Origin of some Roman and Cyrillic glyph variants?

dumpling's picture

I would like to know where certain Roman and Cyrillic glyph variants come from.

In American cursive handwriting (Roman letters, naturally):
• the "f" looks more like a print "b" than a print "f";
• the "s" does not resemble any print letter at all;
• and the "r" looks like some kind of weird mutant print "n".

In Russian cursive (Cyrillic letters):
• the "г" looks like a backward print Roman "s";
• the "д" looks for all the world like a cursive Roman "g";
• and the "т" looks like nothing so much as a cursive roman "m"!

(The cursive forms for "г" and "т" are also used in italic.)

As for "r" and "г", I wonder if the same principle is at work for both.

I have seen some of the Russian "cursive" letterforms in print, in the credits for some episodes of "Nu, pogodi!"

typerror's picture

The "American script" forms that you refer to look the way they do as a result of tool, speed and ductus.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

I would like to know where certain Roman and Cyrillic glyph variants come from.

That’s a pretty long story. Much longer than the following image…

Nick Shinn's picture

Handwriting is the origin of alphabetic forms.
Which alphabet shapes, if any, are not derived from handwriting?
Inuktitut, for one.
Crouwel’s New Alphabet, another.

John Hudson's picture

The "American script" forms that you refer to look the way they do as a result of tool, speed and ductus.

And more specifically because of the point of connection between these letters and adjacent forms minimising lifts of the pen. So, for instance, the f connects at the x-height, so the writer needs to move from the bottom of the descending stroke back to the x-height, hence the characteristic loop. The r, conversely, connects from the bottom, so the pen needs to come down before rising to the next letter, creating the overall n-like construction (but not really like an n in the same script).

typerror's picture

Thank you John... I was also going to add that it was a function of "script" and joins etc. but just left it as it was figuring they (w)could deduce the outcome and rationale.

SCRIPT being the operative word.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Which alphabet shapes, if any, are not derived from handwriting?
Inuktitut, for one.
Crouwel’s New Alphabet, another.

Also Cherokee… And, to a considerable extent, modern Cyrillic.

The new, ‘westernised’ forms of Civil Type introduced by Peter the Great had little precedent in Russian writing, and leave an impression of an arbitrary, whimsical refurbishment. Peter’s typographic reform was indeed a Triumph of the Will. It took a while for the new letterforms to get broken in and become integrated into a harmonious ensemble, and for the everyday writing to finally catch up with the reformed printing type.

Nick Shinn's picture

Although not a member of the alphabet… the Euro.

quadibloc's picture

Indeed, this is a big topic.

One could start here and move on to Spencerian and Palmer scripts, although the desired answer no doubt lies in between those endpoints.

hrant's picture

No shape is derived solely from handwriting. In fact any shape starts out as a tool-free idea.

hhp

typerror's picture

Pure ignorance!

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: In fact any shape starts out as a tool-free idea.

Begone Platonist! Letters are things, not ideas of things.

hrant's picture

Letters are shapes of ideas, made with tools. And the bezier is a tool too!

Michael: nothing pure exists.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Seriously, if you want a good model of understanding writing systems I recommend the work that is now being done that directly maps the phenomena of writing to those of linguistics, finding both obvious parallels and, in the process, uncovering less obvious one that expand our understanding of the 'grammar' of writing. The key is that both language and writing are phenomenal: their is no uninstantiated text any more than there is uninstantiated speech. If you start going down the Platonist path with regard to 'ideas' of letters, you may as well go all the way down the 'philosophical language' rabbit hole, which is doubtless an entertaining journey but it doesn't tell you anything about the phenomenal world. The shapes of our letters reflect the shapes that have been made at particular places and times by particular people using particular tools working within text cultures that encouraged particular conventions according to criteria of competence and performance.

hrant's picture

With particular ideas in mind.

hhp

typerror's picture

Tell the lie long enough and loud enough and everyone will believe you, Hrant.

John Hudson's picture

Tell the lie long enough and loud enough and everyone will believe you

No, they won't; they'll just stop paying attention to anything you say. :)

typerror's picture

:-)

hrant's picture

Which of course explains how Armenia's ministry of culture, ISType and Reading University jointly paid for virtually all the expenses for my 9-day trip in June. Are they all ignorant too? Nobody has to agree with anybody completely (in fact that would be boring); but pretending somebody you disagree with on some things has absolutely nothing to contribute only makes you weaker. For example I'm quite unlikely to recommend Michael's fonts, but I would be quite unwise to ignore everything he says.

John, since you're not an emotional spaz I have to think either I'm explaining my view poorly or you're being unduly and uncharacteristically intransigent. Or both! Let me try this: at their origins letters are made not by undirected movements of the hand, they come from a structure in the mind of the maker, a structure previously seen -or at least imagined- in the "real world". For example in Hangul the various elements are renderings of the mouth and tongue when making the given sound. And the ox that's supposed to be the origin of the Latin "A" was not made by a human hand! I'm not sure how anybody could logically limit the way letters look to a human's right hand (especially one holding a specific marking tool) instead of seeing the hand as simply one historically relevant factor in the end-result.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, I do understand what you're getting at , but a) I think you are wrong and b) as you might remember the shorter and pithier you try to make your pronouncements the more likely I am to respond grumpily. When you take the time to express your thinking, we all do better.

The ox-to-A example you give seems to me a very good illustration of my point, which is that writing systems typically evolve in the phenomenon of writing (leaving aside 'conscripts', which are classified parallel to 'conlangs' and contra 'natural' or 'organic' scripts for good reason). There was no 'idea of an A as an ox' that gave shape to our letter. Rather, there was a drawing of an ox that symbolised an ox and later a phoneme associated with an ox, and which through being written many, many times, on particular substrates with particular tools, became the shape of our letter A. There is no process other than writing that explains the gradual rotation of the letter, or the gradual conventionalisation of its proportions and its modulation; indeed, the very gradualness of these evolutions is evidence of the lack of an 'idea' behind the shape. The idea of the ox is gone long before the letter A takes its conventional form, and there isn't any need to replace the ox with another idea because once writing is instantiated -- and there is no uninstantiated writing -- it is the thing itself.

I've never sought to 'limit the way letters look to a human's right hand ... holding a specific marking tool', and I think type design even before the advent of digital outline formats had introduced a number of innovatory ways of both making letters and also thinking about letter shapes. But with few exceptions our writing systems are inherited, and they are inherited from writing, which is to say from an historical process that involves both invention and convention but that expresses both through an act.

If I had to summarise this disagreement, I would counter your statement that the shapes of letters begin as ideas by suggesting that letters are shapes to which ideas may be applied. As I think you know, I am a fan of a number of typeface designs of recent years that clearly involve the application of ideas to letter shapes -- Legato being only the most obvious; also several of Jeremy Tankard's designs (but not Fenland, which I take as evidence that the idea is not enough) --, but I think is it ahistorical to suggest that because we can approach letters in this way that this is how they evolved. The overwhelming evidence of palaeography is that writing systems evolve, unsurprisingly, through writing and are mostly shaped by tools, media and the practical considerations of text creation.

___

PS. I've never been wholly convinced by the relationship of Hangul shapes to the vocal system, nor do I think this rationalisation is either cognitively or graphically significant in terms of the evolution of the script. There are many cultures in which people believe their writing systems to be uniquely scientific or rational -- almost as many as believe their writing systems to have divine or magical origins --, whereas in my experience palaeography tells much the same story all over the world.

quadibloc's picture

@John Hudson:
There are many cultures in which people believe their writing systems to be uniquely scientific or rational

Yes, and users of simple alphabetic scripts like the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic can point out that Korean requires more complicated typewriters.

But since Alexander Graham Bell's "Visible Speech" shows it is possible to model letter shapes on the positions of the vocal organs, I see no reason to doubt the claim that this was also done consciously in the design of Hangul. I would have expected that if the forms don't have the claimed relationship, this would have been noticed, and the claim falsified.

John Hudson's picture

The relationship of Hangul jamo, and hence syllables, to the articulatory positions of the human mouth is detailed in the Hunmin jeong-eum haerye of 1446, which is certainly close enough to the date of the invention of Hangul for it to be taken seriously as something other than a post facto rationalisation. I said I wasn't wholly convinced, but perhaps should clarify that I accept that there is a systematic relationship between classes of sign and classes of articulation; I'm not convinced that the actual shapes of the signs represent the shapes of the mouth or, at least, that the a different set of shapes wouldn't provide at least as good or better representation. Indeed, if the latter wasn't the case, Bell's 'Visible Speech' might look more like Hangul jamo than it does. And, again, I don't think there is any cognitive or graphical benefit to such a system: it has nothing to do with the activities of either reading or writing.

Rob O. Font's picture

"the very gradualness of these evolutions is evidence of the lack of an 'idea' behind the shape. "

Oh no:( the idea went from being like, to becoming unlike any other shape. That's the idea. Just because there wasn't the idea at the beginning of that gradualness doesn't mean that wasn't the idea in the end, does it?

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