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Font Primer

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Saved by Laurie
on February 3, 2008 at 8:22:49 pm

Terminology (these definitions apply to your computing environment):


  • A font can be defined as "A design for a set of characters." A font is the combination of typeface and other qualities, such as size, pitch, and spacing. For example, Times Roman is a typeface that defines the shape of each character. Within Times Roman, however, there are many fonts to choose from - different sizes, italic, bold, and so on. The term font is usually used (incorrectly) as a synonym for typeface -- more about fonts and typefaces here.



  • A character set can be defined as "The entire complement of alphanumeric and other symbols contained in a given font." (reference)


    Another way to look at it is that the typeface/font you choose determines what specific characters look like, e.g., the design, the version (Regular, Bold, etc), but the character set you choose determines what characters are available to you. While most character sets have the letters and numbers we are used to, some include those funny IPA characters we want to make, and some do not - and some character sets only include a subset of the whole IPA character set, so you'll want to be careful about what character set you use!


    Here are some common character sets, along with their limitations and uses. An excellent, more complete list is available here.



    LATIN-1 through LATIN-10: Pretty much the characters you see on the keyboard in countries that speak Indo-European languages. Note that Latin includes characters with diacritics that are used in French, German, etc., even though those are not standard on the keyboard in all places where Indo-European langages are spoken.

    LATIN-1 SUPPLEMENT - Includes characters for additional Indo-European languages beyond Germanic and Romance languages.

    LATIN EXTENDED - A and B - Even more characters for Indo-European languages, including some that we think of as IPA.

    IPA EXTENSIONS - These are your basic IPA set, but includes only those IPA characters beyond the characters already included in the above character sets.

    SPACING MODIFIER LETTERS - A lot of characters that we use occasionally in IPA. Characters in this set are "spacing" characters, that is, they occupy space on the line the same as regular characters (see COMBINING DIACRITICAL MARKS below for the contrast).

    COMBINING DIACRITICAL MARKS - These are diacriticals that do not occupy a space on the line. Here is where you will find characters like the diacritics for voiceless, dental, syllabic, and so on. When you type one of these characters it places the diacritic on top of the preceding character. This set is one that is essential for linguists.


    There are lots of other character sets (e.g., specific character sets for specific languages), but the above are what linguists writing in most European languages will need.




Choosing a Character Set:


This is how you do it on your computer:

(more info needed here)





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