Preliminary inquiry: Sigla for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake

Asmus Freytag asmusf at
Thu May 8 12:20:02 CDT 2014

On 5/8/2014 9:09 AM, catherine butler wrote:
> We're struggling to master the intricacies of proposing new Unicode characters specific to the James Joyce masterpiece "Finnegans Wake".
> There are somewhere from two to two-dozen 'sigla' that occur in the published text and the voluminous surviving notes, representing Joyce's basic archetypes: man/woman, boy/girl, old-man/old-woman, judge/jury, message, etc. Scholars currently use various elaborate compromises to represent these in published articles.
> Because they're all fairly simple geometric shapes, most of them already have approximate representations somewhere in Unicode (eg triangle, circle, caret, bracket), but as a gesture of respect it would be great to replace these so the whole set can be precisely matched for heights, linewidths, angles, etc.
> The highest priority would be the 90 and 270 degree rotations of the capital 'E' (still missing as far as I can tell). There's also rotations and reflections of capital 'F' that occur in the published text but not exactly as sigla (so far as we can judge-- scholarship is still in its early days).
> Are there precedents? Would testimonials help? Might this qualify for the full two dozen set?
> _______________________________________________

What is needed is an authoritative and complete inventory of these, 
using *images* from the works and notes to show their shapes (and a few 
images to document that they are indeed part of running text).

Only on that basis of that could there be a useful discussion of whether 
existing Unicode character codes actually encompass these, and/or 
whether any are distinct enough to warrant a new character.

For example, the sigla that looks like a reversed or rotated E probably 
should not be encoded using any of the character codes for "E" - 
unless(!) it is clear that Joyce intended a letter shape.

I personally would make a difference between letters and symbols that 
just happen to look like letters.

However, for the triangle, there's no need to encode a new character. 
The existing one is already a symbol, and, unless the shape in Joyce's 
work was a special kind of triangle (like a tall, narrow one, or a right 
triangle, etc.) the generic triangle would be the correct encoding 
(Unicode does have all sorts of triangles so it's most likely covered).

As for the exact details, line width, precise height, fine positioning 
on the line, at some point of specificity, these become a matter for a 
*font*. That means that the proper "respect" for his work would be shown 
by creating a font that renders these character codes in the correct 

People on this list can definitely help with the analysis, but see the 
first paragraph.


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