RE: ct, fj and blackletter ligatures

From: John Hudson (
Date: Wed Nov 06 2002 - 14:51:49 EST

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    At 08:04 11/6/2002, Dominikus Scherkl wrote:

    >There are wonderful words in German like "Wachstube"
    >this could mean "guards room" (Wach-Stube, so "st" may be
    >ligated) or "wax tube" (Wachs-Tube, so an "st"-ligature
    >would force misreadings).
    >In this rare case both readings make sense, but there are
    >many more where a displaced ligature would simply lead to
    >misreadings where sylables are gathered the wrong way
    >which don't make any sense at all.

    In the case of Wachstube, using an st ligature would only 'force a
    misreading' if the correct reading were 'wax tube'. One could equally well
    argue that using an st ligature would reinforce a *correct* reading of
    'guards room', in which case the ligature should perhaps not be prohibited
    but encouraged because it removes the ambiguity of the ligatureless spelling.

    Of course, all this depends on the notion that readers automatically
    associate ligature formation with syllable construction, which I don't
    think is at all certain. Things like the ct and st ligatures are oddities,
    in that they are not standard elements of Latin script typography in any
    language. Consider, instead, f-ligatures, which are standard for most
    languages and which have a functional purpose in preserving good wordshape.
    I don't believe that English readers encountering an fb ligature in the
    middle of the compound word 'goofball' are confused about where the
    syllables, and hence the subwords, end and begin. Indeed, the point of
    having the ligature is so that the reader's attention will not be drawn to
    the sequence. Competent readers do not notice standard ligatures. Plenty of
    read hundreds of books in during their life without even knowing that
    ligatures exist.

    Are the German ligation rules backed up by any empirical studies of the
    ways in which competent German readers read? Or is it a convention based on
    grammatical theory without any reference to the mechanics of reading?

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC

    It is necessary that by all means and cunning,
    the cursed owners of books should be persuaded
    to make them available to us, either by argument
    or by force. - Michael Apostolis, 1467

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