[Fontconfig] asian font configuration

John Thacker thacker at math.cornell.edu
Fri Dec 10 08:07:26 EST 2004

On Thu, Dec 09, 2004 at 12:02:10PM -0800, Keith Packard wrote:
> Around 9 o'clock on Dec 9, John Thacker wrote:
> > Therefore, 0406 and 0456 should be removed from or commented out of ru.orth
> Done.


> I know in my own typographical history I've seen the slow increase in the
> set of glyphs considered "necessary" for proper English publication; novels
> which 30 years ago would have been published in essentially ASCII
> (originating as they did on typewriters) are now starting to include
> accented characters as a guide to both the etymology and pronounciation of
> words.  Certainly common words like naïve or résumé are more accurately
> spelled with the appropriate accents than without.

I don't know that I'd say that they are "more accurately spelled,"
honestly.  I grant that in the case of résumé the final accent is
useful due to the pronunciation, and to distinguish it from resume.
Would you argue that hôtel should still be spelled that way?  It is
"more accurate," in a historical sense.  ångström?  coöperate?
(The last for phonetic but not etymological reasons-- you will see
it used in the New Yorker for example.)  To get really silly, à propos?
Cañon instead of canyon?

I agree that modern computers and technology make it easier to use
accents, but I'm not completely convinced that their use is actually
on the upswing.  Most of the sources I've consulted claim that their
use has been decreasing, though I suppose recent technology may have
reversed that.  In my experience, diacritical marks are used only in 
words perceived as foreign or of obvious foreign origin, and they tend
to lose their accents.

That said, they certainly are used.  OTOH, not every font will include
them even when they intend to cover English.  It's an annoying problem.
Being rendered in a single face is nice-- but I deal with a lot of
Japanese documents which contain Latin characters, and often mixed
Japanese/English.  My Japanese fonts mostly do not contain all the
accented Latin characters; this causes problems because Pango wants
to render English words with fonts which support "en."  Result is
not using a single face even though the preferred Japanese font contains
all characters on the page.  Or, if you're not using Pango, then 
applications tend to assume that your en_US.UTF-8 locale means you want
fonts which support "en," and thus will render Japanese UTF-8 documents
using ugly fonts like MiscFixed in preference to other Japanese fonts.

I know how to tweak the problem myself using weak family bindings, but
there's a lot of discussion of it by Owen Taylor and others in a few


> So, I guess it's my cultural bias to encourage people to spell words right 
> rather than spelling them as if they were using an IBM selectric 
> typewriter.  It was not done randomly.

Most dictionaries I've seen contain the unaccented spelling only, or
indicate it as the primary one with the accented as a variant, for most
of those words, including naive/naïve and resume/résumé.  (The latter
actually has a common variant with only the final accent mark, resumé,
found in most dictionaries as well.)  Of course, not only is the "certainly" 
disputed, but there are certainly those prescriptivists who argue that 
accents are not a part of English orthography at all, and belong only on 
foreign words.  That said, many people do use them of course, and I'm a 
descriptivist.  I may disagree with your "certainly" remark, but the usage 
may be enough to make it worth it.  For me personally, however, it's a pain, 
since quite a lot of font writers do not consider accent marks to be 
essential for English support.  (And really, they aren't essential at

John Thacker
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