Some fonts *not* to use for Pinyin

One of the traditions in advance of Chinese New Year is housecleaning — something not among my favorite activities. But I thought I’d do a bit of housecleaning of half-finished posts and get at least one up before the new year (tomorrow). So here it is.

Although I occasionally bemoan the fact that relatively few font families are made such that they can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks (at least not right out of the box), it’s worth noting that some of the commonly found fonts that do cover all of the letters and diacritics really suck at it and should be avoided when writing in Pinyin.

Typically, such fonts were designed mainly with Hanzi in mind.

Here’s one example:
screenshot of a Pinyin text set in Adobe Ming -- and, boy oh boy, is it ever hideous


That was Adobe Ming. Yes, Adobe.

I’ll go ahead and point out the obvious problems:

And I’m not so sure about the consistency of the x-height either. Those stubby little descenders are puzzling, too, but are not necessarily wrong.

Perhaps the designers intended these letters for use in vertically aligned text — though I don’t think these forms would work well even then. Perhaps there’s some context in which these might make sense, though I’m inclined to doubt this. Perhaps the designers have an irrational hatred of romanization and wanted to make Pinyin look as ugly as possible. Whatever the reason, even though this and the other Unicode-compliant fonts below have all of the letters with diacritics that Pinyin requires, using them for Pinyin texts would be a very bad idea.

Since there is apparently still some confusion about why the “?” form (in contrast to the normal “a” form) is incorrect, see the chart below.

table showing that the fonts discussed in this post that use the rounded style for the letter 'a' do so only with diacritics, not elsewhere. This is wrong. The rounded a's should not be used at all.

Note how the odd form of the letter a does not appear in regular text or even in double-width forms; instead, it’s seen only when accompanied by a tone mark. In other words, even within individual fonts the ? form is treated not as a normal “a” that happens to look that way but as something specifically for Pinyin, which is flat-out wrong. Other than the addition of diacritics themselves, there is no reason to alter letter shapes in any way for Pinyin.

Let’s get back to the broader issue. Here are some more examples of fonts that render Pinyin in ugly ways. (Click image to view PDF.)

click to view PDF with much larger and clearer text

To aid Web searches, here’s a text list of the fonts above, none of which should be used for Hanyu Pinyin:

  • Adobe Fangsong Std
  • Adobe Heiti Std
  • Adobe Kaiti Std
  • Adobe Ming Std
  • Adobe Song Std
  • MS Gothic
  • MS Mincho
  • MS PGothic
  • MS PMincho
  • MS UI Gothic
  • NSimSun
  • SimHei
  • SimSun

SimSun is probably the least awful of the bunch. But even so, there’s no good reason to use it instead of something else that would do the job much better, such as Gentium:
screenshot of the same Pinyin text, but this one is set in Gentium -- and it looks great

Generally speaking, if you wouldn’t want to use a font for English, French, Italian, etc., then don’t use it for Hanyu Pinyin.

Say no to making Pinyin ugly!

I wish you all a happy and P?ny?n-rich year of the dragon.

letters with diacritics: a roughly alphabetical chart


For those who don’t know an ogonek from a retroflex hook — and sometimes for those who do — finding a needed letter with a diacritical mark can be a time-consuming process. (I look forward to the days when combining marks are much better supported.)

So I made a chart with lots of — but certainly not all — diacritics, sorted alphabetically by appearance as well as name and sound. That means, for example, that a thorn (þ) can be found under p as well as under t (as in th), even though — I know, I know — p and þ are unrelated.

Perhaps some people will find it quicker to use than going through the various Unicode charts or searching through various other charts in which the letters are grouped by sound rather than appearance. Someone has probably already made one of these, and done a better job. But I didn’t have any luck finding it before hacking out my own.

Here it is, for what it’s worth: letters with diacritical marks, grouped alphabetically.

I hope some people find it useful.

variant Chinese characters and Unicode

A submission to the Unicode Consortium’s Ideographic [sic] Variation Database for the “Combined registration of the Adobe-Japan1 collection and of sequences in that collection” is available for review through November 25. This submission, PRI 108, is a revision of PRI 98.

This set “enumerates 23,058 glyphs” and contains 14,664 tetragraphs (Chinese characters / kanji). About three quarters of Unicode pertains to Chinese characters.

Two sets of charts are available: the complete one (4.4 MB PDF), which shows all the submitted sequences, and the partial one (776 KB PDF), which shows “only the characters for which multiple sequences are submitted.”

Below is a more or less random sample of some of the tetragraphs.

Initially I was going to combine this announcement with a rant against Unicode’s continued misuse of the term “ideographic.” But I’ve decided to save that for a separate post.

sample image of some of the kanji variants in the proposal