem, but sometimes it is.

But: changing UNICODE is not an option here.


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