Fonts, Characters, and Glyphs

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Fonts, characters, and glyphs

The representation of "unusual characters" is a common problem for medievalists working in digital media. "Unusual characters" can range from relatively common accented letters which are not available from a standard computer keyboard to variant letter forms, archaic symbols, abbreviations, and letters no longer used in modern languages. Because the standard computer keyboard varies from country to country and language to language, accented characters that are "unusual" to some medievalists may be quite ordinary to others. "Unusual characters" are encoded at the "emic" rather than "etic" level; that is to say that the encoding of such characters involves the representation of generalisable and repeated textual symbols rather than unique manuscript forms. The decision as to which distinctions are emic and etic requires disciplinary knowledge; it also can vary in some cases from project to project within a single discipline depending on the purpose of the encoding.

Source(s): Fonts, Characters, and Glyphs


Contemporary usage distinguishes among a number of closely related terms:

'character' (abstract character)
An (abstract) unit of information used for the organization, control, or representation of textual data. Abstract characters have no concrete form, although certain features may be considered essential. The diagraph æ, for example, can be considered a character. Its essential feature is that it combines the characters for a and e. Characters should not be confused with #letter-def letters, #glyph-def glyphs, or #grapheme-def graphemes. Some characters are not (complete) letters (e.g. Diaeresis: ¨). Other characters are complete letter (e.g. small latin letter a). Upper and lower case forms of letters are different characters.
A set of mechanically or digitally produced #glyph-def glyphs in a uniform style. Fonts are found only in type- or digital cultures; the equivalent in a manuscript culture is a #script-def script. Differences between fonts (or scripts) are generally considered accidental in transcription and encoding.
The idealised form of a given #character-def character in a specific #font-def font, #script-def script, or #hand-def hand. The following are all distinct glyphs:
  • Roman small latin letter a;
  • Arial small latin letter a;
  • Sans-serif small latin letter a;
  • Carolingian small letter a;
  • Insular miniscule a;
  • Scribe D's open a.
A specific (etic-level) instance of a #glyph-def glyph: "The poorly formed carolingian a in the first word of manuscript line 1 on f. 72v" refers to a graph. Distinguished from #grapheme-def grapheme.
An emic-level description of a specific #glyph-def glyph. This is opposed to #graph-def graph, which is an etic-level description. E.g. "the third letter a on folio 105v is a poorly formed carolingian a" distinguishes between a #graph-def graph (the poorly-formed third letter a) and a grapheme (the ideal of carolingian letter a).
an imprecise term used variously to refer to #character-def character and #glyph-def glyphs at emic or etic levels.
the manuscript equivalent to a #font-def font in print culture (cf. Carolingian script and Times Roman font).

Useful Links

Unicode Fonts

The following is a list of (open source) Unicode fonts Medievalists are likely to find useful:

  • Junicode. A Serif unicode font designed by Peter Baker of the University of Virginia. Contains most if not all characters required by Anglo-Saxonists and other medievalists, including manuscript abbreviations and IPA characters.
  • Garamond Latin. "It contains GaramondLatin, a professionally produced typeface that provides macrons, brevia, apices/stress marks, common inscriptional characters, characters for printing scanned poetry, and a few medieval and religious symbols. Click here to see a .jpg filethat shows all the characters. Both True Type and Type 1 (for use with AdobeType Manager) fonts are included."

Unicode Tools and Resources

The following is a list of tools and resources Medievalists are likely to find useful in using Unicode:

Typography, available for both Linux and Windows.

Source(s): Fonts, Characters, and Glyphs

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