Macintosh: November 2009 Archives

What did that font switch to in FileMaker (Mac)?


Prelude about the Problem

In terms of handling non-English characters, apps come in two types (at least on the Mac). There are apps which switch fonts behind the scenes without telling you, and those which don't...but then you have to guess which font to use.

To take a concrete example, if I switch from the English keyboard to Japanese input in FileMaker, the font will automatically switch to one of the Japanese fonts. In theory, once I switch back to English, I should return to the original font (except when I don't...we'll get to that). The same principle applies in most apps including TextEdit, FileMaker and so forth. In contrast, if I switch to Japanese input in Adobe Photoshop, I also have to change fonts.

In theory, the automatic font switching sounds nice except when 1) when the font doesn't change back after typing the exotic character (this happens a lot in phonetic transcription and elsewhere) or 2) you're trying to figure if font X actually has that glyph (or whether it's the illusion of font switching in action. With the Adobe products, the manual font switching means you know exactly which font you are using at all times, which is important in desktop publishing.


For instance...I uploaded a version of the UCD Unicode files into FileMaker so I would have a searchable reference locally. An additional function is that I can display glyphs in different fonts for comparison. I have most of the mega fonts selected, but few fonts have everything, so I know there are gaps.

However, because FileMaker switches fonts behind the scenes, I can't always be sure if font X actually has that glyph. If I see a bunch of boxes with identical glyphs, I can suspect an unannounced font switch...but to what?


The best solution now is to copy and paste the text into TextEdit then open up the font formatting palette (Command+T), and see what it says. Kind of dorky, but still more information than I had.

For the record, I understand why FileMaker is set up this way. For most purposes, you don't want your data entry operators to fidget with fonts. However, you can get inconsistent results if you are not careful. For instance, once I do switch to Japanese, I get the Japanese font, but if I return to English...I still get the Japanese font. I know Japanese fonts contain Latin characters, but the formatting is almost always NOT the one I intended.

It would be nice if FileMaker and the other apps (including Microsoft Office) could return you to your original English font formatting after your exotic sidetrip to the higher code points of Unicode.


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 ( for a profile.


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