Monday 12 July 2010

Segoe UI

In my recent discussion of fonts that include the IPA symbols I overlooked one that I now think may be the best of all of those currently available. What is more, it is the current Windows system font.

It is called Segoe UI, and comes bundled with Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Office 2007. As far as I can see, it contains the full complement of IPA symbols (excepting only the labiodental flap, U+2C71). Here’s what it looks like, with a screengrab of how Word 2007 displays some phonetic text in 10-pt size.
You will see that its small-cap i (the lax close front vowel) has the serifs I pleaded for last week (blog, 6 July); so does the ordinary upper-case I. The diacritics sit nicely in their proper places. The dental click symbol extends below the line, making it easily distinguishable from lower-case L. (The fourth line in my screenshot is a transcription of the Zulu phrase isicathulo nesigqoko ‘a shoe and a hat’.) I’m not really satisfied by the proportions of the implosive-g symbol — hook too big, bowl too small — but it’ll do.

Microsoft tells us
Segoe UI is an approachable, open, and friendly typeface, and as a result has better readability than Tahoma, Microsoft Sans Serif, and Arial. It has the characteristics of a humanist sans serif: the varying widths of its capitals (narrow E and S, for instance, compared with Helvetica, where the widths are more alike, fairly wide); the stress and letterforms of its lowercase; and its true italic (rather than an "oblique" or slanted roman, like many industrial-looking sans serifs). The typeface is meant to give the same visual effect on screen and in print. It was designed to be a humanist sans serif with no strong character or distracting quirkiness.
Segoe UI is optimized for ClearType, which is on by default in Windows. With ClearType enabled, Segoe UI is an elegant, readable font. Without ClearType enabled, Segoe UI is only marginally acceptable. This factor determines when you should use Segoe UI.
Wikipedia says
It is distinguishable from its predecessor Tahoma and the Mac OS user interface font Lucida Grande by its rounder letters.
Segoe was designed by Steve Matteson during his employment at Agfa Monotype. Licensed to Microsoft for use as a branding typeface and user interface font, it was designed to be friendly and legible.

So it’s goodbye Tahoma, and hello and welcome Segoe UI.
Do Mac users have this font?

If all is well, and you have Segoe UI on your system, this paragraph should be in the font. aɪ ˈduː ˈhəʊp ju kŋ ˈriːd ɪʔ.

UPDATE: If all is well, and you have Segoe UI on your system, this paragraph should be in the font. Mac users should see Lucida Grande. aɪ ˈduː ˈhəʊp ju kŋ ˈriːd ɪʔ.


  1. Mac user here. We don't have Segoe UI, but I can read your last sentence - it just looks inelegant (unlike the examples you posted as an image, which look lovely).

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  3. With apologies in advance for almost inevitable typos, here's my attempt at reproducing John's examples in the two Mac fonts referred to in the Wikipedia quote: Lucida Grande & Tahoma .

  4. Amy

    Copying and pasting John's last paragraph into Word, I got a text mostly in Arial. In fact the first sentence is entirely in Arial, but the second alternates erratically between Arial and Times New Roman.

    This looks worse than 'inelegant', but I'd guess that what I see in my browser is much the same as you see.

  5. At last! I have only got XP but I found Segoe UI was part of Windows Live Messaging, and so have downloaded it quite legally. Wonnnderful!

    John, we were also discussing earlier the trouble we were having with the new symbols 1d7b-f (ᵻ ᵼ ᵽ ᵾ ᵿ) in various fonts. You had complained that some fonts could not distinguish them and I pointed out that the default font for your blog was one of those fonts. I said that in the preview the symbols were perfectly distinct, and even as I remember, elegant, without the horrible heavy serifs on ᵿ and other annoyances, but that once they are posted this blog displays some of them indistinguishably.

    Well, Segoe Ui displays them perfectly and elegantly too, but of course the published comments are not allowed to include span or font tags, so I cannot demonstrate this.

    So John, is there any chance that your discovery that Segoe UI is the fina solvo will prompt a rejig of the default fonts on here? You could specify alternative fonts for Mac users, or they could probably get hold of Segoe UI just as easily.

  6. Mallamb

    The middle-men Ascender Fonts state:

    Unfortunately Microsoft has not made the font you selected available for download at this time.

    Not even for ready money.

  7. The updated example reads beautifully; I see it in Lucida Grande, although I see the rest of John's post in Verdana. I can't read the symbols in mallamb's post at all; they're just empty boxes.

    That will do, Crosbie, thank you. ;-)

  8. Oh, and David - thanks for posting those examples. Very helpful.

  9. WinXP and Opera here: reads easily.

    Though the /kŋ/ threw me for a loop.

  10. Sili, I cut a long story short in my earlier post by not mentioning that mysteriously I too could read the Segoe UI paragraph from the start (in XP and Firefox), copy it to Word, and see in Format Font that it was indeed in Segoe UI, but though I could read it, I could not write it. It was not in the Fonts folder, so could not be selected for composing text in. Perhaps Michael Everson or John Cowan or someone will come along and explain that mysterious state of affairs, but as I said before, I cured it by downloading a prog with which the font was bundled.

    So I guess you too may be reading this font without having it installed. You might find it more satisfactory to instal it.

    I thought /kŋ/ was quite normal, but it seems to me to depend on treating /juː kn/ as [ˈjuːkŋ] or [ˈjuːʔŋ] or something in between. I would probably assimilate it to the following r here: [kɳ riːd], or even [kɱ riːd] in homage to the ghost of my "defective r". Perhaps you were thrown by it because you usually do something like that.

    John, I don't know whether you did your update with Lucida Grande as an alternative to Segoe UI after David and Amy's posts, but I don't think LG will solve the problem of Amy's boxes for my 1d7b-f, unless it has itself been updated: the last time we were drowning in this particular puddle we found that LG was not the solution for this problem. So what about these new symbols?

  11. @mallamb: You can install either Office 2007 / 2010 (if you have them) or download the office file viewers for free from Microsoft. They will provide you with all the newer Vista fonts --all those beginning with C (Cambria, Constantia, Consolas, Candara, etc) and Segoe UI. If you later uninstall them the fonts will remain in your system. That's what I used to do back when I was using Win XP.

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  13. It really makes no matter, Amy. I had some rich fonts with Microsoft and Apple.

    Seriously, though, your problem with Mallamb's postings should not be necessary. I can read it in both Safari and Firefox.

    Two possible solutions:

    1. Upgrade your Arial, Courier New, Doulos SIL and Geneva fonts.

    Mine are:

    Arial 5.01.2x,
    Courier New 5.00.2X
    Doulos SIL 4.106
    Geneva 6.1d3e1

    2. Change one of the Preferences in your browser. It could be that the browser is not enabled to accept an alternative to your default font.

  14. An incidental detail: I'm not a native speaker of German, but to me that phonetic transcription of "Das geht über meinen Geist" with the final /n/ of "meinen" assimilated to the /g/ of "Geist" as [ŋ] sounds like a foreign intrusion. I remember a novel by Peter De Vries in which the narrator represents a certain character's pronunciation of the word "pancakes" as "pangcakes": that is roughly how [mainəŋ gaist] strikes my ear. Which is in error here, my Sprachgefühl or the transcription?

  15. The ŋ is fine, though by no means the only possiblity. I think it would typically be [maɪ̯n̩], [maɪ̯nn̩] or [maɪ̯n] (substandard) or indeed any of these with ŋ. The schwa would be pronounced only in careful formal speech, and then the n would probably stay unassimilated.

  16. Lipman, are you saying that "meinen" would ordinarily be pronounced without the tongue-tip leaving the alveolar ridge for the second syllable? I guess I only learned Bühnendeutsch.

  17. Yes, pronouncing the schwa sounds quite artificial.

  18. Yes, the way it struck me from the start was as a sort of inconsistency between the Bühnendeutschy schwa and the assimilation. I am still not convinced that the ŋ is entirely fine. I really think German is much less given to assimilation than English.

  19. MKR, Lipman: to begin with I wrote [maiŋŋ ɡaist], which is how I would probably say it; but then I thought that that was perhaps too colloquial. I learnt German by total immersion at age 18, but later did a university course in German phonetics: hence my confusion.

  20. I think I know why I'm if anything less happy with [maiŋŋ ɡaist]: the assimilation is more likely to be progressive, as in [laŋŋ] for /laŋn/.

  21. Amy

    Another font that you might like to update is Monaco. My version is Monaco 2.031;ADBE;MinionPro-Regular.

    This and the ones I've already listed seem to be the only fonts that display all of the 1D7B-F set. You can quite possibly get by with just the latest Geneva, but updating all five will give you more flexibility.

  22. And another...

    My Character Viewer struggles to recognise Tahoma. The ones that have 1D7B-F seem to be Tahoma Normal and Tahoma Negreta. These are Version 5.02 — unlike Tahoma Regular and Tahoma Bold, which are Version 1.50.

    Character Viewer seems to identify one as 'Tahoma 1KG=K9' and the other as 'Tahoma >;68@=K9'. Don't ask me which is which.

  23. mallamb, that might be true for nasal consonants, but in this case progressive assimilation would give you *[maɪ̯nn daɪ̯st].

  24. Or indeed [mmmmmmmmmm], my waggish friend!

  25. Yes, if you mean Geist in its sense of spirit, liquor.
    (But you saw my point, I take it.)

  26. David, thanks for the all the font updating advice. I never realized that fonts could be updated! I'll check my browser prefs, too.

  27. Amy

    I've only once set out to update a font — replacing some earlier SIL fonts with the newer version of Doulos. My other updates result from upgrading to Word 2008 and Snow Leopard.

  28. "das geht über meinen Geist" (~ that's way over my head)
    Depending on the degree of articulatory precision, sloppiness and speed native speakers of German say
    - [mainən ɡaist]
    - [mainəŋ ɡaist]
    - [maiŋŋ ɡaist]
    - [maiŋ ɡaist]

  29. So unlike Lipman and me you don't feel [mainəŋ ɡaist] is the least bit incongruous as compared with [mainŋ ɡaist]?

  30. Sorry to stick to it. Also, many people wouldn't assimilate the n and have [maɪ̯n̩], [maɪ̯nn̩], [maɪ̯nː] or even [maɪ̯n], with little difference in social prestige, I'd say.

    Even more formal and artificial would be [mainɛn], certainly not unheard, though probably more common among new politicians, Hochdeutsch speakers with a dialect background and younger stage actors. Singers often do that.

  31. And kids learning to read!

  32. Lipman,

    you're absolutely right that there are additional (unassimilated) versions. I do have a bit of a problem, however, to say [mainŋ] smoothly.

  33. I concur; I think nobody says that in any register.

  34. Neither did I, actually. I was just trying to make sense of the [maɪnəŋ].

    When you said "The ŋ is fine, though by no means the only possiblity. I think it would typically be [maɪ̯n̩], [maɪ̯nn̩] or [maɪ̯n] (substandard) or indeed any of these with ŋ. The schwa would be pronounced only in careful formal speech, and then the n would probably stay unassimilated" I replied "I am still not convinced that the ŋ is entirely fine. I really think German is much less given to assimilation than English."

    Perhaps I should have given more obvious support to your [maɪ̯n̩], [maɪ̯nn̩] or [maɪ̯n], which I felt were the best all-purpose transcriptions, and explicitly queried the [maɪ̯ŋ̩̩], [maɪ̯nŋ̩̩] or [maɪ̯ŋ] that "any of these with ŋ" implied.

  35. Your ns in [maɪ̯n̩], [maɪ̯nn̩] seem to have lost their syllabic mark, though it shows up again when I copy it into the comment box. I tried double ones in [maɪ̯ŋ̩̩], [maɪ̯nŋ̩̩] in the comment I just posted and they do appear (incorrectly). I wonder if John is experimenting with the comment fonts. I have looked at the Page Source, but I no longer know which way is up.

  36. I see them, both the single and the double ones (Win7/64, Opera 10.something).

    Oh, just checked with the IE; there, the single and double strokes are visible, but placed next to the n instead of beneath.

  37. I'm using Windows 7. The diacritical marks on the n's do not appear when I view the page in Mozilla Seamonkey or Internet Explorer, but they do appear in Google Chrome and in the e-mail updates.

  38. mallamb:
    "das geht über [main] Geist" is allegro speech but I would not consider it substandard.

  39. Neither did I. I was quoting Lipman. It did seem very allegro to me though, and his implied [maɪ̯ŋ] almost implausibly so. But my synaptic responses to all this are close to extinction, and I think we've thought it to a standstill.

    We could start thinking about something else: when I said the assimilation is more likely to be progressive, as in [laŋŋ] for /laŋn/, he quipped "progressive assimilation would give you *[maɪ̯nn daɪ̯st]."

    The best example I can come up with for now of what I am talking about before a real alveolar is "über langen Zeitraum". I think the allegro form of that would be more likely to have [laŋŋ]. Which way do you people in the front line think the n would jump?

    Thanks for the above reports of legibility at different settings. I have set Firefox to override individual page settings and display everything in the wonderful Segoe UI. It's a joy to behold. I see the all syllabic marks now, and the double ones have become magnificently double.

  40. "langen Zeitraum". I think the allegro form of that would be more likely to have [laŋŋ]

    I concur.

  41. When will Microsoft include Lucida Grande in its products.
    When will Apple include Segoe UI in its products?

  42. There's a change from three years ago. Microsoft have now made Segoe available to Ascenderfonts, but the price is a bit steep.

  43. I am trying to download my college application and I am repeatedly getting a message that I am "missing SegoeUI fonts". I have a Mac and can not find those fonts for it. The downloaded PDF is unreadable - not all of it, just the portion I filled out. Instead of the letters I see dots. Can you help please. I tried all 3 browsers I have -Safari, Firefox and Chrome and all download the same unreadable file.
    Please Help.Thanks!

  44. Tomislav ZM

    Try substituting Lucinda Grande.

    If you can't do this within your browser, copy the text to another application such as Word.

    If your system refuses to do this, look in the Preferences of your browser. You may have to enable it to make font changes.


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