Specific diacritic designs depending on language

Fernando DíazFernando Díaz Posts: 133
edited November 2017 in Technique and Theory
Hey everyone,

I'm doing a typeface as part of the [email protected] Condensed Program and had an idea about specific diacritic designs depending on the language.

I noticed that in Spanish (my mother tongue) we are used to the 'acute' being more horizontal, it goes well with the 'tilde' and hides better in paragraphs. But for example in French they are used to 'acute' to be much more vertical, as they have more frequency and types of diacritics the vertical 'acute' goes well together with the 'circumflex' and apostrophe.

So, I've created 2 kinds of 'acute' one more vertical (by default) and one more horizontal, and programed it to only apear in Spanish with the 'locl' feature. Here I have a screenshot (type in progress):
My questions are... 
– Is there any research about this subject?
– Do you know if other languages could potentially benefit from this? (I'm guessing Portuguese is similar than Spanish, but I would like to be sure before programing it)

Thank you!



  • Nice!

    There has indeed been research about this, although it might be mostly informal. See also Polish, and the thoughts of Mandel on national flavor in type design.
  • This is very well done, Fernando! 
  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 503
    edited July 2017
    BTW, your "French" acutes are also the ones that would be preferred for Polish, just as they are (although they could also be easily even steeper, just like in the Preissig example below). The Spanish ones would be too flat. Also, I would use the "French" model for the Czech, especially since your typeface is distantly echoing the work of Vojtěch Preissig

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,869
    I don’t think one should follow national “models” slavishly.
    It’s more important to consider difficult situations in the particular typeface one is working on.

    For instance, the sequence í_l in Fernando’s typeface.

    With the variables of angle of diacritic and ascender height, certain combinations work better than others.

    Presently, the steep diacritic works best (top left), because it doesn’t run into the following serif. However, were the ascender taller, then the flatter accent would work better (bottom right).

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 987
    There has been previous discussion in this forum about how some diacritics are usually different in some languages from their equivalents in other languages.

    But diacritics aren't the only characteristic of a typeface that might usefully be specialized for different languages, although it is a characteristic that suggests itself within the Unicode model.

    Sometimes the whole typeface is redone for a different language. For example, the Monotype Corporation provided a modified version of Times Roman for use with the German language where the capital letters were slightly lighter in weight, to be more appropriate for a language where it is the convention to capitalize more words... and a special version for French where the design was altered to make it look a bit more like the Romain du Roi.

    Changing the appearance of the letters, though, doesn't seem like something you really want the rendering engine for a typeface to do based on the language.

    But this suggests at least the possibility that, instead of making typefaces with accents that change depending on the language that is used, requiring advanced Open Type features to be implemented, that perhaps the whole typeface should come in different language versions, with every aspect subjected to study and examination.
  • One thing I’ve wondered about localized diacritics is how loan-words fit into the picture. For example, If I were to design a steeper version of the acute to serve as Polish kreska, would it be sufficient to provide localized version of only [ćńóśź]? If, for example, my name were to occur in a Polish text, would Poles find the acute accent incongruous because it failed to match the kreska?

    This raises the possibility, though, of a potentially huge proliferation of localized variants (unless, of course, one were to decompose all accented characters in the ccmp feature and to provide localized versions of combining marks only).

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,210
    I wonder how strong national preferences for accents are after decades of exposure to system fonts. If it's true the Portuguese readers were once fussy about the design of their cedillas while French readers weren't, is it still true in 2017? Do readers really care or is it just something that typographers prefer? Are readers somewhere truly struggling with comma-like cedillas?
  • @Georg,

    I'm sure that plays a role, but the other thing to consider is contrast. For example, the modern greek tonos is often near-vertical which would not have been acceptable in polytonic greek where the oxeîa (acute) and vareîa (grave) needed to be kept distinct. For similar reasons, a steep kreska in polish is fine but I suspect that a very short kreska would be much less acceptable than it would be in a language which does not need to keep it distinct from the dotaccent.
  • But all that still is not proper reason to have different version in a font, as long as all functional requirements of differentiation are met.
  • Well, I'm sure it's possible to design a set of generic accents which would be serviceable for all languages insofar as they are sufficiently differentiated, but that doesn't mean they will necessarily conform to the aesthetic preferences of speakers of all languages. In a language in which accents play a crucial role, the aesthetics of the accents will likely play a much stronger role in choosing a font then they would in (e.g.) English.

    Of course it is entirely up to the designer whether they want to go to the effort of making localized accents, but they might expand their fonts market by doing so.

  • But all that still is not proper reason to have different version in a font, as long as all functional requirements of differentiation are met.
    The proper reason to have national versions of a font is that that's culture.
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 905
    I noticed that in Spanish (my mother tongue) we are used to the 'acute' being more horizontal, it goes well with the 'tilde' and hides better in paragraphs.

    That may well be true today, but it wasn’t always the case.

    Historically, for example, see the Spanish fonts cut by Geronimo Gil for Joaquin Ibarra and the Real Academia edition of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, published in Madrid in 1780 — one of the finest editions of this seminal Spanish-language epic.

    It features very upright acute accents (probably influenced by previous generations of French and Dutch fonts used in Spanish printing heretofore). To address the matter of harmonizing native accents, we find a much more exuberant and volante tilde (rather laying down the acute ;-).

    But, as Nick points out, overall vertical dimensions may play a part in such decisions, on a case by case basis.

  • Stefan PeevStefan Peev Posts: 83
    edited July 2017
    My modest opinion is that the question of @Fernando Díaz does not have a purely typographic decision. As @Hrant H. Papazian mention it is a question of cultural approach – there is no way we to be able to find out a standard for any particular language and for all languages as a whole. There is no way your preferred local brandy to match the flavour of Ballantine (for example). So, there is no way you to make a typeface which is out of your own cultural approach to the type design. If you drink Coca-Cola in your country, it does not mean that Coca-Cola is not an American drink. It's an American drink! So... some typefaces will look a little bit more English, others – a little bit more French, or German and so on. And something comforting ... The mass consumer does not know that Coca-Cola is an American drink :)
  • Fernando DíazFernando Díaz Posts: 133
    edited July 2017
    Thanks everyone for their interesting insights!

    · @John Savard That's so interesting!
    Is there any way to see the different Times New Romans?

    · @Kent Lew Yes that was true a long time ago, In my country our first printing offices had english typefaces with 'vertical' diacritics. But if we see a book printed with this kind of 'tilde' today it will be really strange for us as readers, it would look like a mistake. So after several centuries we've developed a preference for certain designs.

    · @Stefan Peev I understand what you say, but I do have made a decision! My decision is to try and make my typeface work for European languages and my local Spanish language alike*, for that to work I have to make two sets of diacritics. (In my opinion the Coca-Cola from my country is much more tasty than in US, so that tells us something :p )

    * If I can make this happen, maybe (with a lot of research) it could be translated to many latin languages.


    · Update (I've been trying to make two 'tildes' as well, and yes... the íl (wich it's not very often but happens in Spanish) doesn't work very well (yet):

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 987
    Thanks everyone for their interesting insights!

    · @John Savard That's so interesting!
    Is there any way to see the different Times New Romans?
    I do remember seeing them illustrated in the document from which I learned of their existence. It was a book or paper on typography, and it may be available online. I will see if I can find it again.

    Of course, when one gets to the point of changing the design of the typeface as a whole for a particular language, then, unlike the case of diacritics, where it seems like one is simply showing respect for a culture, the question comes up of whether one is isolating each language in a ghetto, where speakers of that language are expected to use only typefaces similar to what had previously been used with that language.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 987
    These variants of Times Roman are mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the typeface, which has a link to an online copy of issue number 3 of volume 40 of the Monotype Recorder in which they are exhibited. I don't believe that's where I first learned of them, though.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 987
    The illustration is in a box at the bottom of page 14. (Unfortunately, the gear icon for editing a post does not seem to work, even within the four-hour limit.)
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 987
    The illustrations in that copy of the Monotype Recorder are not clear in the online digital copy, due to its limited resolution. However, I have found better images in a discussion in another forum:

  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 905
    But if we see a book printed with this kind of 'tilde' today it will be really strange for us as readers, it would look like a mistake.
    I’m sorry to hear that. I really like that kind of tilde! ;-)
  • I wonder what you'd make of the tilde in Traction, then. :grimace:

  • Fernando DíazFernando Díaz Posts: 133
    edited July 2017
    @Christian Thalmann I would have to see it in print, but it looks weird for my (Uruguayan) Spanish. Think of it more as a horizontal 's' with a spine than a straight bar. 

    Well, actually the letter 'ñ' in medieval times was actually represented by 'nn', so España was originally written Espanna, eventually, to save time, the scribes created this kind of digraph that became a letter. So it really is a (handwritten) 'n' on top of another 'n'. 


    PS: On a sad note, we had two other digraphs on our language: the letters 'ch' and 'll' but the RAE decided to eliminate them from the Spanish alphabet on 2010 (yep I'm still mad about it!).

    PPS: Also, the letters 'k' and 'w' are not completely necessary for our language, we can substitute them with 'qu' and 'gü'. For example Whisky can be Güisqui. (of course nobody uses that, it looks grotesque).

  • > RAE decided to eliminate them from the Spanish alphabet

    Shame on them.
  • Johannes NeumeierJohannes Neumeier Posts: 317
    edited July 2017
    German casual handwriting often has the dieresis as two vertical or slanted strokes (not far from the Hungarian Umlaut), for example see this image (which is a variant of children's school model writing). This goes mostly for handwriting, but you occasionally see it in signage.

    On a recent trip to Croatia I also noted these funny rounded carons, but I don't know if they are just a local peculiarity, a historic variant, or truly a native quirk like those you are looking for.

  • Johannes Neumeier’s example of the german umlaut provides an excellent example which might answer Georg Seifert's earlier question of why we need localized variants.

    I've seen numerous script faces in which the umlaut was drawn as lines (both oblique and vertical) rather than dots, and I think it’s safe to assume that this was a deliberate choice on the part of the designer. This, though, would pose a serious problem if they extended their glyph coverage to include Hungarian. So the designer has a choice: either abandon their preferred (and perfectly legitimate for german) design on the grounds that it creates problems for designing the hungarian double acute, or provide a localized, shorter version of the umlaut for hungarian. The latter seems like a far better solution to me.

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,472
    edited July 2017
    for example see this image
    Note that the tittles on the i and j are also vertical strokes.

  • I've been thinking about it and without doing any formal research decided to add some additional parametric axes a few months ago as we start to think, and design, beyond the axes and the glyphs we've done. None of our initial variation contracts included accented characters, so this really came out of work that we did on our own fonts.

    We think that besides width, weight and size axis, and beyond into the parametric axes, (and working with composite technology already in the standard), there is separate need for interoperable accent control. So, we envisage independent "above" and "below" cluster parametrics for x and y, opaque and transparent. 8.

    This creates a separately addressable design space for accents, linked if it's so desired to other axes, but within that addition space, the font developer can create "culture-specific" instances. Here, the term culture ranges from a publication to an entire language.

    From there it's on to another proposal for axes flags, identifying them for UI and program interfaces.

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 987
    Speaking of the tittles on the lowercase "i", the i in añadió has a diamond tittle, while the two "i"s in diciendo have round ones in the illustration of the Real Academia edition of Don Quixote. Of course, occasional letters from the wrong font were a feature of early typography.

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