Not Ligatures : Digraphs - Lets talk about 'em.

Primary tabs

25 posts / 0 new
Last post
Eben Sorkin's picture
Offline
Joined: 22 Jan 2004 - 4:19pm
Not Ligatures : Digraphs - Lets talk about 'em.
0

I was going over a PDF of Fedra Mono to learn things for my Mono project... When I noticed the Digraphs. This was fascinating because it related so well & was yet different than the earlier Ligature thread. The digraph we all probably know best is 'IJ' used in Dutch. Whenever I have seen it it just looked 'right'. But apparently there is also 'ch' 'll' and 'rr' in Spanish, 'ch' in Czech, 'dz', 'ch', 'lj', and 'nj' in Croat, and many more. I will provide a full list later perhaps. Some of these seem like they would set less well in the same space. In a monospace they nearly all stick out like a sore thumb despite the consumate expertise of Peter Biľak. In a less constrained design they might be really lovely. But maybe not. Maybe their compression is part of their identity. My question is, how seriously does anybody take these anymore & why? Please enlighten me.

BTW, this is what Peter says:

Digraphs
Some languages (e.g. Czech, Croat, Dutch, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Slovak, or Spanish) use two characters to represent a single phoneme; those double characters (dz, ij, ch) are called digraphs.

Digraphs are treated as single ‘letters’ on their own right. They influence hyphenation, abbreviation, and alphabetic order. Digraphs function as letters for the purposes of sorting e.g. in Czech, Slovak, Spanish and Welsh ‘ch’ serves as a single unit and words beginning with ‘ch’ have their own section in a dictionary.

Digraphs should not be confused with ligatures which are graphically stylized combinations of two or more letters. Whilst some ligatures indicate that successive sounds are to be pronounced as one (æ,œ) most of them are just typographical letter-combination, trying to improve a appearance of the words and eliminate possibly conflicting characters pairs (ff, fi, fl, ffi, fl). Those ligatures have a practical significance only for typesetting, and do not represents a semantic difference.

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
0

I might have overlooked an excellent explanation, but I must say I still don't see the logic in considering æ to be a ligature.

Also, I realize I'm not familiar with most of the digraphs and in fact I don't understand the need for most of them. It might be that to which extent you can grasp the logic behind these characters depends on the language you speak. For example, I don't see the logic behind digraphs such as LL, LJ, SS and RR at all, However, I do understand /sz. That's a distinct sound so a digraph seems logical. /cz and /rz are taking it too far again, but I suppose if I were Polish I could see the logic behind them.

I'm Dutch and to be honest I try to avoid designing a special digraph character of /ij, but in many cases I still do to improve spacing. I tend to design an obvious digraph for display typefaces, but for text faces I tend to treat it as a contextual alternate. For example, I just designed a typeface called Zwartika (which is essentially Helvetica Ultra Black) for a school project and considering the descender of /j doesn't fit underneath /i without extending the descender to an undesirable depth, I get into trouble with these characters — especially if you apply an outline to the font, as it will look like /j is on top of /i. In order to fix this I added an alternate for /j with a condensed tail, rather than making a special digraph. For the capital letters I added an alternate /J with a vertical cut and a distinct digraph as well, as Zwartika is meant to be used for display purposes. For general reading I would recommend the alternate /J rather than the digraph.

I find most of the digraphs shown here to be too obtrusive. In fact I feel æ and œ are often pushing it, though I accept them for their historical value and because I do like the texture, particularly in serif fonts. The monospace digraphs ebensorkin showed are absolutely horrendous to me. I feel a monospace /m is already uncomfortable, so putting two letters in the same space is unacceptable to me. I guess some languages insist on those digraphs. Can anyone who speaks languages where such digraphs are common tell me if they're required? For the monospace typeface shown, would it be lacking without the digraphs or wouldn't it matter either way? How does the function of the digraph and the spacing you have to sacrifice relate?

John Savard's picture
Offline
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
0

I might have overlooked an excellent explanation, but I must say I still don't see the logic in considering æ to be a ligature.

Well, it obviously is a ligature - it is the two letters, a and e, combined into a single linked graphical element.

You are right that it's nothing like the ffi ligature - the two letters are joined because they form an orthographical entity, not just for appearance reasons. But English speakers basically don't recognize the "digraph" as a concept applicable to their language. Instead, a digraph is just any two letters - what the Playfair cipher encodes.

http://www.quadibloc.com/crypto/pp1321.htm

So the only word they have for it is "ligature", even though it is definitely not a ligature in the sense you are using the term.

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
0

I have to admit I use my own terms or use terms in a way I feel are more applicable at times. Sometimes I forget and I get into trouble. But really, shouldn't there be a great distinction? The way I reason it, a digraph is a combination of letters that denote a specific sound and could in some sense be considered a separate letter. Sometimes that's what it does become eventually. The Dutch generally don't recognize /ij as part of the alphabet, and yet we often refer to it as a letter and I've seen game shows where it's used as a single letter rather than two letters. If a word starts with /ij then both letters become uppercase rather than just the /I.

A ligature however usually seems to have little to do with pronunciation or considering it to be part of the alphabet. Ligatures are stylistic combinations of letters. According to my reasoning the Eszett came from a digraph and not from a ligature. The principle of a ligature is at play here however, at the point where the digraph starts morphing into a new letter. sz I would consider a digraph while the stylistic representation of sz in its transitional form between the digraph and ß could be considered a ligature. Same goes for ss. While ss is a digraph, long s/s is a ligature to me, which one day could have become a letter.

Considering every combination of letters to be ligatures seems much too broad to me.

But English speakers basically don't recognize the "digraph" as a concept applicable to their language.

That seems besides the point. They should still use the term even if it's not applicable to their language. It is though. æ

John Savard's picture
Offline
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
0

That seems besides the point. They should still use the term even if it's not applicable to their language.

I guess I didn't make my point clear. Yes, English speakers, when discussing the typography of other languages, should definitely distinguish concepts applicable to those languages, even if they have no counterpart in English. You are quite correct to say that.

The problem, instead, is that terms for things they don't normally have occasion to talk about will be part of a specialist vocabulary. Yes, "æ" is - or was - used in English-language typography, but for words derived from Latin. So the word "digraph", in the sense you're using it, isn't really part of the English language - the word "ligature" is the only one handy.

That it happens to mean both ligatures that are purely visible, and ligatures that are phonetic, is simply glossed over. After all, in Japanese, the same word serves for "inhale" and "gobble" or "wolf down". In both English and French, the same word means "look at carefully" and "wristwatch" (watch, montre).

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm
0

So the word "digraph", in the sense you're using it, isn't really part of the English language - the word "ligature" is the only one handy.

I get your point, but to me it's a distinction without a difference. Despite making use of digraphs all my life I never even heard of digraphs before I came to Typophile. As type designers we all have to become familiar with these terms and learn the distinction between a digraph and a ligature, whether our language makes use of digraphs or not.

Alfonso Federico García's picture
Joined: 16 May 2010 - 4:27pm
0

I have a doubt, oe and ae, should be part of the discretionary ligatures or not, in the Open Type features?
I'm looking for a confirmation of this, hope you can help me.

Thank you!

Michel Boyer's picture
Offline
Joined: 2 Jun 2007 - 1:01pm
0

Concerning oe, in a French dictionary, you find words with œ and others with oe; cf Œ - French (wiki). That implies that œ should not be treated as a ligature in an opentype font.

Johan Palme's picture
Offline
Joined: 23 Jan 2011 - 6:07am
0

Interesting discussion! Hungarian has a whole bunch of single-phoneme digraphs (Cs, Dz, Gy, Ny, Sz, Ty, Zs) and one trigraph (Dzs) that are sorted separately in dictionaries, but I've never seen any of these being given special typographic treatment.

(Oh, and the number of phonemes and number of letters can be dissociated the other way, too. Hungarian "c" is represented as two phonemes in many other languages (as well as IPA), namely "t" + "s".)

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
0

What Michel said, even for English.

Hungarian: sounds like an opportunity is present!

hhp

John Savard's picture
Offline
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
0

how seriously does anybody take these anymore & why?

I think there is no one answer to this - in some languages, the digraphs used in the language are still taken very seriously, and in other languages, they are largely ignored and disused.

Also, I think a threefold distinction is needed - there are digraphs like the Dutch ij, there are ligatures like the English ffi, and then the ae and oe ligatures are treated as orthographically distinct objects even in English - yes, you can spell encyclopedia as encyclopædia or as encyclopaedia, but that's because æ, being distinct from "ae", can be rendered alternatively as either ae or just e, not just the former choice.

So when something is both a digraph and a ligature, it's really a distinct letter, but with visible parentage. The German eszet is perhaps further along in the process than some, as it is not perceived much as its historical value of a ligature of two letters "s", the first being a long s, but instead is often just thought of as another letter, even if it doesn't currently have a matching upper case.

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am
0

even if it doesn't currently have a matching upper case.

What?
http://typophile.com/node/33647
http://typophile.com/node/85692
http://typophile.com/node/84295

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am
0
matt yow's picture
Offline
Joined: 8 Mar 2010 - 9:35pm
0

bumping this thread to see if I can excavate more answers...

First off, seems like by definition a glyph like "æ" can be defined as both a digraph AND a ligature.
But for most digraphs: ij, ch, ß, its a matter of phonetics. An "fl" ligature is still two sounds in one breath while "ij" is simply "ī" (as far as one syllable). Sure "fl" is one syllable as well but it seems like its more a matter of aesthetic congestion of ascenders that the two letters compromise into one.
...I'm really just thinking this through rather than proving anything at all.

So then would diacritical glyphs be labeled as digraphs? Seems like most of them derived from two characters mashed into one and then simplified to a small mark above (or below) the original character. (see: aͤ)

Is any of what I'm thinking wrong at all? Seems in line with whats already been said... just in other words.

Jan Żurawski's picture
Offline
Joined: 3 Sep 2005 - 12:21pm
0

Polish digraphs by Garamond:

(not present here: ch, and disputed: ni, ci, si, zi, dzi) Not in use since long.

John Savard's picture
Offline
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
0

English uses "th", "ch", and "ng" to represent single phonemes, but they're not treated as digraphs, or indeed as anything special, in the sense outlined.

John Hudson's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Dec 2002 - 11:00am
0

Matt: But for most digraphs ... its a matter of phonetics.

Yes, this is key to understanding the role of digraphs in orthography. Some languages treat some digraphs as distinct letters for sorting purposes, but that shouldn't be taken as a defining aspect of digraphs. English has many digraphs, but does not treat any of them as distinct letters (nor does it pronounce them consistenty).

Don't forget trigraphs and tetragraphs, which are relatively common in some orthographies. Some Irish dialects pronounce up to six letters as a single phoneme.

Other than those digraphs that have morphed into ligated forms, e.g. æ or fraktur ck, or that have a history of either ligation or other stylised treatment in display letters, e.g. Dutch ij, I don't think it is either possible or desirable to given special typographic treatment to digraphs, trigraphs, etc. There are simply too many variables of use in actual languages, such that the same combination of letters may constitute a digraph in some words but not in others.

matt yow's picture
Offline
Joined: 8 Mar 2010 - 9:35pm
0

John: "There are simply too many variables of use in actual languages..."

I think that sums it up nicely. One standard is not universal.

Alfonso Federico García's picture
Joined: 16 May 2010 - 4:27pm
0

Thank you Michael!

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
0

One thing you might look at is the rising prevalence
of the "ch" glyph in South American type design.

hhp

Eben Sorkin's picture
Offline
Joined: 22 Jan 2004 - 4:19pm
0

Just now I edited the initail post for clarity. Thanks Carl!

Here is a sample too:

Nick Shinn's picture
Offline
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am
0

how seriously does anybody take these anymore & why?

It's necessary to modify the standard "ae" and "oe" digraphs, to make them slightly narrower than just merging their components. And it's especially important to make a distinction between these characters in italic. Why? -- because that's the way the old guys did it, and because it's smart alec stuff. And of course, it improves readability by disambiguation and more harmonious proportions.

But monospaced -- think of it as lovable black sheep rather than sore thumb.

Eben Sorkin's picture
Offline
Joined: 22 Jan 2004 - 4:19pm
0

black sheep

Nicely put! And my apologies to Peter if that sounded harsh or something. The truth is I have a ton of respect for your work!

Adam Twardoch's picture
Offline
Joined: 3 Dec 2002 - 7:36pm
0

"æ" is used as an ordinary letter in Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, among others and is a part of the alphabet. Therefore, it's a digraph, not a ligature (although it originates from a ligature, and still has a status of a ligature in Latin, English and French).

A.

Eben Sorkin's picture
Offline
Joined: 22 Jan 2004 - 4:19pm
0

These are interesting points.

Allow me to sum up my understanding so far: speaking from the point of view of a text face or even directional signage point of view we have:

- Digraphs which (maybe) should look obtrusively compressed like 'rr' 'ch' & 'dz' so that their status as a digraph is reinforced

- Digraphs which (maybe) should not be obtrusively compressed like 'ij' and which a layperson would ideally not notice.

- Ligature/Digraphs which inevitably seem to be compressed like 'ae' but which (maybe) aught to look as natural as possible despite certain inherent difficulties in acheiving this.

- Ligatures which probably aught too look as 'natural' or unobstrusive as possible like 'ff' 'fi' 'fl' 'ct' & 'ffi' etc and which a layperson would ideally not notice.

Is a structure like this accurate? If so, which digraphs fall into which camps?

Adam, given what you said about the 'ae' and your notes about the polish vs. french 'acute' it strikes me that there might be cultural preference for the design of digraphs too. What do you think?