Dochula Pass, Bhutan

Following up on a suggestion by Nathan Hill of SOAS, I added a la-swe glyph to the default view of the picker alongside the medial consonants. If you click on it, it produces U+1039 MYANMAR SIGN VIRAMA + U+101C MYANMAR LETTER LA.

I also rearranged the font pull-down list a little, adding information about what fonts are available on your Mac OS X or Windows7 system, and added a placeholder, like I did recently for the Khmer picker.

You can find the Myanmar picker at

Picture of the page in action.

This kind of list could be used to set font-family styles for CSS, if you want to be reasonably sure what the user will see, or it could be used just to find a font you like for a particular script.

I’ve updated the page to show the fonts added in Windows8. This is the list:

  • Aldhabi (Urdu Nastiliq)
  • Urdu Typesetting (Urdu Nastiliq)
  • Gadugi (Cherokee/Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics)
  • Myanmar Text (Myanmar)
  • Nirmala UI (10 Indic scripts)

There were also two additional UI fonts for Chinese, Jhenghei UI (Traditional) and Yahei UI (Simplified), which I haven’t listed. Also Microsoft Uighur acquired a bold font.

>> See the list

See the blog post for the first version or the page for more information.

Update, 25 Jan 2013

Patrick Andries pointed out that Tifinagh using the Windows Ebrima font was missing from the list. Not any more.

Following up on a very good suggestion by Roger Sperberg, I added two webfonts to the Khmer picker and arranged the font selection list so that you can see which fonts are available on your Mac OS X or Windows7 system.

The webfonts make it possible to use the picker on an iPad or other device that doesn’t have a Khmer font installed. I added two webfonts because one worked on my iPad and the other didn’t, and it was vice versa on my Snow Leopard Macbook.

I also added an HTML5 placeholder for the output box. (I’m wishing you could style that differently from the standard content – and wishing that markup designers would think about this sort of thing and stop using attributes for natural language text…).

You can find the Khmer picker at

Picture of the page in action.

>> Use UniView

The main addition in this version is a couple of buttons that appear when you ask UniView to display a block.

Clicking on Show annotated list generates a list of all characters in the block, with annotations.

Clicking on Show script links displays a list of links to key sources of information about the script of the block, links to relevant articles and apps on the site, and related fonts and input methods. This provides a very quick way of finding this information. One particularly useful link (‘Historical documentation’, which links to a page) allows you to find the proposals for all additions to Unicode related to the relevant script. These proposals are a mine of useful information about the individual characters in a block, and SIL staff should get a medal for trawling through all the relevant data to provide this.

In addition, there were some changes to the user interface, including the following:

  • The order of information in the lower right panel (detailed character information) was slightly changed, and two alterative representations of the character were added: an HTML escape, and a URI escape.
  • The search box at the top left was constrained to appear closer to the other controls when the window is stretched wide.

Various bugs were also fixed.

Greenland by r12a
Greenland, a photo by r12a on Flickr.

I’ve been processing some photos that have been lying around since last year. This is one of a few pictures of Greenland, taken as i flew over on the way to the Unicode Conference. Amazing glacier flows!

See similar photos in lightbox view.

Characters in the Unicode Balinese block.

I just uploaded an initial draft of an article Balinese Script Notes. It lists the Unicode characters used to represent Balinese text, and briefly describes their use. It starts with brief notes on general script features and discussions about which Unicode characters are most appropriate when there is a choice.

The script type is abugida – consonants carry an inherent vowel. It’s a complex script derived from Brahmi, and has lots of contextual shaping and positioning going on. Text runs left-to-right, and words are not separated by spaces.

I think it’s one of the most attractive scripts in Unicode, and for that reason I’ve been wanting to learn more about it for some time now.

>> Read it

Picture of the page in action.

>> Use it

This picker contains characters from the Unicode Balinese block needed for writing the Balinese language. Characters needed for Sasak are also available in the Advanced section. Balinese musical notation characters are not included.

About the tool: Pickers allow you to quickly create phrases in a script by clicking on Unicode characters arranged in a way that aids their identification. Pickers are likely to be most useful if you don’t know a script well enough to use the native keyboard. The arrangement of characters also makes it much more usable than a regular character map utility.

About this picker: Characters are grouped to aid input. The consonant block includes characters needed for Kawi and Sanskrit as well as the native Balinese characters, all arranged according to the Brahmi pronunciation grid.

The picker has only a default view and a font grid view. It’s difficult to put in the time for the shape-based, keyboard-based, and various transcription-based views in some other pickers. In a new departure, however, I have included a list of Latin characters on the default view to assist in writing transcriptions alongside Balinese text.

There is, however, a significant issue with this picker, due to the lack of support for Balinese as a script in computers. The only Unicode-based Balinese font I know of is Aksara Bali, but that font seems to only work as expected in Firefox on Mac OS X. Furthermore, the Aksara Bali font doesn’t handle ra repa as described in the Unicode Standard. The sequence <consonant , adeg-adeg, ra repa> produces a visible adeg-adeg, rather than the post-fixed form of ra repa. The sequence <consonant , vowel sign ra repa> produces the post-fixed form of ra repa, rather than the subjoined form. You can produce the post-fixed form with this font by using <consonant , vowel sign ra repa> and the subjoined form by using <consonant , adeg-adeg, ra, pepet>, but these sequences will produce content that cannot be matched against sequences using the Unicode approach, and content that may fail with other Unicode-compliant fonts in the future.

Hopefully some new, fully Unicode-compliant fonts will come along soon. This is one of the most beautiful scripts I have come across.

(Btw, I’m working on a set of notes for Balinese characters, linked from UniView, with some feature innovations to get around the font issue. Look out for that later. And I’m thinking I should develop a Javanese picker to go with this one. Just need a bit of time…)

For the curious, here’s the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as typed in the Balinese picker. Translation by Tri Ediwan (reproduced from Omniglot).

A translate attribute was recently added to HTML5. At the three MultilingualWeb workshops we have run over the past two years, the idea of this kind of ‘translate flag’ has constantly excited strong interest from localizers, content creators, and from folks working with language technology.

How it works

Typically authors or automated script environments will put the attribute in the markup of a page. You may also find that, in industrial translation scenarios, localizers may add attributes during the translation preparation stage, as a way of avoiding the multiplicative effects of dealing with mistranslations in a large number of languages.

There is no effect on the rendered page (although you could, of course, style it if you found a good reason for doing so). The attribute will typically be used by workflow tools when the time comes to translate the text – be it by the careful craft of human translators, or by quick gist-translation APIs and services in the cloud.

The attribute can appear on any element, and it takes just two values: yes or no. If the value is no, translation tools should protect the text of the element from translation. The translation tool in question could be an automated translation engine, like those used in the online services offered by Google and Microsoft. Or it could be a human translator’s ‘workbench’ tool, which would prevent the translator inadvertently changing the text.

Setting this translate flag on an element applies the value to all contained elements and to all attribute values of those elements.

You don’t have to use translate="yes" for this to work. If a page has no translate attribute, a translation system or translator should assume that all the text is to be translated. The yes value is likely to see little use, though it could be very useful if you need to override a translate flag on a parent element and indicate some bits of text that should be translated. You may want to translate the natural language text in examples of source code, for example, but leave the code untranslated.

Why it is needed

You come across a need for this quite frequently. There is an example in the HTML5 spec about the Bee Game. Here is a similar, but real example from my days at Xerox, where the documentation being translated referred to a machine with text on the hardware that wasn’t translated.

<p>Click the Resume button on the Status Display or the
<span class="panelmsg" translate="no">CONTINUE</span> button
on the printer panel.</p>

Here are a couple more (real) examples of content that could benefit from the translate attribute. The first is from a book, quoting a title of a work.

<p>The question in the title <cite translate="no">How Far Can You Go?</cite> applies to both the undermining of traditional religious belief by radical theology and the undermining of literary convention by the device of "breaking frame"...</p>

The next example is from a page about French bread – the French for bread is ‘pain‘.

<p>Welcome to <strong translate="no">french pain</strong> on Facebook. Join now to write reviews and connect with <strong translate="no">french pain</strong>. Help your friends discover great places to visit by recommending <strong translate="no">french pain</strong>.</p>

So adding the translate attribute to your page can help readers better understand your content when they run it through automatic translation systems, and can save a significant amount of cost and hassle for translation vendors with large throughput in many languages.

What about Google Translate and Microsoft Translator?

Both Google and Microsoft online translation services already provided the ability to prevent translation of content by adding markup to your content, although they did it in (multiple) different ways. Hopefully, the new attribute will help significantly by providing a standard approach.

Both Google and Microsoft currently support class="notranslate", but replacing a class attribute value with an attribute that is a formal part of the language makes this feature much more reliable, especially in wider contexts. For example, a translation prep tool would be able to rely on the meaning of the HTML5 translate attribute always being what is expected. Also it becomes easier to port the concept to other scenarios, such as other translation APIs or localization standards such as XLIFF.

As it happens, the online service of Microsoft (who actually proposed a translate flag for HTML5 some time ago) already supported translate="no". This, of course, was a proprietary tag until now, and Google didn’t support it. However, just yesterday morning I received word, by coincidence, that Webkit/Chromium has just added support for the translate attribute, and yesterday afternoon Google added support for translate="no" to its online translation service. See the results of some tests I put together this morning. (Neither yet supports the translate="yes" override.)

In these proprietary systems, however, there are a good number of other non-standard ways to express similar ideas, even just sticking with Google and Microsoft.

Microsoft apparently supports style="notranslate". This is not one of the options Google lists for their online service, but on the other hand they have things that are not available via Microsoft’s service.

For example, if you have an entire page that should not be translated, you can add <meta name="google" value="notranslate"> inside the head element of your page and Google won’t translate any of the content on that page. (However they also support <meta name="google" content="notranslate">.) This shouldn’t be Google specific, and a single way of doing this, ie. translate="no" on the html tag, is far cleaner.

It’s also not made clear, by the way, when dealing with either translation service, how to make sub-elements translatable inside an element where translate has been set to no – which may sometimes be needed.

As already mentioned, the new HTML5 translate attribute provides a simple and standard feature of HTML that can replace and simplify all these different approaches, and will help authors develop content that will work with other systems too.

Can’t we just use the lang attribute?

It was inevitable that someone would suggest this during the discussions around how to implement a translate flag, however overloading language tags is not the solution. For example, a language tag can indicate which text is to be spellchecked against a particular dictionary. This has nothing to do with whether that text is to be translated or not. They are different concepts. In a document that has lang="en" in the html header, if you set lang="notranslate" lower down the page, that text will now not be spellchecked, since the language is no longer English. (Nor for the matter will styling work, voice browsers pronounce correctly, etc.)

Going beyond the translate attribute

The W3C’s ITS (International Tag Set) Recommendation proposes the use of a translate flag such as the attribute just added to HTML5, but also goes beyond that in describing a way to assign translate flag values to particular elements or combinations of markup throughout a document or set of documents. For example, you could say, if it makes sense for your content, that by default, all p elements with a particular class name should have the translate flag set to no for a specific set of documents.

Microsoft offers something along these lines already, although it is much less powerful than the ITS approach. If you use <meta name="microsoft" content="notranslateclasses myclass1 myclass2" /> anywhere on the page (or as part of a widget snippet) it ensures that any of the CSS classes listed following “notranslateclasses” should behave the same as the “notranslate” class.

Microsoft and Google’s translation engines also don’t translate content within code elements. Note, however, that you don’t seem to have any choice about this – there don’t seem to be instructions about how to override this if you do want your code element content translated.

By the way, there are plans afoot to set up a new MultilingualWeb-LT Working Group at the W3C in conjunction with a European Commission project to further develop ideas around the ITS spec, and create reference implementations. They will be looking, amongst many other things, at ways of integrating the new translate attribute into localization industry workflows and standards. Keep an eye out for it.

Picture of the page in action.

I’ve wanted to get around to this for years now. Here is a list of fonts that come with Windows7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard/Lion, grouped by script.

This kind of list could be used to set font-family styles for CSS, if you want to be reasonably sure what the user will see, or it could be used just to find a font you like for a particular script. I’m still working on the list, and there are some caveats.

>> See the list

Some of the fonts listed above may be disabled on the user’s system. I’m making an assumption that someone who reads tibetan will have the Tibetan font turned on, but for my articles that explain writing systems to people in English, such assumptions may not hold.

The list I used to identify Windows fonts is Windows7-specific and fairly stable, but the Mac font spans more than one version of Mac OS X, and I could only find an unofficial list of fonts for Snow Leopard, and there were some fonts on that list that I didn’t have on my system. Where a Mac font is new with Lion (and there are a significant number) it is indicated. See the official list of fonts on Mac OS X Lion.

There shouldn’t be any fonts listed here for a given script that aren’t supplied with Windows7 or Mac OS X Snow Leopard/Lion, but there are probably supplied fonts that are not yet listed here (typically these will be large fonts that cover multiple scripts). In particular, note that I haven’t yet made a list of fonts that support Latin, Greek and Cyrillic (mainly because there are so many of them and partly because I’m wondering how useful it will be.)

The text used is as much as would fit on one line of article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, taken from this Unicode page, wherever I could find it. I created a few instances myself, where it was missing, and occasionally I resorted to arbitrary lists of characters.

You can obtain a character-based version of the text used by looking at the source text: look for the title attribute on the section heading.

Things still to do:

  • create sections for Latin, Greek and Cyrillic fonts
  • check for fonts covering multiple Unicode blocks
  • figure out how to tell, and how to show which is the system default
  • work out and show what’s not available in Windows XP
  • work out what’s new in Lion, and whether it’s worth including them
  • figure out whether people with different locale setups see different things
  • recapture all font images that need it at 36px, rather than varying sizes

Update, 19 Feb 2012

I uploaded a new version of the font list with the following main changes:

  • If you click on an image you see text with that font applied (if you have it on your system, of course). The text can be zoomed from 14px to 100px (using a nice HTML5 slider, if you have the right browser! [try Chrome, Safari or Opera]). This text includes a little Latin text so you can see the relationship between that and the script.
  • All font graphics are now standardised so that text is imaged at a font size of 36px. This makes it more difficult to see some fonts (unless you can use the zoom text feature), but gives a better idea of how fonts vary in default size.
  • I added a few extra fonts which contained multiple script support.
  • I split Chinese into Simplified and Traditional sections.
  • Various other improvements, such as adding real text for N’Ko, correcting the Traditional Chinese text, flipping headers to the left for RTL fonts, reordering fonts so that similar ones are near to each other, etc.

Picture of the page in action.

>> Use UniView

The major change in this update is the update of the data to support Unicode version 6.1.0, which should be released today. (See the list of links to new Unicode blocks below.)

There are also a number of feature and bug related changes.

What UniView does: Look up and see characters (using graphics or fonts) and property information, view whole character blocks or custom ranges, select characters to paste into your document, paste in and discover unknown characters, search for characters, do hex/dec/ncr conversions, highlight character types, etc. etc. Supports Unicode 6.1 and written with Web Standards to work on a variety of browsers. No need to install anything.

List of changes:

  • One significant change enables you to display information in a separate window, rather than overwriting the information currently displayed. This can be done by typing/pasting/dragging a set of characters or character code values into the new Popout area and selecting the  icon alongside the Characters or Copy & paste input fields (depending on what you put in the popout window).

  • Two new icons were added to the Copy & paste area:

    Analyse Clicking on this will display the characters in the area in the lower right part of the page with all relevant characters converted to uppercase, lowercase and titlecase. Characters that had no case conversion information are also listed.

    Analyse Clicking on this produces the same kind of output as clicking on the icon just above, but shows the mappings for those characters that have been changed, eg. e→E.

  • Where character information displayed in the lower right panel has a case or decomposition mapping, UniView now displays the characters involved, rather than just giving the hex value(s), eg. Uppercase mapping: 0043 C. You will need a font on your system to see the characters displayed in this way, but whether or not you have a font, this provides a quick and easy way to copy the case-changed character (rather than having to copy the hex value and convert it first).

  • There is also a new line, slightly further down, when UniView is in graphic mode. This line starts with ‘As text:’, and shows the character using whatever default font you have on your system. Of course, if you don’t have a font that includes that character you won’t see it. This has been added to make it easier to copy and paste a character into text.

  • There is also a new line, slightly further down, when UniView is in graphic mode. This line starts with ‘As text:’, and shows the character using whatever default font you have on your system. Of course, if you don’t have a font that includes that character you won’t see it. This has been added to make it easier to copy and paste a character into text.

  • Fixed some small bugs, such as problems with search when U+29DC INCOMPLETE INFINITY is returned.


Here are direct links to the new blocks added to Unicode 6.1:

These are notes on using CSS @font-face to gain finer control over the fonts applied to characters in particular Unicode ranges of your text, without resorting to additional markup. Possibilities and problems.

Changing the font used for certain characters

Most non-English fonts mix glyphs from different writing systems. Usually the font contains glyphs for Latin characters plus a non-Latin script, for example English+Japanese, or English+Thai, etc.

Normally the font designer will take care to harmonise the Latin script glyphs with the non-Latin, but there may be cases where you want to change the design of the glyphs for, say, and embedded script without adding markup to your page.

For example, if I apply the MS-Mincho font to some content in Japanese with embedded Latin text I’m likely to see the following:

Let’s suppose I’d like the English text to appear in a different, proportionally-spaced font. I could put markup around the English and set a class on the markup to apply the font I want, but this is very time consuming and bloats your code.

An alternative is to use @font-face. Here is an example:

@font-face { 
  font-family: myJapanesefont;
  src: local(MS-Mincho);
@font-face {
  font-family: myJapanesefont;
  src: local(Gentium);
  unicode-range: U+41-5A, U+61-7A, U+C0-FF;
p { 
  font-family: myJapanesefont; 

Note: When specifying src the local() keyword indicates that font-face should look for the font on the user’s system. Of course, to improve interoperability, you may want to specify a number of alternatives here, or a downloadable WOFF font. The most interoperable value to use for local() is the Postscript name of the font. (On the Mac open Font Book, select the font, and choose Preview > Show Font Information to find this.)

The result would be:

The first font-face declaration associates the MS-Mincho font with the name ‘myJapanesefont’. The second font-face declaration associates the Gentium font with the Unicode code points in the Latin-1 letter range (of course, you can extend this if you use Latin characters outside that range and they are covered by the font).

Note how I was careful to set the unicode-range values to exclude punctuation (such as the exclamation mark) that would be used by (and harmonised with) the Japanese characters.

Adding support for new characters to a font

You can use the same approach for fonts that don’t have support for a particular Unicode range.

For example, the Nafees Nastaliq font has no glyphs for the Latin range (other than digits), so the browser falls back to the system default.

With the following code, I can produce a more pleasant font for the ‘W3C’ part:

@font-face {; 
  font-family: myUrduFont;
  src: local(NafeesNastaleeq);
@font-face {
  font-family: myUrduFont;
  src: local(BookAntiqua);
  unicode-range: U+30-FF;
div p { 
  font-family: myUrduFont; 
  font-size: 60px;

A big fly in the ointment

If you look at the ranges in the unicode-range value, you’ll see that I kept to just the letters of the alphabet in the Japanese example, and the missing glyphs in the Urdu case.

There are a number of characters that are used by all scripts, however, and these cause problems because you can’t apply fonts based on the context – even if you could work out what that context was.

In the case of the Japanese example above, numbers are left to be rendered by the Mincho font, but when those characters appear in the Latin text, they look incorrectly sized. Look, for example, at the 3 in W3C below.

The same problem arises with spaces and punctuation marks. The exclamation mark was left in the Mincho font in the Japanese example because, in this case, it is part of the Japanese text. Punctuation of this kind, could however be associated with the Latin text. See the question mark in this example.

Even more problematic are the spaces in that example. They are too wide in the Latin text. In Urdu text we have the opposite problem, use Urdu space glyphs in Latin text and you don’t see them at all (there should be a gap between W3C and i18n below).

With my W3C hat on, I start wondering whether there are any rules we can use to apply different glyphs for some characters depending on the script context in which they are used, but then I realise that this is going to bring in all the problems we already have for bidi text when dealing with punctuation or spaces between flows of text in different scripts. I’m not sure it’s a tractable problem without resorting to markup to delimit the boundaries. But then, of course, we end up right back where we started.

So it seems, disappointingly, that the unicode-range property is destined to be of only limited usefulness for me. That’s a real shame.

Another small issue

The examples don’t show major problems, but I assume that sometimes the fonts you want to bring together using font-face will have very different aspect ratios, so you may need to use something like font-size-adjust to balance the size of the fonts being used.

Browser support

The CSS code above worked for me in Chrome and Safari on Mac OS X 10.6. but didn’t work in Firefox or Opera. Nor did it work in IE9 on Windows7.

There appears to be some confusion about XHTML1.0 vs XHTML5. Here is my best shot at an explanation of what XHTML5 is.

* This post is written for people with some background in MIME types and html/xml formats. In case that’s not you, this may give you enough to follow the idea: ‘served as’ means sent from a server to the browser with a MIME type declaration in the HTTP protocol header that says that the content of the page is HTML (text/html) or XML (eg. application/xhtml+xml). See examples and more explanations.

XHTML5 is an HTML5 document served as* application/xhtml+xml (or another XML mime type). The syntax rules for XHTML5 documents are simply those rules given by the XML specification. The vocabulary (elements and attributes) is defined by the HTML5 spec.

Anything served as text/html is not XHTML5.

Note that HTML5 (without the X) can be written in a style that looks like XML syntax. For example, using a / in empty elements (eg. <br/>), or using quotes around attributes. But code written this way is still HTML5, not XHTML5, if it is served as text/html.

There are normally other differences between HTML5 and XHTML5. For example, XHTML5 documents may have an XML declaration at the start of the document. HTML5 documents cannot have that. XHTML5 documents are likely to have a more complicated doctype (to facilitate XML processing). And XHTML5 documents will have an xmlns attribute on the html tag. There are a few other HTML5 features that are not compatible with XML, and must be avoided.

Similar differences existed between HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0. However, moving on from XHTML 1.0 will typically involve a subtle but significant shift in thinking. You might have written XHTML 1.0 with no intention of serving it as anything other than text/html. XHTML in the XHTML 1.0 sense tended to be seen largely as a difference in syntax; it was originally designed to be served as XML, but (with some customisations to suit HTML documents) could be, and usually was, served with an HTML mime type. XHTML in the XHTML5 sense, means HTML5 documents served with an XML mime type (and appropriate customisations to suit XML documents), ie. it’s the MIME type, not the syntax, that makes it XHTML.

Which brings us to Polyglot documents. A polyglot document contains markup that is the subset of HTML5 and XML that can be processed as either HTML or XHTML, and can be served as either text/html or application/xhtml+xml, ie. as either HTML5 or XHTML5, without any errors or warnings in either case. The polyglot spec defines the things which allow this compatibility (such as using no XML declaration, proper casing of element names, etc.), and which things to avoid. It also mandates at least one additional extra, ie. disallowing UTF-16 encoded documents.

One of the more useful features of UniView is its ability to list the characters in a string with names and codepoints. This is particularly useful when you can’t tell what a string of characters contains because you don’t have a font, or because the script is too complex, etc.

'ishida' in Persian in  nastaliq font style

For example, I was recently sent an email where my name was written in Persian as ایشی‌دا. The image shows how it looks in a nastaliq font.

To see the component characters, drop the string into UniView’s Copy & Paste field and click on the downwards pointing arrow icon. Here is the result:

list of characters

Note how you can now see that there’s an invisible control character in the string. Note also that you see a graphic image for each character, which is a big help if the string you are investigating is just a sequence of boxes on your system.

Not only can you discover characters in this way, but you can create lists of characters which can be pasted into another document, and customise the format of those lists.

Pasting the list elsewhere

If you select this list and paste it into a document, you’ll see something like this:


You can make the characters appear by deselecting Use graphics on the Look up tab. (Of course, you need an arabic font to see the list as intended.)


Customising the list format

What may be less obvious is that you can also customise the format of this list using the settings under the Options tab. For example, using the List format settings, I can produce a list that moves the character column between the number and the name, like this:


Or I can remove one or more columns from the list, such as:


With the option Show U+ in lists I can also add or remove the U+ before the codepoint value. For example, this lets me produce the following list:


Other lists in UniView

We’ve shown how you can make a list of characters in the Cut & Paste box, but don’t forget that you can create lists for a Unicode block, custom range of characters, search list results, or list of codepoint values, etc. And not only that, but you can filter lists in various ways.

Here is just one quick example of how you can obtain a list of numbers for the Devanagari script.

  1. On the Look up tab, select Devanagari from the Unicode block pull down list.
  2. Select Show range as list and deselect (optional) Use graphics.
  3. Under the Filter tab, select Number from the Show properties pull down list.
  4. Click on Make list from highlights

You end up with the following list, that you can paste into your document.


(Of course, you can also customise the layout of this list as described in the previous section.)

Try it out.

Reversing the process: from list to string

To complete the circle, you can also cut & paste any of the lists in the blog text above into UniView, to explore each character’s properties or recreate the string.

Select one of the lists above and paste it into the Characters input field on the Look up tab. Hit the downwards pointing arrow icon alongside, and UniView will recreate the list for you. Click on each character to view detailed information about it.

If you want to recreate the string from the list, simply click on the upwards pointing arrow icon below the Copy & paste box, and the list of characters will be reconstituted in the box as a string.


I created a new HTML5-based template for our W3C Internationalization articles recently, and I’ve just received some requests to translate documents into Arabic and Hebrew, so I had to get around to updating the bidi style sheets. (To make it quicker to develop styles, I create the style sheet for ltr pages first, and only when that is working well do I create the rtl style sheet info.)

Here are some thoughts about how to deal with style sheets for both right-to-left (rtl) and left-to-right (ltr) documents.

What needs changing?

Converting a style sheet is a little more involved than using a global search and replace to convert left to right, and vice versa. While this may catch many of the things that need changing, it won’t catch all, and it could also introduce errors into the style sheet.

For example, I had selectors called .topleft and .bottomright in my style sheet. These, of course, shouldn’t be changed. There may also be occasional situations where you don’t want to change the direction of a particular block.

Another thing to look out for: I tend to use -left and -right a lot when setting things like margins, but where I have set something like margin: 1em 32% .5em 7.5%; you can’t just use search and replace, and you have to carefully scour the whole of the main stylesheet to find the instances where the right and left margins are not balanced.

There is a web service called CSSJanus that can apply a little intelligence to convert most of what you need. You still have to use with care, but it does come with a convention to prevent conversion of properties where needed (you can disable CSSJanus from running on an entire class or any rule within a class by prepending a /* @noflip */ comment before the rule(s) you want CSSJanus to ignore).

Note also that there are other things that may need changing besides the right and left values. For example, some of the graphics on our template need to be flipped (such as the dog-ear icon in the top corner of the page).

CSS may provide a way to do this in the future, but it is still only a proposal in a First Public Working Draft at the moment. (It would involve writing a selector such as #site-navigation:dir(rtl) { background-image: url(standards-corner-rtl.png); }.

Approach 1: extracting changed properties to an auxiliary style sheet

For the old template I have a secondary, bidi style sheet that I load after the main style sheet. This bidi style sheet contains a copy of just the rules in the main style sheet that needed changing and overwrites the styles in the main style sheet. These changes were mainly to margin, padding, and text-align properties, though there were also some others, such as positioning, background and border properties.

The cons of this approach were:

  1. it’s a pain to create and maintain a second style sheet in the first place
  2. it’s an even bigger pain to remember to copy any relevant changes in the main style sheet to the bidi style sheet, not least because the structure is different, and it’s a little harder to locate things
  3. everywhere that the main style sheet declared, say, a left margin without declaring a value for the right margin, you have to figure out what that other margin should be and add it to the bidi style sheet. For example, if a figure has just margin-left: 32%, that will be converted to margin-right: 32%, but because the bidi style sheet hasn’t overwritten the main style sheet’s margin-left value, the Arabic page will end up with both margins set to 32%, and a much thinner figure than desired. To prevent this, you need to figure out what all those missing values should be, which is typically not straightforward, and add them explicitly to the bidi style sheet.
  4. downloading a second style sheet and overwriting styles leads to higher bandwidth consumption and more processing work for the rtl pages.

Approach 2: copying the whole style sheet and making changes

This is the approach that I’m trying for the moment. Rather than painstakingly picking out just the lines that changed, I take a copy of the whole main style sheet, and load that with the article instead of the main style sheet. Of course, I still have to change all the lefts to rights, and vice versa, and change all the graphics, etc. But I don’t need to add additional rules in places where I previously only specified one side margin, padding, etc.

We’ll see how it works out. Of course, the big problem here is that any change I make to the main style sheet has to be copied to the bidi style sheet, whether it is related to direction or not. Editing in two places is definitely going to be a pain, and breaks the big advantage that style sheets usually give you of applying changes with a single edit. Hopefully, if I’m careful, CSSJanus will ease that pain a little.

Another significant advantage should be that the page loads faster, because you don’t have to download two style sheets and overwrite a good proportion of the main style sheet to display the page.

And finally, as long as I format things exactly the same way, by running a diff program I may be able to spot where I forgot to change things in a way that’s not possible with approach 1.

Approach 3: using :lang and a single file

On the face of it, this seems like a better approach. Basically you have a single style sheet, but when you have a pair of rules such as p { margin-right: 32%; margin-left: 7.5%;} you add another line that says p:lang(ar) { margin-left: 32%; margin-right: 7.5%; }.

For small style sheets, this would probably work fine, but in my case I see some cons with this approach, which is why I didn’t take it:

  1. there are so many places where these extra lines need to be added that it will make the style sheet much harder to read, and this is made worse because the p:lang(ar) in the example above would actually need to be p:lang(ar), p:lang(he), p:lang(ur), p:lang(fa), p:lang(dv) ..., which is getting very messy, but also significantly pumps up the bandwidth and processing requirements compared with approach 2 (and not only for rtl docs).
  2. you still have to add all those missing values we talked about in approach 1 that were not declared in the part of the style sheet dealing with ltr scripts
  3. the list of languages could be long, since there is no way to say “make this rule work for any language with a predominantly rtl script”, and obscures those rules that really are language specific, such as for font settings, that I’d like to be able to find quickly when maintaining the style sheet
  4. you really need to use the :lang() selector for this, and although it works on all recent versions of major browsers, it doesn’t work on, for example, IE6

Having said that, I may use this approach for the few things that CSSJanus can’t convert, such as flipping images. That will hopefully mean that I can produce the alternative stylesheet in approach 2 just by running through CSSJanus. (We’ll see if I’m right in the long run, but so far so good…)

Approach 4: what I’d really like to do

The cleanest way to reduce most of these problems would be to add some additional properties or values so that if you wanted to you could replace

p { margin-right: 32%; margin-left: 7.5%; text-align: left; }


p { margin-start: 32%; margin-end: 7.5%; text-align: start; }

Where start refers to the left for ltr documents and right for rtl docs. (And end is the converse.)

This would mean that that one rule would work for both ltr and rtl pages and I wouldn’t have to worry about most of the above.

The new properties have been strongly recommended to the CSS WG several times over recent years, but have been blocked mainly by people who fear that a proliferation of properties or values is confusing to users. There may be some issues to resolve with regards to the cascade, but I’ve never really understood why it’s so hard to use start and end. Nor have I met any users of RTL scripts (or vertical scripts, for that matter) who find using start and end more confusing than using right and left – in fact, on the contrary, the ones I have talked with are actively pushing for the introduction of start and end to make their life easier. But it seems we are currently still at an impasse.


Similarly, a start and end value for text-align would be very useful. In fact, such a value is in the CSS3 Text module and is already recognised by latest versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome, but unfortunately not IE8 or Opera, so I can’t really use it yet.

In my style sheet, due to some bad design on my part, what I actually needed most of the time was a value that says “turn off justify and apply the current default” – ie. align the text to left or right depending on the current direction of the text. Unfortunately, I think that we have to wait for full support of the start and end values to do that. Applying text-align:left to unjustify, say, p elements in a particular context causes problems if some of those p elements are rtl and others ltr. This is because, unlike mirroring margins or padding, text-align is more closely associated with the text itself than with page geometry. (I resolved this by reworking the style sheet so that I don’t need to unjustify elements, but I ought to follow my own advice more in future, and avoid using text-align unless absolutely necessary.)

In the phrase “Zusätzlich erleichtert PLS die Eingrenzung von Anwendungen, indem es Aussprachebelange von anderen Teilen der Anwendung abtrennt.” (“In addition, PLS facilitates the localization of applications by separating pronunciation concerns from other parts of the application.”) there are many long words. To fit these in narrow columns (coming soon to the Web via CSS) or on mobile devices, it would help to automatically hyphenate them.

Other major browsers already supported soft-hyphens when Firefox 5 implemented FF support. Soft hyphens provide a manual workaround for breaking long words, but more recently browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome have begun to support the CSS3 hyphens property, with hyphenation dictionaries for a range of languages, to support (or disable, if needed) automatic hyphenation. (Note, however, that Aussprachebelange is incorrectly hyphenated in the example from Safari 5.1 on Lion OS shown above. It is hyphenated as Aussprac- hebelange. Some refinement is clearly still needed at this stage.)

For hyphenation to work correctly, the text must be marked up with language information, using the language tags described earlier. This is because hyphenation rules vary by language, not by script. The description of the hyphens property in CSS says “Correct automatic hyphenation requires a hyphenation resource appropriate to the language of the text being broken. The UA is therefore only required to automatically hyphenate text for which the author has declared a language (e.g. via HTML lang or XML xml:lang) and for which it has an appropriate hyphenation resource.”

This post is a place for me to dump a few URIs related to this topic, so that i can find them again later.

Hyphenation arrives in Firefox and Safari

(lists languages to be supported by FF8)

Hyphenation on the web

css text

css generated content

The html5 specification contains a bunch of new features to support bidirectional text in web pages. Language written with right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Thaana, Urdu, etc., commonly mixes in words or phrases in English or some other language that uses a left-to-right script. The result is called bidirectional or bidi text.

HTML 4.01 coupled with the Unicode Bidirectional algorithm already does a pretty good job of managing bidirectional text, but there are still some problems when dealing with embedded text from user input or from stored data.

The problem

Here’s an example where the names of restaurants are added to a page from a database. This is the code, with the Hebrew shown using ASCII:

<p>Aroma - 3 reviews</p>
<p>PURPLE PIZZA - 5 reviews</p>

And here’s what you’d expect to see, and what you’d actually see.

AZZIP ELPRUP - 5 reviews

What it should look like.

5 - AZZIP ELPRUP reviews

What it actually looks like.

The problem arises because the browser thinks that the ” – 5″ is part of the Hebrew text. This is what the Unicode Bidi Algorithm tells it to do, and usually it is correct. Not here though.

So the question is how to fix it?

<bdi> to the rescue

The trick is to use the bdi element around the text to isolate it from its surrounding content. (bdi stands for ‘bidi-isolate’.)

<p><bdi>Aroma</bdi> - 3 reviews</p>
<p><bdi>PURPLE PIZZA</bdi> - 5 reviews</p>

The bidi algorithm now treats the Hebrew and “- 5″ as separate chunks of content, and orders those chunks per the direction of the overall context, ie. from left-to-right here.

You’ll notice that the example above has bdi around the name Aroma too. Of course, you don’t actually need that, but it won’t do any harm. On the other hand, it means you can write a script in something like PHP that says:

foreach $restaurant echo "<bdi>$restaurant['name']</bdi> - $restaurant['reviews'] reviews"; 

This means you can handle any name that comes out of the database, whatever script it is in.

bdi isn’t supported fully by all browsers yet, but it’s coming.

Things to avoid

Using the dir attribute on a span element

You may think that something like this would work:

<p><span dir=rtl>PURPLE PIZZA</span> - 5 reviews</p>

But actually that won’t make any difference, because it doesn’t isolate the content of the span from what surrounds it.

Using Unicode control characters

You could actually produce the desired result in this case using U+200E LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK just before the hyphen.

<p>PURPLE PIZZA &lrm;- 5 reviews</p>

For a number of reasons, however, it is better to use markup. Markup is part of the structure of the document, it avoids the need to add logic to the application to choose between LRM and RLM, and it doesn’t cause search failures like the Unicode characters sometimes do. Also, the markup can neatly deal with any unbalanced embedding controls inadvertently left in the embedded text.

Using CSS

CSS has also been updated to allow you to isolate text, but you should always use dedicated markup for bidi rather than CSS. This means that the information about the directionality of the document is preserved even in situations where the CSS is not available.

Using bdo

Although it sounds similar, and it’s used for bidi text too, the bdo element is very different. It overrides the bidi algorithm altogether for the text it contains, and doesn’t isolate its contents from the surrounding text.

Using the dir attribute with bdi

The dir attribute can be used on the bdi element to set the base direction. With simple strings of text like PURPLE PIZZA you don’t really need it, however if your bdi element contains text that is itself bidirectional you’ll want to indicate the base direction.

Until now, you could only set the dir attribute to ltr or rtl. The problem is that in a situation such as the one described above, where you are pulling strings from a database or user, you may not know which of these you need to use.

That’s why html5 has provided a new auto value for the dir attribute, and bdi comes with that set by default. The auto value tells the browser to look at the first strongly typed character in the element and work out from that what the base direction of the element should be. If it’s a Hebrew (or Arabic, etc.) character, the element will get a direction of rtl. If it’s, say, a Latin character, the direction will be ltr.

There are some rare corner cases where this may not give the desired outcome, but in the vast majority of cases it should produce the expected result.

Want another use case?

Here’s another situation where bdi can be useful. This time we are constructing multilingual breadcrumbs on the W3C i18n site. The page titles are generated by a script, and this page is in Hebrew, so the base direction is right-to-left.

Again here’s what you’d expect to see, and what you’d actually see.

Articles < Resources < WERBEH

What it should look like.

Resources < Articles < WERBEH

What it actually looks like.

Whereas in the previous example we were dealing with a number that was confused about its directionality, here we are dealing with a list of same script items in a base direction of the opposite direction.

If you wanted to generate markup that would produce the right ordering, whatever combination of titles was thrown at it, you could wrap each title in bdi elements.

Want more information?

The inclusion of these features has been championed by Aharon Lanin of Google within the W3C Internationalization (i18n) Working Group. He is the editor of a W3C Working Draft, Additional Requirements for Bidi in HTML, that tracks a range of proposals made to the HTML5 Working Group, giving rationales and recording resolutions. (The bdi element started out as a suggestion to include a ubi attribute.)

If you like more information on handling bidi in HTML in general, try Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts

And here’s the description of bdi in the HTML5 spec.

Picture of the page in action.

The ‘i18n checker’ is a free service by the W3C that provides information about internationalization-related aspects of your HTML page, and advice on how to improve your use of markup, where needed, to support the multilingual Web.

This latest release uses a new user interface and redesigned source code. It also adds a number of new tests, a file upload facility, and support for HTML5.

This is still a ‘pre-final’ release and development continues. There are already plans to add further tests and features, to translate the user interface, to add support for XHTML5 and polyglot documents, to integrate with the W3C Unicorn checker, and to add various other features. At this stage we are particularly interested in receiving user feedback.

Try the checker and let us know if you find any bugs or have any suggestions.

Picture of the page in action.

>> Use UniView

About the tool: Look up and see characters (using graphics or fonts) and property information, view whole character blocks or custom ranges, select characters to paste into your document, paste in and discover unknown characters, search for characters, do hex/dec/ncr conversions, highlight character types, etc. etc. Supports Unicode 6.0 and written with Web Standards to work on a variety of browsers. No need to install anything.

Latest changes: The majority of changes in this update relate to the user interface. They include the following:

  • Many controls have been grouped under three tabs: Look up, Filter, and Options. Various previously dispersed controls were gathered together under the Filter and Options tabs. Many of the controls have been slightly renamed.
  • The Search control has been moved to the top right of the window, where it is always visible.
  • The old Text Area is now a Copy & Paste control that has a 2-dimensional input box. In browser such as Safari, Chrome and Firefox 4, this box can be stretched by the user to whatever size is preferred.
  • The icon that provides a toggle switch between revealing detailed information for a character in a list or table, or copying that character to the Copy & Paste box has been redesigned. It stands alone and indicates the location of the current outcome using arrows.
    It looks like this: with the two arrows or this with the two arrows.
  • Title text has been provided for all controls, describing briefly what that control does. You can see this information by hovering over the control with the mouse.

Many of these changes were introduced to make it a little easier for newcomers to get to grips with UniView.

There were also some feature changes:

  • The ‘Codepoints’ control was converted to accept text as well as code points and renamed ‘Characters’. By default the control expect hex code point values, but this can be switched using the radio buttons. For text, you would usually use the ‘Copy & Paste’ control, but if you want to check out some characters without disturbing the contents of that control, you can now do so by setting the ‘Character’ radio button on the ‘Characters’ control.
  • The control to look up characters in the Unihan database the icon that looks like a Japanese character was fixed, but also extended to handle multiple characters at a time, opening a separate window for each character. (UniView warns you if you try to open more than 5 windows.)
  • The control to send characters to the Unicode Conversion tool the icon with overlapping boxes was fixed and now puts the character content of the field in the green box of the Converter Tool. If you need to convert hex or decimal code point values, do that in the converter.
  • The Show Age feature now works with lists, not just tables.

It has always been possible to pass a string to the converter in the URI, but that was never documented.

Now it is, and you can pass a string using the q parameter. For example,êpes. You can also pass a string with escapes in it, but you will need to be especially careful to percent escape characters such as &, + and # which affect the URI syntax. For example,

>> Use it

Inspired by some comments on John Well’s blog, I decided to add a keyboard layout to the IPA picker today. It follows the layout of Mark Huckvale’s Unicode Phonetic Keyboard (UCL) v1.01.

I can’t say I understand why many of the characters are allocated to the keys they are, but I figured that if John Wells uses this keyboard it would be probably worth using its layout.

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