The Cost of a Unicode Code Point

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The Unicode list was discussing whether a recently discovered phonetic character should be encoded in the future or not, and some interesting issues of cost/benefit ratios came up.

The symbol is something like a combination of "Gj" (capital G and lowercase j) and was used in a few foreign language dictionaries from Germany and elsewhere to represent the /ʒ/ sound (spelled "j" in French and sometimes spelled "zh" in English).

The main benefit of encoding would be for archival purposes. Almost all modern linguists use /ʒ/ (or sometimes /ž/). If you were analyzing linguistic data, you probably would change the "Gj" to a modern symbol. On the other hand, scholars who found a previously unknown document with "Gj" would want to be able to know what it was and may need to represent that glyph in particular. So there is some reason to encode it.

BUT someone pointed out that each new codepoint does come with a cost. Specifically

1) New versions of "Extended Latin Fonts" would need to include "Gj" taking up designer time (for multiple fonts usually).

2) The Unicode data table itself has to be updated, and when that happens, developers have to incorporate the new characters into whatever systems they are using. That typically includes utilities for sorting characters into alphabetical orders, the default character insertion utilities of Microsoft and Apple, and the basic Unicode friendly Unicode text editors.

Will "Gj" get encoded? I actually think it will, but not right away. Believe it or not, the community keeps finding new symbols/letters invented for different languages and sooner or later, most make it in. Unicode 5.0 included a "Latin Extended D" and "Latin Extended Additiona" block to handle these recent discoveries, so I am sure there may be a "Latin Extended E" in the future.

But I do understand why the Unicode committee gets a little cranky sometimes.

About The Blog

I am a Penn State technology specialist with a degree in linguistics and have maintained the Penn State Computing with Accents page since 2000.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage (ejp10@psu.edu) for a profile.

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