Universal character shape terminology?

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Christopher Ray Miller's picture
Joined: 3 Aug 2009 - 8:55pm
Universal character shape terminology?

I have been wondering lately where the terminology used to describe components of characters' shapes derives from. In particular, I'm wondering if there is a single set of terms that can be used to describe characters in different scripts using similar terms so we can understand clearly what is being talked about from one script to another. I know for example that the equivalent of "eye" — often used to describe the closed counter in — is used to describe the counters inside the Perso-Arabic haa' (or heh): Urdu uses this name for a letter called "two-eyed heh" (do-cheshmi he). I've seen a review article of Devanagari terminology that seems to conclude there is not much standardisation apart from "shirorekha" (the long head stroke above Devanagari letters), "kana" (the vertical stem on most letters) or (in English — I forgot the Hindi/Sanskrit term) "box loops", the filled-in, boxy, serif-like junctions in the Devanagari or Gujarati consonant letters equivalent to R, M or Bh. Then there are the Chinese and Japanese terms for different stroke types and for the serifs in Song/Mincho typefaces ("fish scales" in Japanese).

This is the extent of what I'm aware of. I'm wondering if there exists anywhere a set of standardised terms that would unambiguously describe character shape components across any variety of scripts, however varied they may be, whether Latin-Greek-Cyrillic, Arabic, Sinoform or other kinds of scripts.

The reason I'm asking this question is because I am doing research on the origins of some old vernacular scripts of Indonesia and the Philippines that seem to have their origin in Old Gujarati script, and I'm trying to find a set of terms that will succinctly describe what aspect of a character's form I am referring to, whether it's in the original Gujarati or Devanagari shape, or the new shapes the characters evolved into in the island scripts. "Bowl" and "arch" seem intuitive enough for upward- and downward concave strokes, respectively, but I'm at a loss for terms to describe left- or right-concave strokes.

Does anyone know of a source — it could be a book or a web site — that has a fairly exhaustive list of terms for character components along with clear definitions (as opposed to just giving ambiguous illustrations) for terms, especially ones whose intended meaning I have yet to clearly understand like "transitive" and "reflexive"? And in particular, a source that describes these components in script-neutral terms that could be used for different scripts in use around the world?