Phonetic-symbol anoraks/nerds/geeks can have hours of fun browsing the Unicode Standard, the repository of all the characters that can be displayed on a modern computer screen (blog, 22 Jan 2007). If you haven’t got the book (which is hefty), browse online.
Now there’s a new version of the Standard, 6.0 (well, it came out last October, actually). Unlike previous versions, it has not been published as a printed book, but is available only online.
So what’s new in version 6.0? In brief: there are 2,088 new characters, including (I quote)
• over 1,000 additional symbols—chief among them the additional emoji symbols, which are especially important for mobile phones
• the new official Indian currency symbol: the Indian Rupee Sign
• 222 additional CJK Unified Ideographs in common use in China, Taiwan, and Japan
• 603 additional characters for African language support, including extensions to the Tifinagh, Ethiopic, and Bamum scripts
• three additional scripts: Mandaic, Batak, and Brahmi
There are also extensive technical changes to do with character properties and format specifications.
Two new Cyrillic characters cater for Azerbaijani. Two new Arabic characters and ten new Devanagari characters cater for Kashmiri. Thirty-two new Ethiopic characters cater for Gamo-Gofa-Dawro, Basketo, and Gumuz. Complete new blocks of letters cater for Mandaic, for Batak, and for Brāhmī.
Is there anything of particular interest to phoneticians and IPA users?
How about a symbol for a voiceless retroflex lateral fricative? A sort of combination of ɬ and ɭ? It’s not (yet) an official IPA symbol, but it’s a logical combination of two. Here it is, U+A78E. (Unicode numbers are given in hexadecimal and prefixed with the identifier U+.)
If you’ve always wanted a COMBINING DOUBLE INVERTED BREVE BELOW, it’s now available. But unless you’re a Uralic Phonetic Alphabet aficionado, you’ll have managed without. Do you have a use for subscript h k l m n p s t? I doubt it. Even if you do, you’d probably simply use the subscripting tag <sub> </sub>, as I have just done. In Unicode 6.0 they’re ready-made at U+2095 to U+209C.
Students of the minority languages of China may welcome three new Bopomofo characters to cater for Hmu and Ge. (Bopomofo is a phonetic notation system based on Chinese characters.)
It’s one thing to have a symbol recognized in Unicode and assigned a U+ number. It’s something else for the new symbol to become available in an available font. We’ll just have to wait and see if and when these new characters make an appearance in documents on our display screens.
Don’t hold your breath.