Standaridized variation sequences for the Desert alphabet?

Martin J. Dürst duerst at
Wed Mar 29 05:12:19 CDT 2017

Hello everybody,

Let me start with a short summary of where I think we are at, and how we 
got there.

- The discussion started out with two letters,
   with two letter forms each. There is explicit talk of the
   40-letter alphabet and glyphs in the Wikipedia page, not
   of two different letters.
- That suggests that IF this script is in current use, and the
   shapes for these diphthongs are interchangeable (for those
   who use the script day-to-day, not for meta-purposes such
   as historic and typographic texts), keeping things unified
   is preferable.
- As far as we have heard (in the course of the discussion,
   after questioning claims made without such information),
   it seems that:
   - There may not be enough information to understand how the
     creators and early users of the script saw this issue,
     on a scale that may range between "everybody knows these
     are the same, and nobody cares too much who uses which,
     even if individual people may have their preferences in
     their handwriting" to something like "these are different
     choices, and people wouldn't want their texts be changed
     in any way when published".
   - Similarly, there seem to be not enough modern practitioners
     of the script using the ligatures that could shed any
     light on the question asked in the previous item in a
     historical context, first apparently because there are not
     that many modern practitioners at all, and second because
     modern practitioners seem to prefer spelling with
     individual letters rather than using the ligatures.
- IF the above is true, then it may be that these ligatures
   are mostly used for historic purposes only, in which case
   it wouldn't do any harm to present-day users if they were separated.

If the above is roughly correct, then it's important that we reached 
that conclusion after explicitly considering the potential of a split to 
create inconvenience and confusion for modern practitioners, not after 
just looking at the shapes only, coming up with separate historical 
derivations for each of them, and deciding to split because history is 
way more important than modern practice.

In that light, some more comments lower down.

On 2017/03/28 22:56, Michael Everson wrote:
> On 28 Mar 2017, at 11:39, Martin J. Dürst <duerst at> wrote:

> An æ ligature is a ligature of a and of e. It is not some sort of pretzel.

Yes. But it's important that we know that because we have been faced 
with many cases where "æ" and "ae" were used interchangeably. For 
somebody not knowing the (extended) Latin alphabet and its usages, they 
might easily see more of a pretzel and less of 'a' and 'e'. I might try 
some experiments with some of my students (although I'm using "formulæ" 
in my lecture notes, and so they might already be too familiar with the 

Also, if it were the case that shapes like "æ" and "œ" were used 
interchangeably across all uses of the Latin alphabet, I'm quite sure we 
would encode it with one code point rather than two, even if some 
researchers might claim that the later was derived from an "o" rather 
than an "ɑ", or even if we knew it was derived from an "o" (as we know 
for the ß).

> What Deseret has is this:
> 	* officially named “ew” in the code chart
> 	* used for ew in earlier texts
> 	* officially named “oi” in the code chart
> 	* used for oi in earlier texts
> 	* used for oi in later texts
> 	* used for ew in later texts

Currently, it has this:



My personal opinion is that names are mostly hints, and not too much 
should be read into them, but if anything, the names in the current 
charts would suggest that the encoding is for the 39th/40th letter of 
the Deseret alphabet, whatever its shape, not for some particular shape.

And you know as well as I do that we can't change names. So if we split, 
we might end up with something like:





> Don’t go trying to tell me that LONG OO WITH STROKE and SHORT OO WITH STROKE are glyph variants of the same character.
> Don’t go trying to tell me that LONG AH WITH STROKE and SHORT AH WITH STROKE are glyph variants of the same character.

We have just established that there are no characters with such names in 
the standard. It's not the names or the history that I'm arguing.

> To do so is to show no understanding of the history of writing systems at all.

What I'd agree to is that cases where shapes with different historical 
origins merge and get treated as one and the same character are quite a 
lot rarer than cases where they don't merge. But we have seen cases 
where such a merge happens. ß is one of them. There are quite a few in 
Han (not surprising because there are tons of ideographs there to begin 

But that experience doesn't mean that we have to rush to a conclusion 
without examining as much of the evidence as we can get hold of.

> You’re smarter than that. So are Asmus and Mark and Erkki and any of the other sceptics who have chimed in here.

Skepticism is when presented with options without background facts is a 
virtue in my opinion.

>> And as for precedent, the fact that we have encoded a lot of characters in Unicode doesn't mean that we can encode more characters without checking each and every single case very carefully, as we are doing in this discussion.
> The UTC encodes a great many characters without checking them at all, or even offering documentation on them to SC2. Don’t think we haven’t observed this.

As for BROCCOLI that you mention later and other emoji, first I would 
like to make clear that I don't use emoji personally nor do I push for 
their encoding.

But what's important for the discussion at hand is that when it comes to 
emoji, the question of whether we should unify or disunify BROCCOLI and 
CAULIFLOWER (just a hypothetical example) isn't as important. That's 
because there is no preexisting user community that would be seriously 
inconvenienced the way it would happen if we suddenly disunified the 
ſs/ſz ligature, or suddenly unified "æ" and "œ". Emoji are a hopeless 
hodgepodge, where users click on what they see, and hope that it shows 
close enough to what they meant at the other end or after a few years.

>> Of course they will easily see different shapes, but what's important isn't the shapes, it's what they associate it with. If for them, it's just two shapes for one and the same 40th letter of the Deseret alphabet, then that is a strong suggestion for not encoding separately, even if the shapes look really different.
> Martin, there is no answer to this unless you can read the minds of people who are dead a century or more.

Thanks for telling us, finally.

>> To use another analogy, many people these days (me included) would have difficulties identifying Fraktur letters, in particular if they show up just as individual letters.
> I do not believe you.

It's true. When younger, I tried to read some old books written in 
Fraktur. It was hard work. Most of the lower letters were okay, but the 
ſ and the f were easy to confuse, and the k is also confusing. A lot of 
guessing was needed for upper case. I'm quite sure most people these 
days couldn't easily identify upper case letters in isolation. Of 
course, context helps a lot.

> If this were true menus in restaurants and public signage on shops wouldn’t have Fraktur at all. It’s true that sometimes the orthography on such things is bad, as where they don’t use ligatures correctly or the ſ at all.

Shops and newspapers (e.g. NYT) and the like rely a lot on a logo 
effect. And the situation may be slightly different in Germany and in 

> I’ll stipulate that few Germans can read Sütterlin or similar hands. :-)

Definitely agreed!

> On 28 Mar 2017, at 11:59, Mark Davis ☕️ <mark at> wrote:
>> ​I agree with Martin.

>> Simply because someone used a particular shape at some time to mean a letter doesn't mean that Unicode should encode a letter for that shape.
> Coming to a forum like this out of a concern for the corpus of Deseret literature is not some sort of attempt to encode things for encoding’s sake.

And coming to a discussion like this out of a concern for modern 
practitioners of the script (even if it seems, after a lot of 
discussion, that there aren't that many of these, and the issue at hand 
may indeed not concern them that much) is not some sort of attempt to 
unify things for unification's sake.

Regards,    Martin.

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