When the font is the boss of you

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/08/08 23:57 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/08/08/692896.aspx

The other day when I was talking about You say ĭtalics, I say ītalics. It is much more complicated in Cyrillic, the difference between the way italic/oblique font styles are thought of in different languages/locales was one of the interesting issues, something that Ssimon Daniels mentioned in response to RubenP's point about "And ditto on the synthetic obliques. I mean, why does Verdana have a real oblique, but Tahoma doesn't. It's the same bloody typeface!":

Tahoma was created for UI, and our traditionally our UI doesn't use italics (some languages we localize into don’t really have an Italic concept). However, the point is well taken, as we can't control where a font gets used we decided to include Italics (true ones) in Segoe UI, based on the amount of fake Tahoma Italic we’ve seen over the years on the web and elsewhere.

As for Frutiger Next Italics. Linotype obviously lifted that idea straight from Myriad as a way of getting back at Adobe. ;-)

Michael, if you’re interested in Italics a post on Meiryo Italics would be a good one.

I actually use fake Tahomia Italic in this blog, so obviously I agree with Simon's point about lack of control over the font usage....

But the point he raised about Meiryo (tha new Japanese font in Vista) is quite interesting (even if it was not as funny as the Linotype one!). It gets down to the core issue of who is in control when it comes to typography decisions -- the user or the font.

You see, in Meiryo only the Latins have a slanted form in the Italic font, not all glyphs. So if I take a string like:

Very interesting.   非常に興味深い。

It will slant the Japanese text, which really violates Japanese traditions.

But in Meiryo, it is a little different. Like in this screenshot in vist'a Wordpad:

The fact that the text is marked Italic is really not terribly relevant to Meiryo, it would seem!

Now while this really is in keeping with Japanese typographic traditions, it has been reported as a bug by several different people since Meiryo was first added to Vista, primarily from users who are used to slanted characters.

But it does kind of underscore that font settings, whether they are size, weight, or obliqueness, are actually a preference, one that the font itself might be designed to ignore.

This is not something that everyone is comfortable with (just as people may not like that the letters are such different sizes in different fonts), but it is actually how they are designed....


This post brought to you by (U+3044, a.k.a. HIRAGANA LETTER I)

# Michael Dunn_ on 9 Aug 2006 1:04 AM:

Have the designers ever thought about putting the language's own emphasis markings in the italics "slots" (not sure of the technical term) in the font? Eg in Japanese I've seen little dots above each character (in a horizonally-written line) to indicate emphasis. Could the kanji in the italic Meiryo be upright but with added dots?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Aug 2006 2:04 AM:

Hi Mike,

That is an interesting idea, though it does require overloading a particular attribute (oblique-ness?), re-using it for another purpose. This may make sense but could also be just as strange to a native speaker, given their knowledge of what is proper here. I think it is no worse (and potentially much better) than slanting Kanji and Kana though, so it may be worth considering as something a font might do....

# Ben Cooke on 9 Aug 2006 1:18 PM:

It seems strange to me that WordPad even gives you the option of applying "Italics" to scripts which have no concept of that. Surely the available fonts should change depending on what font family and script you have selected?

Of course, this leads to the obvious question of what to do if the selection contains both Latin and (for example) Cyrillic text. The "most correct" answer is to not allow you to do *anything* until you select only the bit that will work, but I guess the pragmatic solution is to show the union of both sets of variations and have only the appropriate text get changed when one is toggled.

# Mihai on 9 Aug 2006 1:35 PM:

"language's own emphasis markings"

It is called kenten.
And the problem is than more than one symbol can be used, and there are no clear rules which one you should use when.
They can be triangles, circles, diamonds, squares, empty or full

# Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Aug 2006 3:34 PM:

Hi Ben,

Of course if it is done at the level of the font, there is no easy way for applications to query whether italics is "legal" or not. There really isn't even a 100% effective "hard" way to do it....

In the case of Meiryo, the italic forms are in a .TTC file -- so you could in theory get glyph indices and compare them. And you'd have to look at the .TTC to see that it claims to support italics so that GDI does not do its own "italics virtualization" slanting.

Possible, but difficult. And there is no way to guard against a separate file implementation that just duplicates the glyphs.

# RubenP on 9 Aug 2006 7:44 PM:

As for adding emphasis markings (or kenten if you prefer) instead of italics, that's really not the right thing to do by default. Italics are not only used to indicate emphasis. Sometimes it's merely a matter of the typograpical style.

The text "This post brought to you by..." is a perfect example of italic text that does not convey any emphasis. As it's an "aside" of sorts, italics is probably the most natural way to go.

# Rei Miyasaka on 23 Aug 2006 7:41 PM:

I'm amazed that some people in Redmond are more concerned with preserving Japanese culture than the Japanese themselves (ourselves) are at the moment.

Thanks people. I'm glad it's you guys and not anyone else that's providing the world's most ubiquitous software.

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referenced by

2011/05/26 To True Boldly Go Where No Font...(yada yada yada)

2008/09/20 How to miss the point through translation (and on italicizing, or not)

2006/09/14 Not just uppercasing or italicizing; bolding can cause problems too!

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