German c-ligs

pablohoney77's picture

I've read that Germans space combinations of "ch" and "ck" tighter (than other languages). What is the best way to implement this? Is it preferable to design alternate glyphs with tighter spacing? or can one have OT kerning pairs that target German and accomplish the same result? Would one method be "better" than the other?

hrant's picture

I would go for full ligatures, both aesthetically and linguistically/historically.
Just make them ample in width.


pablohoney77's picture

can you expound a bit more, Hrant? i've got to mine that deep, dark mind of yours! can you show any examples of exceptional c-ligs that I can look at?

hrant's picture


You know what, I think I'll wait for people who actually know about German typography to help you out... If they don't show up, then I'll do the best imitation I can.


pablohoney77's picture

i acutally have another question:
i'm looking at the feature file for Adobe's Minion Pro and it has these ligatures in the dlig feature. I'm wondering if that is the best place for these substitutions. Wouldn't it be better to have these in the liga feature?

dan_reynolds's picture

Good to have them.
Hrant is onto the right idea.
Don't have any samples at hand.
Good luck.

eomine's picture

I guess the difference is that the liga feature is on by default, and the dlig feature is not.

John Hudson's picture

Ideally, these would be <liga> feature but only for the German language system tag. However, no apps are currently supporting language system tags. But I've seen a prototype!

kltf's picture

> I've read that Germans space combinations of
> "ch" and "ck" tighter (than other languages).

Not common any more since decades.

You may kern negatively -- very little -- to compensate for the c's counter. Which is a matter of design, not language.

But ligatures? I cannot say for sure, but may have seen such ligatures in metal type Palatino which looked, well, alien.


dan_reynolds's picture

Paul, in Paul Renner's book Die Kunst der Typographie (The Art of Typography, released 1940, 1948, 2003), the following information appears under the glossary headling for "ligature" (I'm translating here

twardoch's picture

Paul & others,

in my opinion (10 years of extensive reading experience in German and study at a German university, but not German native), setting tighter the "ck" and "ch" digraphs along as the other ones (ss, st, sz etc.) is an old habit that is no longer used nor practicable. Most importantly, the ligation, or pseudo-ligation of these combinations was always done with respect to linguistic rules. Only real digraphs were set tighter or ligated, while letter combinations that occured at stem boundaries in compound words were not.

Example: you may put an "fl" ligature in "fliegen" but not in "auflegen" because the latter is a compound of the "auf" prefix and the "legen" stem.

There is practically no way to implement it intelligently in the font -- the intelligence must be in the typesetting engine, and currently, I don't know any that can do it.

Since the "c_h" and "c_k" ligatures are of historic interest only, I recommend putting them in the "hlig" feature, and also in the "dlig" feature, but NOT in the "liga" feature.


kltf's picture

Two notes of more general nature.


Dan mentions Renner's "Die Kunst der Typographie". Renner's writings on typography are still outstanding, and it is wonderful that "Die Kunst" is back in print. (And unlike Tschichold, Renner is never dogmatic.)

But it would be a mistake to treat "Die Kunst der Typographie" as authoritative in questions of typographic details today. First edition of this book is of 1939 (the 2003 reprint is of a later, revised edition), and many "rules" in it trace back to "Typographie als Kunst" of 1922 (Typography as Art). Which was a world different from ours, typographically.

The open minded spirit of Renner's writings, however, is instructive.

An aside. Couldn't we live well without certain local typographic habits?
So, in typesetting German, use ligatures wherever possible and ignore the rules of -- very few -- exceptions?
Or, in typesetting Czech, forget about the very special contrast caron accent?
Maybe even find one form that would serve both as commaaccent and cedilla accent?


Extending Mr Twardoch's thought about using features for historic typesetting:

(a) Reserve "hlig" for historical ligatures like c_h & c_k.
(b) Use "hist" for longs. ("Historical forms" of M and Z as in Adobe Jenson are better considered as alternative forms dealt with in "salt" or "ssXX".)
(c) Substitution by longs ligatures -- like longs_i or longs_longs -- should be part of the "liga" feature. Reason is, IF you are using ligatures for f_i, f_f and others, THEN longs ligatures must be applied as well! To work correctly, "liga" must follow "hist".

This would require that applications allow to switch on/off "hist" and "hlig" features individually.

(In English the longs is used everywhere except at the end of a word, and longs ligatures are used whereever possible. In German, there are special rules, just as indicated with the f_f example in Mr Twardoch's post.)

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