Distinguishing COENG TA from COENG DA in Khmer script

Kent Karlsson kent.b.karlsson at bahnhof.se
Sun Jun 28 15:05:35 CDT 2020

> 25 juni 2020 kl. 05:28 skrev Asmus Freytag via Unicode <unicode at unicode.org>:
> On 6/24/2020 12:22 PM, Kent Karlsson via Unicode wrote:
>> (Picking a quote slightly arbitrarily here.)
>>> They are supposed to represent subscript DA and TA, and for the 
>>> old-Khmer style those look different. The fact that they look identical
>>> does not mean that you should only use the subscript TA and expect
>>> it to work where subscript DA is intended.
>> I know it is very late to say this but… To me this seem very much like
>> there has been an ORTHOGRAPHIC change over time (preferring
>> TA over DA when subscript), NOT a commonisation of glyphs.
>> Indeed, one can well argue that giving COENG TA and COENG DA
>> the same glyph violates the character identity for these characters/
>> character sequences.
>> /Kent Karlsson
> What fact about the Khmer writing system leads you to that conclusion?
> A./
> PS: at some point, looking merely at the printed shapes, an issue like this is not decidable -- to decide it you need to know how people using the script conceptualize it.
As far as I can gather, it seems like DA and TA both span ”t”-like and ”d”-like pronunciations. So from a pronunciation point of view, their degree of
interchangeability seems high. Trying to make rules for when to use one or use the other is then very tenuous and prone to change both over space
(dialects) and time (spell changes, formal or informal). Thus one cannot make a reliable rule as to whether a TA-looking subjoint (Khmer) letter should
be seen as COENG TA or COENG DA.

And indeed, if COENG DA and COENG TA are rendered the same by many but not all fonts supporting the Khmer script, it is impossible to 
reliably communicate things like ”the current spelling of the word is <some word written with COENG TA> but the traditional spelling is <same word
written with COENG DA>” in plain or formatted text (even in formatted text the font selection is not very hard, there can be font substitutions) without
resorting to images or extraneous explanations of which letters were actually used. That seems like a pity. The different rendering need not be such
that (e.g., as here, COENG DA) it is the old one, but needs to be distinguishable by a reasonable reader at reasonable font size/resolution. It could be
a ”modernized” rendering of COENG DA, or a more traditional one, but sufficiently clearly distinct from  the rendering of COENG TA (and distinct from
other Khmer subscript letters); THAT would be a font difference. But at the point where ”original” COENG DA is rendered exactly the same as
COENG TA, it is a spelling change, and should be treated as such.

I am all for that the author of a text decides which letter-apparent there are in a piece of text, not font makers. This is especially important here,
since historically COENG DA had its own separate rendering not conflated with COENG TA rendering.

/Kent Karlsson

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