Welcome to Typophile
Please Sign in.

Greek Character Design Standards

Primary tabs

22 posts / 0 new
Last post
paul d hunt's picture
Offline
Joined: 15 Jan 2004 - 11:00am
Greek Character Design Standards
0

Can anyone point me toward any sources that cover how to properly design Greek characters? (online resources would be preferable)
i DID try google, but i must not be searching for the right things

Chris Lozos's picture
Offline
Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
0

Paul,
Look at Gerry Leonidas’s article in the book “Language Culture Type” from Graphis
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1932026010/002-3448184-4271247>

Brent Sleeper's picture
Offline
Joined: 15 Feb 2005 - 12:21pm
0

The biggest factor in how you pursue your design is whether the Greek characters are subsidiary to the Latin in your design. I assume they are, given this forum. The issue to consider then becomes whether you’re aiming for your type to be used in contemporary Greek contexts, by classical scholars, by biblical scholars, or by mathemeticians. I’ll set math aside except for one comment at the end of this note.

To reduce the subtleties enourmously, it comes down to whether or not you develop the full “Extended Greek” character complement (Unicode 0x1F00 — 0x1FFF) and/or just the basic modern Greek complement (0x300 — 0x03FF). In the early 1980s, the Greek government instituted some language reforms that simplified the use of accents (tone marks and breathing marks); the basic character range reflects the modern rules, the extended the traditional ones.

Scholars also need several archaic characters (qoppa, sampi, and others), as well a set of “apparatus” characters that are outside the formal character set, but used to mark up texts. These are well beyond the scope of this post, but you can learn a lot about these uses by looking at SIL’s web site.

Beyond the range of characters you need to develop, there are a few, but important, stylistic differences in glyph forms, depending upon the audience. Some off-the-cuff observations:

* One big stylistic issue is whether you draw your oxia (aka tonos aka acute) accent as a “regular” Western European acute, a steep acute, or a vertical line. The latter has been common since the language reform mentioned above, but many people find it to be incorrect. Note that most fonts developed by non-Greek foundries use the vertical form. Greek foundries have used both. The traditional form is a steep acute.

* Although there are, of course, several different characters in the two alphabets, Greek capitals are identical to Roman capitals in style, proportion, etc. You can and should use the same glyphs for A-Alpha, B-Beta, Z-Zeta, E-Epsilon, etc. Additionally, Greek shares several forms with Cyrillic alphabet, which, like Latin, decscended from the Greek. Beyond those in common with Latin, these include Ge-Gamma, Pe-Pi. Cyrillic Psi, Ef (Phi), and Omega sometimes, but not always, differ from the Greek equivalents.

* Greek miniscules have some forms partially in common with Latin, but the Greek letters retain a much more calligraphic form. In particular, the concept of serifs in lower-case Greek is a foreign one, although they are creeping into Greek use as cross-cultural pollination (or pollution, as the case may be) increases. To my eye, in a multi-lingual font, the range of “cursiveness” in the upright/”roman” face is a fairly even progression from Greek to Latin to Cyrillic.

* Note, however, that the concept of “italic” faces for emphasis is a fairly new one in Greek typography. Traditionally, Greek has been letter spaced or bolded, not slanted, for this application. This has been changing as design styles have become more international, and a “four font” family is becoming fairly common (helped along by Adobe, Microsoft, Linotype, et al, of course).

* Also, Greek characters really don’t have ascenders (although there are a few tall miniscules that reach what we’d consider ascender height), so the x-height often is higher than in many Latin types.

* Finally, and this is important, don’t mix mathematical and typographical designs. The use of pi, theta, phi, etc., in math has evolved into quite different forms than are used for setting Greek type. One to note in particular is phi (“open” versus “closed” forms).

Take my comments with a grain of salt. My background in this is as a onetime student of classical Greek and as an amateur typophile. Here are a couple (opinionated and subjective) sites I’ve found very useful for learning more about Greek typography.

* Yannis Haralambous is a Greek traditionalist who dislikes the language reforms described above and detests the way Western desktop software has eroded some of the finer aspects of Greek typography. Several papers he presented at ATypI and Unicode meetings are particlarly useful (e.g., “Keeping Greek Typography Alive”).

* Nick Nicholas is a linguist particularly interested in the issues related to Unicode and Greek language. In some ways, he’s Haralambous’ foil (or perhaps vice-versa); he takes a view that a lot of what passes for tradition is Greek type is simply arbitrary contrariness.

Cheers,
Brent

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

Brent, great stuff — thanks.

> The biggest factor in how you pursue your
> design is whether the Greek characters are
> subsidiary to the Latin in your design.
> I assume they are, given this forum.

Not when I’m around!  :-)

hhp

Gerry Leonidas's picture
Offline
Joined: 29 Jan 2003 - 5:10am
0

(I was just alerted to this thread, and began drafting a response. Give me an hour or so…)

Gerry Leonidas's picture
Offline
Joined: 29 Jan 2003 - 5:10am
0

ok, here goes.

[apologising in advance for skipping over some things with insufficient explanations]

Paul, there are essentially no resources online for what you’re looking; Yannis’ papers have been written primarily from the perspective of monographs to a standards body, and pretty much anything else will have its roots in classical or biblical studies — an important but narrow perspective, and also one which tends to colour the authors’ approach. You should note that a lot of the information online on personal sites is not trustworth y on this subject: often inaccuracies, misleading statements, bias, or incomplete information are found alongside fairly “innocent” passages.

There are very few print resources; my article for which Chris kindly provided the plug is getting a bit long in the tooth now. The latest text touching on the subject, albeit not deeply, is MS’s _Now read this_ on the CT fonts. There are other texts that you should have a look at, such as John Bowman’s _Greek printing types in England…_, Victor Scholderer’s catalogue of the BM 1927 exhibition, and a few articles in the _Greek printing types: from tablets to pixels_ volume (primarily John Lane’s article); I note items you may reasonably expect to find in a decent university library, or a better public one.

The reason for both the potential for inaccuracy in online resources, and the paucity of print resources is simple: the Greek script is quite difficult to design well for: not only becasue of its extremely strong ties to calligraphic models, but becaus these very models are very different from those proposed by any western calligrapher or theorist. Throw in a complicated, changing cultural environment for the script over almost three millennia and you begin to get the picture. (It takes me three to four hours of talking around a shopping-trolley full of material and many slides to give my “introduction to designing Greek for non-Greek designers” to the MA students…)

So, cutting to the chase, I will try to address the points rasied from the general to the specific. Firstly, Hrant is right in pointing out a fundamental error in Brent’s statement: that you may be designing a Greek to package together with a Latin does not mean the Greek is in any way subsidiary. Even if you are designing a Greek to go with a pre-existing Latin, your goal should be to produce a typeface that would be internally consistent, i.e. be perfectly acceptable to well-informed native readers _irrespective_ of the Latin. To be more precise: we should seek the equivalence of typefaces across scripts at certain typeface-wide levels and mid/macro-typographic levels, not glyph or sub-glyph level elements. (I’m going to skip writing further on this specific point because it will take me off-topic to the general problem of approach to cross-script designing.)

Brent is right is separating mathematical symbols from Greek: disregard anything you see in such typefaces as irrelevant to Greek typography. (But got wrong the note about alternate forms; see further down)

If you are developing Greek at all seriously, you will need to tackle polytonic at some point. All texts prior to 1982 (classical, Byzantine, Ottoman period, and post 1830) are polytonic, in addition to the ecclesiastical. Post-1982 only periodical publications and stuff off DTP bureaus is monotonic; all “serious” prose and all poetry is in polytonic, as well as many academic texts. The reasons for this are multiple, but — more importantly for this discussion — what we may call “polytonic” could be anyone of at least five different combinations of character sets, grammatical rules, spelling and hyphenation conventions. [Cut here long paragraph on misinterpretations of the character/glyph model in Unicode.]

However, whereas OpenType may make polytonic development significantly more practicable (e.g. on managing composite glyphs and spacing/kerning) it also imposes on the developer the problem of encoding in the system that is the font in conjunction with the text engine significant behaviour specification that in the realm of “dumb” T1 or TT remained in the user’s head. For example, I’m only half-joking what I say that some very serious people are now of the opinion that “polytonic case conversion” is penance for past sins.

In the relationship of the two cases, the Greek typographic script takes the principle of different lettering roots already present in the Latin and magnifies it. About half of the capitals are identical to the Latin: it is absolutely fine to just duplicate the glyphs into the Greek character slots; the rest of the Greek capitals range in difficulty, the main parameter being the degree to which the forms can be adapted to the particular typographic style. On the other hand, it is wrong to say that Greek small letter have any form in common with the Latin: this is a misconception borne of poor research, bad design process, and the ease with which designers use a copy-pasting approach when a strong theoretical or experiential frame is absent. (Evidence for this abounds from Gill and van Krimpen to the very latest releases; in the earlier cases it was due to Morison’s later abandoned theories; in the latter to a lack of exposure to original material and a coherent narrative for the script.) This is not to say that some elements within glyphs cannot be identical across scripts — but if they are they should be so becasue there is a consistent rationale behind it, rather than the expediencies of design processes.

Re secondary fonts in Greek: the practice of spacing out (or using alternate fonts) began to be eroded in 1910 onwards, when Monotype started marketing Series 90/91/92 as a family. The two practices coexisted for some decades, mainly depending on how a publication was produced. For example: I’ve got next to me a late-1950s _History of the Greeks_ by Karagatsis (then still alive) in Monotype Series 192 which does not have a secondary font, based as it is on Scholderer’s New Hellenic, and a 1937 edition of Aristotle’s _Constitution of Athens_ which uses the inclined Series 91 for emphasis within the upright Series 90. In fact, throughout most of the previous century this pattern of spacing for emphasis only survived in texts typeset with typefaces like the new Hellenic or Porson, for which no secondary fonts were developed. Any successful text typeface designed in at least the last seventy years will have had a secondary font, in almost all cases a [differently] cursive or inclined one. The issue of the style of the secondary font is quite interesting in Greek (and a rather large topic in itself, touched on briefly in the MS book).

I am not sure how to interpret Brent’s assertion that “Greek characters really don’t have ascenders (although there are a few tall miniscules that reach what we’d consider ascender height)”. In Greek typographic forms there is a clear horizontal banding between the baseline and the kappa-height (the equivalent to the x-height), and typeforms that ascend as well as descend beyond this band. Call it what you will, but I see this as ascending and descending elements. Also, the inference about the relative x-height (kappa-height) being larger is puzzling, since it is exactly the opposite that we often see in typeset texts, because of the space occupied by the diacritics.

The point made about the angle of the monotonic tonos is somewhat misleading: it should _never_ be vertical. All Greek reference works (including the original 1981 text passing monotonic into law) state unambiguously that the tonos is identical to the acute/oxia, therefore inclined to the right. Anything else you see is either a bad hack of an older polytonic font, or a badly designed contemporary one. It is possible to vary the angle between the monotonic tonos and polytonic oxia within a typeface, but both should be clearly strokes inclined to the right.

The way Brent writes about alternate forms of letters can be read to imply that the alternate forms are evident in mathematical typesetting only, which is not strictly correct. The beta, theta, and phi both forms are very much in use both in writing and typography; the alternate pi is used in writing but not typography; and the alternate kappa in writing and typographically depending on the style of the typeface.

***

I’ve just scratched the surface here, and have not at all addressed your original question: “how do you go about designing a new Greek?”. Recently I did a survey for all the documents I ‘ve put together over the last eight years while helping to develop Greek typefaces alongside Latin ones: there were about 45,000 words and over a hundred separate documents. I’d love to edit and put all that together at some point for wider circulation, but I can’t see this happening in the next few months. But if you’re in TypeCon seek me out and we can make some sketches.

Good luck

Gerry

Thomas Phinney's picture
Offline
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
0

> For example, I’m only half-joking what I say that some very serious people are now of the opinion that “polytonic case conversion” is penance for past sins.

O yes. I can’t imagine I’ve done anything awful enough to deserve it.

T

Chris Lozos's picture
Offline
Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
0

Gerry,
Hopefully, I can “seek you out” at TypeCon as well on the same subject?

ChrisL
PS: By all means, publish your eight year saga of documents—the Greeks had a word for it but I would like to read all 45,000 of yours :-)

Brent Sleeper's picture
Offline
Joined: 15 Feb 2005 - 12:21pm
0

Great, thoughtful post, Gerry. Thanks for the clearly well-considered observations and corrections.

paul d hunt's picture
Offline
Joined: 15 Jan 2004 - 11:00am
0

(It takes me three to four hours of talking around a shopping-trolley full of material and many slides to give my “introduction to designing Greek for non-Greek designers” to the MA students…)

too bad i don’t have the resources to particiapte in such a program! it gives me something to dream about, anyway. thank you for taking the time to respond (as thouroughly as is “convenient”) to my query. i’ll have to search out some of those articles you pointed out and start my education on designing Greek glyphs. thanks again!

Gerry Leonidas's picture
Offline
Joined: 29 Jan 2003 - 5:10am
0

I’m sorry if I skirted over some things, or made some points as statements rather than as arguments; I wish I had the time to write at more legth about this…

One more thing: there is already a buzz surrounding the CT fonts; these are particularly interesting because they were largely designed with all three scripts in mind from the start. But keep your eyes peeled for a couple of other interesting releases hitting the horizon in the coming months.

regards

paul d hunt's picture
Offline
Joined: 5 May 2005 - 8:44pm
0

wow. i've come a long way... i hope >^p

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

I would recommend you keep it simple and avoid polytonic, which is a huge amount of work to get right.
I don't believe there is much of a market for polytonic fonts, and what there is has been well catered to by bundled fonts from Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft.

The idea that the Greek alphabet is inherently more calligraphic than the Latin is absurd.
Nonetheless, it is a myth with some traction. For instance, there does seem to be a trend away from the traditional symmetrical lower case sans serif nu, towards the adoption of an asymmetric shape.

Thomas Phinney's picture
Offline
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
0

Gerry: "Greek miniscules have some forms partially in common with Latin, but the Greek letters retain a much more calligraphic form."

Nick: "The idea that the Greek alphabet is inherently more calligraphic than the Latin is absurd."

I certainly agree with Gerry's statement. I suppose with Nick's comment, one can debate whether that difference is "inherent" or simply "commonly implemented."

In the absence of something else unusual going on in the typeface design, I tend to think of the degree to which a Greek lowercase is calligraphic as being more-or-less the opposite of how Latinized it is, with the two being on a continuum.

Cheers,

T

Natasha Raissaki's picture
Joined: 20 Aug 2004 - 9:12am
0

Hi Paul,

you could also check the list of resources on greek typography
at http://www.raissaki.gr/pages/resources.html

I hope this might be helpful,

natasha raissaki

Chris Lozos's picture
Offline
Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
0

Ευχαριστώ πολύ Natasha!

ChrisL

Natasha Raissaki's picture
Joined: 20 Aug 2004 - 9:12am
0

παρακαλώ! : )

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

> I tend to think of the degree to which a Greek lowercase
> is calligraphic as being more-or-less the opposite of how
> Latinized it is, with the two being on a continuum.

I might be reading too much into this, but to me it's very
interesting to ask: What does the middle point look like?

hhp

Matthew Stephen Stuckwisch's picture
Joined: 7 Feb 2007 - 10:21am
0

interesting to ask: What does the middle point look like?

Georgian? flowing and curvatious like greek yet (everytime I've seen it) still just as machine rigid as Latin tends to be.

«El futuro es una línea tan fina que apenas nos damos cuenta de pintarla nosotros mismos». (La Luz Oscura, por Javier Guerrero)

Thomas Phinney's picture
Offline
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
0

> What does the middle point look like?

I think there are a fair number of typefaces in the middle. I tried to go down the middle with the Greek lowercase forms in Hypatia Sans, for instance. I'll have to ask Gerry where he thinks I landed on that spectrum. (He's here at ATypI.)

T

Chris Lozos's picture
Offline
Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
0

Personally, I think the problem comes when you are "aiming" at any historic solution. Past solutions certainly influence all of us in all scripts but if we just work at solving the needs of the typeface we are working on, the needed amount of influences will come through. We don't use or even see calligraphy or even handwriting much anymore in our normal lives. We also are not constrained by the production process of hot metal type. We are in a different place with different tools. The new tools may speak differently and both cause new problems and give new opportunities for solutions to old problems.

ChrisL

Thomas Phinney's picture
Offline
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
0

On thinking about this some more and talking it over with Gerry, I would like to refine my earlier comments: the Greek lowercase in a "good" typeface is more calligraphic than the Latin lowercase, by "some amount." There might be a range or reasonable amounts, and the ideal degree of additional chirography might vary from one typeface to another.

(In my own Hypatia Sans, the typeface is somewhat mannered and moderately geometric. The Greek is noticeably more calligraphic than the Latin, as it "should" be, but still not very calligraphic on any absolute scale. But that's okay.)

T