Encoding italic (was: A last missing link)

Andrew Cunningham via Unicode unicode at unicode.org
Wed Jan 16 06:16:17 CST 2019

HI Victor, an off list reply. The contents are just random thoughts sparked
by an interesting conversation.

On Wed, 16 Jan 2019 at 22:44, Victor Gaultney via Unicode <
unicode at unicode.org> wrote:

> - It finally, and conclusively, would end the decades of the mess in HTML
> that surrounds <em> and <italic>.

I am not sure that would fix the issue, more likely compound the issue
making it even more blurry what the semantic purpose is. HTML5 make both
<i> and <e> semantic ... and by the definition the style of the elements is
not necessarily italic. <em> for instance would be script dependant, <i>
may be partially script dependant when another appropriate semantic tag is
missing. A character/encoding level distinction is just going to compound
the mess.

And then there are all the other script specific typographic / typesetting
conventions that should also be considered.

> My main point in suggesting that Unicode needs these characters is that
> italic has been used to indicate specific meaning - this text is somehow
> special - for over 400 years, and that content should be preserved in plain
> text.
> Underlying, bold text, interletter spacing, colour change, font style
change all are used to apply meaning in various ways. Not sure why italic
is special in this sense. Additionally without encoding the meaning of
italic, all you know is that it is italic, not what convention of semantic
meaning lies behind it.

And I am curious on your thoughts, if we distinguish italic in Unicode,
encode some way of spacifying italic text, wouldn't it make more sense to
do away with italic fonts all together? and just roll the italic glyphs
into the regular font?

In theory changing italic from a stylistic choice as it currently is to a
encoding/character level semantic is a paradigmn shift. We dont have
separate fonts for variation selectors or any other mecahanism in
unicode,and it would seem to make sense to roll character glyph variation
into a single font. And potentially exclude italicisation from being a
viable axis in a variable font. Just speculation on my part.

To clarify I am neither for nor against encoding italics. But so far there
doesn't seem to be a robust case for it. But it it were introduced I would
prefer a system that was more inclusive of all scripts, giving proper
analysis of typeseting and typographic conventions in each script and well
founded decisions on which should be encoded. Cherry picking one feature
relevant to a small set of scripts seems to be a problematic path.

I have enough trouble with ordered and unordered lists and list markers in
HTML without expaning the italics mess in HTML.

Andrew Cunningham
lang.support at gmail.com
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