Other Ligatures

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As I've already argued in my discussion of the kai symbol, Unicode is no place for ligatures. Because one has been proposed and another has a glyph in Unicode (but for a different purpose), I mention them here.

1. Stigma ligature

The two ligatures discussed here, OU [ȣ = ου] and stigma [ς = στ], are the only ligatures to have survived the ligature cull in the late 18th century. They were still in use in some typography in the early 19th century, and Haralambous (§5.4) would like to revive them in his Bekkeriana typeface, which hearkens back to that era. Haralambous objects to the Greek rejection of their typographical past, whereas the West keeps using 400-year-old models. Given the horrors of Greek ligatures, I think there is good reason for that rejection; and frankly, I don't look at Bekkeriana and say "How lovely and spindly"; I say "Crap, data entry is going to think all those stigmas are final sigmas" (which has happened in the history of TLG, when the only edition of a work dated from before 1830).

Actually, that's not the first thing I think. The first thing I think is, "I'm not inflicting that on my eyes!" Sorry, Yannis...

The stigma was the first ligature to go; it had disappeared from printed use by the mid 19th century, and is not actively used in Greek today except by icon painters (who retain the old ligatures in their art—although to a great extent this has been a conscious revivalism). As a result, Greeks passively recognise stigma from the church iconostases, and from the resolution of numerical stigma as στ; but I'm unaware of anyone actually writing or using it in normal text.

2. OU ligature

The OU ligature is slightly healthier, but it occupies a particular cultural niche, which I think Everson in his proposal misjudged:

While somewhat rarer than the GREEK KAI SYMBOL, I saw at least one shop sign (an auto and machine parts shop, as I recall) which used ȣ, and in the hallways of the School of Architecture at the Πολυτεχνείο on 28 Οκτωβρίου [and] Πατησίων in Athens there appears quite a lot of rather artistic graffiti which also contains this character.

The situation of OU is like the kai abbreviation, but even more so. It is never used in print in a book. In the media it might appear on occasion in a headline in a sports paper, and inside the handwritten speech bubble of a political cartoon; but it does not appear in comic books. If a student uses it in school, it will be marked wrong. It will appear in graffiti a lot (as well as on signs put up by neighbours objecting to parking or dumping garbage outside their door). If any shopfront is going to use it, it is going to be a car mechanic's. It appears in church on the icons (which are revivalist Byzantine), but not in the hymnals or the bibles. It may turn up on old street signs, but certainly not on the newer road signs indicating distances to the next city.

In other words, in Modern Greece this is a consciously casual glyph, which has no official status, and is rarely if ever anything but handwritten. It is of course fully equivalent to ου, which immediately rules it out as a candidate for a codepoint. (Sure enough, the Capital and Small OU of Everson's proposal, along with the kai with abbreviation prime, were rejected; kai and the capital numerals and non-Attic letters were accepted.) But moreover, although it appears on church walls and in all books printed before the 19th century, the glyph increasingly has a rebellious air around it, expressing contempt for the official glyphs and the establishment promulgating them—much like use of the vernacular alphabet (α, βου, γου, δου, ε as opposed to άλφα, βήτα, γάμμα, δέλτα, έψιλον). This is why the ligature might have been acceptable on street signs dating from the '30s, but not on road signs dating from the '70s. Including a codepoint for it for modern use would not go down well: the point of its modern use, in a way, is that it is not to be found on a keyboard. The following improvised For Sale advertisement for a holiday house illustrates the OU-ligature in its modern natural environment (which, as you'll notice among the blue daubed-in phone numbers, also pays host to the kai ligature).

In its more upmarket days, the OU ligature left behind offspring in Cyrillic and Latin script. In Cyrillic, it appears as U+0478 Cyrillic Capital Letter Uk, Ѹ, U+0479 Cyrillic Small Letter Uk, ѹ. (In most fonts this appears rather as an old-fashioned оу next to each other, in conformance with the Unicode reference glyph; the one font I know of with the Greek ligature shape is TITUS Cyberbit Basic.) Uk did not survive into the modern languages, since Cyrillic already has U+0443 Cyrillic Small Letter U, у.

In Latin, it appears in Algonquin, at U+0222 Latin Capital Script OU, Ȣ, U+0223 Latin Small Letter OU, ȣ (see Everson's proposal). That missionaries devising a script for Amerindian languages should have borrowed a Greek glyph is no real surprise; the missionaries knew Greek for the purposes of Bible translation, and when they invented the alphabet (as early as the 1630s for the now extinct Wendat language), the OU ligature was very much a going concern in Greek. (It also shouldn't be a surprise that a couple of centuries later, the glyph got pretty hard to get hold of, and that the Algonquin usually have ended up using the glyph 8 to represent the character; see the photographs in Everson's proposal, and the 1673 translation of the Lord's Prayer into Wendat, at the Wyandot Nation of Kansas.) Of course, the fate of the glyph as a distinct grapheme in Algonquin has no bearing on whether it is to be considered a distinct grapheme in Greek.

Nick Nicholas, opoudjis [AT] optusnet . com . au
Created: 2003-09-14; Last revision: 2005-05-23
URL: http://www.opoudjis.net/unicode/other_ligatures.html