UNICODE SLAVONIC FONT MANIFESTO

(draft notes, by Nikita Simmons, 2011-12)

• Title
• Mission Statement
• Part 1: Ethical Guidelines
• Part 2: Definition of Period Font Families
• Part 3: The Complete Character Range
• Part 4: Guidelines for Type Designers
• Conclusion

 

MISSION STATEMENT:

One of the objectives of the Ponomar Project is to create a universally-accepted system for typesetting the full range of historical literature in the early Slavic languages, making use of the writing scripts for all eras of Slavonic orthography and typography. (This includes Paleoslavonic, medieval Church Slavonic, pre-Nikonian Church Slavonic, modern Church Slavonic, Glagolitic, and historical cursive and decorative writing scripts.) This system is designed to be fully cross-platform compatible (PC, Macintosh and Linux), and to be compliant with the current Unicode Standard as much as possible. We must acknowledge that the Unicode Consortium has a different set of objectives in creating their Standard, which are more in line with an academic and linguistic approach, rather than a system designed to accommodate the needs of highly-specialized writing scripts such as Slavonic. At the same time, as members of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Faith, we have urgent needs to re-typeset and reprint our liturgical texts with precision and complete faithfulness to the historical printing tradition, even if Unicode is not specifically designed to meet such needs. It is the hope of this Manifesto to create a widely-accepted and practical system of Slavonic typography that fully works and attempts to be as Unicode-compliant as possible. Working together as a group, the Ponomar Project has been instrumental in helping to close the gap between Unicode’s objectives and our objectives, by means of documenting additional symbols and proposing them for inclusion in the Unicode Standard. In addition, we have been implementing several of the advanced typographical features of TrueType font technology to program features directly into the font, so that no matter what operating system one is using, it will be possible to accurately render the texts with faithfulness to the original source.

As part of this Manifesto, we wish to define the specific range of characters necessary for each era of the Slavonic writing systems (without introducing unnecessary anachronistic characters or undocumented characters), and to create and distribute a series of high-quality Unicode-compliant fonts which reproduce historical letter forms, for use in a professional level of publishing. To support these goals, we are compiling a Church Slavonic Style Manual (CSSM) in a wiki (a collaborative writing environment) to provide educational tools for typesetters to learn to use these fonts correctly, guidelines for type designers to create compatible fonts, and to offer a growing collection of articles and links for those who wish to learn more about the Slavonic languages and their writing scripts. Furthermore, as time goes on, we hope to offer a comprehensive on-line digital library of liturgical and other Orthodox ecclesiastical texts in Unicode Slavonic (in early, pre-Nikonian and contemporary recensions of the language), which will be fully catalogued and searchable.

Q. Why Unicode?

A. The basic motivation for moving to Unicode is due to the problems with the current UCS-8 character encoding (and the limited range of characters in the UCS-8 fonts), which has become the current standard for Church Slavonic typography. The major drawback of UCS-8 encoding (which is based on Windows CP-1252 Cyrillic character encoding), is that it has a limit of 255 available characters, and there is no more room for expansion to include all the characters and symbols used in Slavonic typography since the first printed editions in the 15th century. UCS-8 encoding only permits the professional typesetting of texts from the Muscovite Synodal Era (c. 1670 - 1917), with only the characters used by the Moscow and St. Petersburg Synodal Printing Presses. Even the Kievan editions cannot be accurately reproduced with UCS-8 fonts, and pre-Nikonian and other historical editions encounter the same problem on a grander scale. By moving to Unicode, these historical editions can now be accurately reproduced and published, and the text files can be shared cross-platform and throughout the entire academic and religious communities.

Q. Why is Church Slavonic so difficult to typeset and encode?

A. Modern English and Russian are simple scripts to work with because they only use a basic set of characters. However, Slavonic, like several other writings systems, is complex because its orthography and spellings have an endless number of flexible rules, and it makes use of a complex system of accents and other diacritical marks (надстрочные знаки), as well as word abbreviations (титлы, надстрочные буквы) — all of which are difficult for the beginner to grasp. (See “Problematic Characters of the Slavonic Unicode Range” for a presentation of the difficulties the typographer will encounter when attempting to correctly typeset Church Slavonic.)

Simply typing the letters is NOT the way that things are done in Slavonic typesetting. There are a few letters which have different forms depending on where they are used in a word (initial, medial or final positions), all initial vowels have a “psili” (breath mark) to indicate the beginning of the word, and the vast majority of words need to have a diacritical mark to designate where the stress goes. Most of these letter forms are referred to as “contextual characters/glyphs”, and this is accomplished either by manually typing a composite letter form (such as an “initial o” with an initial accent mark), or by means of a sophisticated typesetting program which will automatically interpret standard letter forms by recognizing pre-programmed letter sequences and immediately substitute the correct pre-compiled letter form in the proper context. In the current system of typesetting (UCS-8 encoding with TrueType fonts), the user has to make use of a series of macros to get the proper letter forms, but in the newer OpenType font format, all these substitutions can be built into tables within the font file, so that no matter which operating system you use, it should work correctly. BUT there is a caveat: Most typesetting software will use the basic features of OpenType fonts, but only a few expensive professional typesetting programs (such as Adobe InDesign) can make full use of the advanced features of OpenType fonts (such as contextual ligatures and character substitution). [Think of it this way: The highway has been built, but only a few expensive cars can use it, and everyone else must rely on old vehicles operating on old narrow roads to get to their destination. The highway is not yet for everyone, but we hope to make it so over the next few years.]

 

PART 1: ETHICAL GUIDELINES

Before discussing ethical guidelines, we need to define the terms: type designer, type re-designer and typographer.

The Ponomar Project promotes the proprietary rights of type designers, with the objective of protecting the artistic integrity of their fonts. Each designer likes to think of his/her font as “intellectual property”. This is not generally seen as a matter of defending the right to profit, but it is a fundamental principle of protecting the artist’s work as it stands. We, as part of the worldwide community of Orthodox Christians, should live by moral and ethical standards in which the laborer is given his due acknowledgment for his artistic efforts. (It would be unethical to deface a well-known work of art, even one that exists in the public domain, but if permission is obtained from the artist, it is usually acceptable to make alterations, as long as such alterations meet the original artist’s approval.) Therefore, we promote the following ethical principles for type designers (and re-designers) to consider. We realize that it is impossible to “police” the actions of font designers and distributors in today’s world, but we sincerely ask for designers to comply willingly with these ethical guidelines.

— The initial designer of a font has “intellectual rights” over the design, even if this is only a reproduction of a period typeface. To alter someone else’s work without permission, especially without acknowledging the original designer, is considered an act of plagiarism (“theft of intellectual property”).

— It should be acceptable to re-work and improve another designer’s work, ONLY if we contact them and successfully obtain their permission. If permission is denied, we should humbly accept this and not attempt to circumvent the wishes of the original type designer.

— If permission is obtained, we should ideally submit the re-worked font to the original designer for approval and/or suggestions. If the original designer is not pleased with the results, the re-designer should not attempt to distribute the altered font until the original designer gives his approval.

— If the original designer sees his/her font being distributed with alterations that were made without permission and acknowledgment, and feels that his/her intellectual property rights have been violated, the original designer should contact the re-distributor and ask that all distribution cease and that the font be withdrawn from circulation. If the original designer is not successful in his/her request, the Ponomar Project is willing to provide arbitration in a manner that is as fair as possible; in such arbitration, legal copyrights will always have prime consideration.

 

PART 2: DEFINITION OF PERIOD FONT FAMILIES

It is not sufficient to create one single set of guidelines for creating and working with Slavonic fonts. Since the Slavonic language spans over 1000 years as a written language, it has undergone several major developments that can be generally divided into eras. As part of our work, the Ponomar Project has set a goal of establishing standards for “period font families”, which makes it easier to accomodate the distinctive needs of typesetting Slavonic literature from different eras.

Each identifiable era of the Slavonic language has unique properties for its writing systems, which require a system of classification into “period font families”. Each distinctive era has its own repertoire of base letters (or alphabet), superscript letters and abbreviations (titla), letter forms and orthography, use of punctuation and other symbols, spelling, grammar, syntax, and many other properties. Furthermore, each era of Slavonic letterforms has its own set of fundamental typographic principles which are sometimes quite different from other eras. It is not only impractical to design a single font which will cover all eras, but it is undesirable, since no single font can reproduce the literature of all eras with any degree of authenticity in its appearance. Therefore, the complete range of historical characters for each font family has been identified as a subset of the complete Unicode Standard.

Over the past 30 years we have seen many examples of anachronistic use of characters in fonts, and the end result is not only inauthentic, but frequently not very pleasing to the eye. It is our sincere hope that typeface designers will work with these guidelines in order to acchieve “period glyph integrity”.

The Ponomar Project proposes the following scheme of period font familes:

1. Ustav Fonts — representing the handwritten Cyrillic system of Paleoslavonic (particularly in its South Slavic origins) and Old Church Slavonic. [Sample] — (The earlier Glagolitic script, which utilizes a separate designated range of characters in Unicode, should certainly be represented in many Ustav fonts, but its inclusion should not be mandatory.) [Sample 1, Sample 2, Sample 3]

2. Slavonic Incunabula — representing the primitive typographic tradition of the first editions of Venice, Krakow (Dr. Francisk Skorinja), and other locations in the Balkan lands (Skopie, etc.); the typographic principles of this era are vastly different from future editions. [Sample 1, Sample 2] This era still needs a lot of research.

3. Poluustav Fonts — this can be divided into four sub-families:

a) Manuscript Poluustav — while there is quite a diversity in caligraphic styles, the most outstanding feature of Manuscript Poluustav is the wide diversity of letter forms, including a basic lower case, an alternate lower/middle case, large capitals, ligatures, superscript letters (titla), ligated titla, ornamental punctuation, and ornamental improvisation (particularly for character clusters, used to squeeze a word into narrow space). It is completely impractical to capture all these qualities in a font, since it would be a gargantuan task to document all the improvisatory ligatures and ornamental letter forms found in the diverse repertoire of manuscripts which span several centuries. Manuscript Poluustav ranges from conservative (similar to typeset books) to expansive (semi-cursive) in its range of characters and its use of abbreviations.
b) Oldstyle Book Poluustav
— the vertically expansive printed type style found in the early editions of Ostrog, Vilno, Zabludov, Striatin, etc.; [Sample]
c) Newstyle Book Poluustav — the more vertically conservative type style of the early editions of Ivan Fedorov (Moscow, Ostrog, Lvov, etc.), the Moscow Typografiia throughout the pre-Nikonian era, and up to the late 1700s [Sample 1, Sample 2]; and
d) Kievan Book Poluustav — the type style of editions printed by the Kiev Caves Lavra (with western influence); this typeface was used right up until the 1917 Revolution. [Sample]

4. Synodal Era Slavonic Fonts — Following the lead of the Moscow Synodal Typografiia, all of the other Slavic lands (with the exception for Kievan and Old Believer editions) adopted a style of modernized typography which was heavily influenced by elements of western European typography. This included smaller baseline capitals, removal of spacing before punctuation, standardization of spelling conventions, reduction of titla, elimination of alternate character forms, etc. Characters were made mechanically perpendicular, and there was a departure from the basic concept that the letters should be formed as if they were written with the “pen nib”. [Sample 1, Sample 2]

5. Modern Slavonic Fonts — This includes font designs of the past 30 years which have cast aside all pretense of using historical typefaces as models. In some cases this disregard for authenticity was not intentional, but was done by good-intentioned amateur artists who lacked proper education in the ways of typography. (They appear to have not acquired the concept of how much Orthodoxy likes to value its historical continuity, especially in the written word.)

6. Civil Script Fonts — This includes any modern Unicode fonts (both serif and san serif typefaces) containing all the Slavonic characters redesigned to match Latin letter forms, which are primarily used for academic purposes. This also includes the font “Triod”, which is currently used by the Moscow Patriarchal Printing Press in substitution of genuine Slavonic letter forms (a concession to modern shortcomings of church literacy).

7. Decorative fonts — This includes the whole range of historical letter forms used for ornamentation, including, Bukvitsa, Viaz', modern decorative “drop caps”, and all styles of titling fonts.

8. Handwriting fonts — This includes Skoropis', modern cursive, and other calligraphic styles.

9. Chant Notation Fonts — This includes neumatic notations (Byzantine, Znamenny and Demestvenny notation) and Kievan Square-note notation. (This area will be developed in the future, although efforts are currently under way to encode these systems.)

10. Other Scripts — This includes the Permiak script devised by St. Stephen of Perm (1340-1396) to bring the Word of God to the citizens of Perm (a Finno-Ugric tribe) in Northwestern Russia. (This era still needs a lot of research.)

A point-by-point presentation of recommended details for each font family can be found at Font Families: A Style Guide for Unicode Slavonic Fonts: PART I & PART II.

 

PART 3: THE COMPLETE CHARACTER RANGE

The complete range of characters used in Slavonic fonts can be subdivided into the following categories:

The Complete Character Range for Slavonic Script in Unicode: PART I

The Complete Character Range for Slavonic Script in Unicode: PART II

PART 4: GUIDELINES FOR TYPE DESIGNERS

In addition to establishing the Slavonic character range, the Ponomar Project also proposes a set of guidelines for the production of Slavonic fonts, whereby typeface designers will produce fonts that include the complete repertoire for the font family they are working with. Ideally, they should limit themselves to the repertoire of the period style and avoid introducing anachronistic characters or letter forms. (For instance, Paleoslavonic fonts should not have to include accents or Typicon symbols, since they were not in use in that era, nor should Synodal Era fonts include the archaic nasal vowels of the Paleoslavonic period.) However, all these font families CAN and SHOULD be consistently encoded according to Unicode. (The Civil Script fonts should invariably include the complete repertoire, since they will be used for academic purposes.)

 

CONCLUSION

Points to consider: (These initial contributions can all be debated and rejected. But it’s a beginning....)

— Font designers should determine which font family their [new] font belongs to, and include [all/only] the recommended repertoire of symbols for that font family.

— Font designers should not needlessly include characters which are anachronistic to the period style of the font family (with the exception that Civil Script fonts should be comprehensive in their repertoire), although it may be advantageous to include the full repertoire of superscript letters in each font, in order to preserve font compatiblity.
OR:
— Fonts may contain characters that are “forward compatible” (i.e. having additional modern characters), but fonts should not be “backward compatible” (i.e. having obsolete characters). For example, Poluustav and Synodal Era fonts should not contain all the obsolete vowels (with the exception of the Big Yus, which is used as a symbol in the Typicon). This “forward compatibility” will allow designers to make use of these scripts in a contemporary setting (such as decorative titling for book covers, etc.). {I am not in favour of this.}

— {re-write when finalized} In regard to the various font families, we need to examine all the fonts in each family and make recommendations for which font designs best represent each family, and then we should consider producing one or two outstanding fonts representative of each family. For instance:

— Font designers are asked to cooperate with the non-commercial objective of discouraging the use of Slavonic fonts for secular purposes, especially for commercial advertising. The use of Slavonic fonts for decorative book titling should be used judiciously and tastefully.