Tuesday, 19 April 2011

vertical lines

In the last paragraph of yesterday’s blog I mentioned the language Ju|’hoan (or Ju|’hoansi). I was interested to note that someone then referred to it in a comment as Jul’hoansi.

Do you get the difference? The third letter in the name of the language is the Unicode character U+01C0, LATIN LETTER DENTAL CLICK. It is not, as vp interpreted it, a lower-case L (U+006C LATIN SMALL LETTER L).

It is very easy to see how confusion may arise. In some fonts the two letters look identical. Here’s the heading of the Wikipedia article, as rendered on my computer screen.But if I copy and paste the first few words of the article into Word, and change the font to Times New Roman, I get this.So in the Arial of Wikipedia the click letter looks identical to a lower-case L. In Times New Roman they are properly distinguished.

It gets worse. In some sanserif fonts the upper-case letter i (U+0049 LATIN CAPITAL LETTER I) can appear identical to the lower-case L. This makes it difficult to read a word such as illicit if it appears at the beginning of a sentence, or Illyria anywhere.

And here’s a confession: in my blog I actually typed the click letter in the language name not as U+01C0 LATIN LETTER DENTAL CLICK but as U+007C VERTICAL LINE, which can be entered directly from a UK PC keyboard.

Back in the old days of mechanical typewriters many machines lacked the figure 1, so that we had to use a lower-case L in its stead. Fortunately nowadays all computers and most (all?) fonts distinguish them.

I thought it would be worth exploring how well-known fonts handle these differences. Here is what my screen displays for figure 1 (U+0031 DIGIT ONE), upper-case i, lower-case L, vertical line, and click, in the five fonts named. You can see that Arial is easily the worst, presenting all three alphabetic letters identically. Only Times New Roman and Courier New render all five differently.

And then there are І (U+0406 CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER BYELORUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN I), Ӏ and ӏ (U+04C0 and U+04CF, CYRILLIC LETTER PALOCHKA and CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER PALOCHKA), ׀ (U+05C0 HEBREW PUNCTUATION PASEQ), Ⅰ (U+2160 ROMAN NUMERAL ONE), ∣ (U+2223 DIVIDES), and ❘ (U+2758 LIGHT VERTICAL BAR). Let’s not even go there.

Moral? It is a great pity that in its 1989 symbol reforms the IPA abandoned its distinctive and unmistakable dental click letter ʇ for this confusing vertical line.

8 comments:

  1. So how is it pronounced? ʣulɦoansi?

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  2. Presumably ʒuǀˀhoãsi, tones unknown.

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  3. You can hear the language being spoken (after an English-language introduction) here.

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  4. Personally I prefer the click representation system used in Kirshenbaum's ASCII IPA scheme, in which '!' is placed after the homorganic voiceless stop, e.g., /t!/ for /|/. This could also easily be extended to allow other symbols before the !, such as /d!/ for /g|/ and /n!/ for /ŋ|/.

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  5. Every time I comment I make a sacrifice to the gods that it will attract the attention of Professor Wells, or, even better, provide the basis of the next day's blog post!

    I should have known that, when my wish was granted, it would not be the comment's erudition or insight but rather its typographical shortcomings that would attract his attention :(

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  6. Then there's Kim Jong Il, whom at least one editorial cartoonist, surely having read too many news stories in Arial, has turned into "KIM JONG II." God forbid there should be two of them. Rodger C

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  7. Thank you, John. For the clip and the pronunciation.

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  8. And there are also the French and the Austrian rivers called "Ill" (a capital "I" and two lower-case "l"s). It looks like "III" = "three, third".

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