the evolution of gothic type

stw's picture

Hi everybody,

I am writing an little article about blackletter for a college-project. For this I would like to show the evolution of the gothic types, from carolingian minuscule to textura.
Apart from the fact that this is only a quick sketch, do you think that the evolution is shown right or should I change anything?

Thank you very much,

bye: Steven

Daniel Denk's picture

Do you mean more or less Fraktur type? Or something more broad and that doesn't specify Germanic style typeface design?

Based on everything I just read through the last few days on the etymology side of things - I think you might want to look at it as well. There's some enlightening issues in the mix in context with pronounciation and accenting that doesn't seem to be noted these days. (Whether in academic circles or elsewhere.)

ebensorkin's picture

To my under-tutored eye this looks fine. Reading Noordzij it become clear that you could go from almost any Calligraphic style to almost any other in as many steps. What I think you are asking is - does it seem Historically accurate. I am not 100% sure about that.

I was just teaching my intern about this...

stw's picture

What I think you are asking is - does it seem Historically accurate. I am not 100% sure about that.

Yes. Thats my question :)

ebensorkin's picture

If I have time I will see what I can figure out. I have a lot of books out right now. Hopefully someone with more authority than I will come along as well. You might see what Paul Shaw thinks. Or Sheila Waters. Or Julian Waters. Or Linnea Lundquist & Ward Dunham.

dberlow's picture

"...does it seem Historically accurate? I am not 100% sure about that."
"Yes. Thats my question :)"

Since there were thousands, if not 10's of 1000's of calligraphic enterprises working over the span of time you are representing, I think 100% accurate would require time travel.

What you have shown is a good survey that pretty clearly makes the point, I think.


TS.Eggs's picture

the design museum in london has a good exhibition at the moment about Barnbrook who has done a lot to get such fonts into graphic design and to get rid of their nazi-image. check it out:

hrant's picture

Very nice of Barnbrook!


enne_son's picture

Noordzij calls this process the “consolidation of the word,” and shows a similar sequence in The stroke: theory of writing, explaining that “every change that gives greater accent to the rhythmic bond of the white forms in the word counts as a consolidation of the word.”

hrant's picture

You cannot properly consolidate notan while favoring the black.


ebensorkin's picture

I am still unconvinced hat you MUST be favoring the black when doing calligraphy - or put better maybe that Calligraphy has this problem in a way that is special or unique to it. I am convinced that working in the black rather than Notan is what 99% of practitioners do. But I also think that what 99% of all 'makers of letters' in all techniques/process' do. Going to Notan is an very expert shift not easily done. While I am open to hearing more about the 'rhythmic bond of the white forms' I have to admit to remaining skeptical of that as well. It isn't that I don't see that there is something to what GN is saying. It's just that I think it's a very incomplete way of looking at it.

Also re: the actual topic of the thread. I think that it is reasonable to show your image as long as you don't make great claims to precise historical accuracy simply because lots of scribes used multiple styles and the style they used was related to content and the desire of their patron. The problem with writing about calligraphic styles over time is that the actual complexity is extremely hard to wrap your head around and harder still to explain so less than accurate generalizations are made. The tendency to write in authoritative modern style ' This is how it was ' vs a postmodern more scientific 'These are my observations - these are my sources' further compounds the problem. But as I say. There is no reason to present the thing as a modernist.

enne_son's picture

I question whether changes in writing that give a greater accent to the rhythmic bond of the white forms in the word count as favouring the black. But this is a side issue, and doesn’t alter the fact that Noordzij’s general claim might give us a useful handle on the meaning of the evolution Steven illustrates with what I think are representative illustrations. The actual historical trajectory through incremental changes by dozens of scribal hands over centuries is surely a much messier and more piece-meal affair.

hrant's picture

> I am convinced that working in the black rather
> than Notan is what 99% of practitioners do.

That's a conservative estimate.

> I question whether changes in writing that give a greater
> accent to the rhythmic bond of the white forms in the word
> count as favouring the black.

They don't. That's not what I said.
But it's still "you can't there from here" when it
comes to writing trying to accomodate reading.

As usual, Noordzij deftly elaborates on the way things have
been done, but in so doing tacitly endorses a continuation of
that practice. Just look at his students. That "I don't prescribe"
escapism is pure bunk, and deep down everybody knows it.


enne_son's picture

Hrant: “Noordzij deftly elaborates on the way things have been done, but in so doing tacitly endorses a continuation of that practice."

Yes, Noordzij elaborates at length on the consolidation of the word because he thinks it should continue. The consolidation of the word image is essentially an accomodation to the needs of the visual cortex.

Let us talk about whether the consolidation of the word in the texturas, fracturs and burgundian bastarda had a downside. That is, did the ‘evolution’ Steven illustrated compromise or damage bouma divergence. And if so, how can we now thread our way effectively--typographically--through the countervailing pressures flanking writing. And furthermore, did the typographical return to the weight characteristics and proportions of the carolinian minuscule mean a step back in the consolidation of the word?

hrant's picture

> he thinks it should continue.

That's wonderful.
Damn shame about the impossibility though.

"I'm going to throw this ball and I want it to land on the moon. I'm going to keep throwing it until what I want happens... Oh, I threw it really hard and I don't see it now. That must mean it reached the moon! And now I must teach other people this wonderful trick."

> ... step back ...

There is no stepping forward or backward in a
chirographic world; it's all stepping sideways.


enne_son's picture

Hrant, as I perceive it, your “Noordzij deftly elaborates on the way things have been done, but in so doing tacitly endorses a continuation of that practice." tries to turn my contribution to this thread into a discussion about ‘chirography.’

My “[y]es, Noordzij elaborates at length on the consolidation of the word because he thinks it should continue” was an attempt to turn your sentence on its head and bring the thread back to the Nordzijian idea I introduced because it seemed apt in relation to Steven's graphic.

‘Consolidation of the word’ is just another way of saying ‘bouma integrity’ (or at least it is a dimension of it) and promoting readability as you understand it. And it is impicit in what you describe as ‘notan.’ Or it might be that the converse of this is more accurate.

hrant's picture

The problem with any Noorzijian idea is that it tends
to have merit in proportion to its distance from type.


enne_son's picture

Hrant, I wonder if you mean to imply by this that the consolidation of the word image is an objective that only has merit in proportion to it's distance from type.

hrant's picture

No, what I mean is that bouma consolidation is facilitated in
proportion to a distance from chirography, hence GN's ideas.


enne_son's picture

But Hrant, ‘consolidation of the word’ is a Noordzij concept.
And for Noordzij, the evolution Steven's graphic shows illustrates it. Noordzij wants to encapsulate the meaning of this historical sequence.
My contribution to this thread was an attempt to highlight this.

I wonder if you or anyone else thinks Noordzij's description of the meaning of the evolution Steven's graphic illustrates is apt. And I raised the issue of a downside, and competing pressures on the designer.

You want to add that chirography won't get us there, or at least not far enough. And you fault Noordzij for thinking it can.

I reply by calling attention to Noordzij's statement that “[i]t is decadent to
make an artificial distance between he tool and the shape, but keeping them
artificially together is decadent as well.”

You wonder if in saying this Noordzij is evasive about what he really thinks.

I might reply that this shows you don't understand how to read or make effective use of Noordzij.

ebensorkin's picture


Would you elaborate on what you mean by 'consolidation'? The more common or superficially obvious sense especially for lay-person is I assume the incorrect interpretation. That is simply that the horizontal space required gets smaller with the movement to blackletter ( Fractur, Textura, Shwabacker etc) because the letters become narrow.

What I am guessing he might mean instead is that the forms being used become more regular and the picket fence effect that results creates a greater regularity or rhythm than we see in the carolingian minuscule. Maybe he means more than this.

You (I think) push things further to say that this regularity might have an additional benefit - that the regularity forms a background against which differences between letterforms may be highlighted more effectively resulting in enhanced cue value and faster recognition.

I suspect I have made a mess of this but it's my understanding of what you might mean as of today. Please correct me where I have misunderstood or mischaracterized either of you or GN.

Personally I don't think that regularity of form -at least at the level of blackletter- is needed. The reason I think this has to do with Andre Gurtler's work. The exercises he did with his students suggest to me that there are potentially many kinds of regularity in latin forms beyond those we see in blackletter. And also that these kinds are not less than the ones used by blackletter.

His examples also suggested to me that Blackletter which is hyper regular like a Textura is sub-ideal where cue value is concerned. And maybe blacletter is too regular in general to be ideal.

However, for me, successful Notan requires no regularity whatsoever. The way I look at it it's the latin forms that need a degree of regularity in order to be Latin. And so getting successful Notan going with that regularity doesn't require a particular degree of regularity. It might be that there is some kind of ideal range of regularity for Latin though. And that's a different issue.

I am of course curious about what each of you has to say about these ideas.

enne_son's picture

The Random House dictionary of the English Language: To consolidate is “1. to bring together (separate parts) into a single whole; unite; combine. 2. to make firm or secure, to strengthen.”

Accenting the rhythmic bond of the whites unites or makes strong or secures the word image. Another way of saying this is that it enhances the object-like integrity (for perceptual processing) of the word image. One could say it is an ingredient in acheiving typographic notan.

Textura does this by making the word image more compact, the interior and between-letter shapes more comparable to themselves and eachother, and the black / white balance more equal.

Consolidation is important in a perspective which considers reading to be, what we have been calling, 'bouma-based.' It's perceptual processing importance is more difficult to see if one adopts a parallel letter recognition model of word recognition.

To my sense of it the 'danger' in textura is the loss of independant cue value in many areas. The regularity of textura limits bouma divergence.

enne_son's picture

Eben, where can we find information on Andre Gurtler's work?

Also I don't say regularity is beneficial, but—in latin forms—fairly tight packing (as shown in fourier transforms) around a phasal mean (in the direction of reading). Fairly tight, not perfect phasal regularity.

William Berkson's picture

>fairly tight packing (as shown in fourier transforms) around a phasal mean

Peter, doesn't that 'tight packing around a phasal mean' in fact indicate regularity?

My own view is that regularity is essential to good readability--as is variety. A large degree of regularity is needed to provide a framework the eye can latch on to, and know where to look for variety. The diversity of forms within that regular framework is the 'signal' that we read, and the regularity provides the necessary framework to detect the variations, the signal--such as the difference between a b and an h.

If there is a lot of variation in the design that does not convey key information, then that excess variation becomes 'noise' that interferes with readability. For example, if some characters are much darker than others, like mixing bold and light in the same word, it interferes with readability. Or, like University Roman, where the mn are very narrow, and the bdo very wide. If there is evenness of color, and the counters and letter spaces are all in balance, I think readability is greatly enhanced.

One of the great challenges in designing a text type with superb readability is to get the balance of regularity and variety right.

ebensorkin's picture

The best place to look at what I am thinking about is in Andre Gurtler's book 'Experiments With Letterform and Calligraphy'.

It's expensive but maybe a Library can get you a copy. I could also scan some stuff to cite examples. Let me know how it goes.

ISBN-10: 3721203208
ISBN-13: 978-3721203202

Also, thanks for the definition. ( Really! ) Your comments make more sense now.

I am still unclear how the regularity/rhythmic bond/consolidation enhances the integrity of the word. It makes the word more compact but surely it is the spaces between the words that make the word into an object. That and line spacing. Below that level you have letter relationships. I do see that some degree of regularity is desirable. What I suspect we probably differ over is how tight is ideal. So maybe it isn't that I don't see what regularity has to do with it. Maybe it's that I am not sure why we need 'fairly tight' or why you think that's the sweet spot. And really I am not sure how tight fairly tight is. It is possible we already agree without a sample to refer to it's hard to know.

But here is my point again and if I am preaching to the choir please forgive me: Notan isn't a just balance of black & white in the sense that a 50-50 evenness is achieved. Thus regularity per se may mean almost nothing in itself in terms of making Successful Notan in type. I say 'just' because even a 50/50 balance could be an element in successful Notan. But for most letters successful Notan has to be a pleasing optical balance of the asymmetric. And we know that litteral symetry isn't tollerated by the eye all that well. We need subtle asymmetry & illusions to make the eye happy with what is meant to be seen as symmetric.

Further I think 90% of Cue Value in Latin lives there in the obvious asymmetries. This is why I think Notan & Cue Value are far more deeply related than consolidation or regularity are to either Cue Value or Notan.

Also, would you expand on what 'fairly tight packing' is like. Reading & reading what you wrote just keeps bringing to mind glyph variations where the core shapes are very similar but not the same - and I have no way of knowing if that's the kind of thing you mean.

What would be lovely is if you could show an example of type or calligraphy that demonstrated this fairly tight packing and could also be contrasted with literal regularity.

hrant's picture

Peter, I'm not sure I would call GN evasive. He's certainly too nice a person to be manipulative; a lot of the fallacies in his views concerning type are (purposefully or not) glossed over or sometimes covered up not by him, but by people who want very much for him to be right, perhaps because of his charisma, which is amplified by his intelligence. I have been frustrated by this -admittedly very human- phenomenon time and again, in personal communications and discussion fora. I surely don't understand him fully; but I think you avoid truly understanding him, rummaging around and cherry-picking statements of his that might make sense as a way to avoid digging up his essential False core, an illusional foundation that, to me, entirely invalidates the inhabitability of his house of cards. He's holding you back. I'm sorry. I really wish it wasn't like this.

> successful Notan requires no regularity whatsoever.

The nail on the head, Eben.


enne_son's picture

Hrant, were I to adopt your stance, I feel I would be turning my back on what I have gleaned from Noordzij's writings and cutting myself off from what I might stll learn.

Bill, you're right about regularity and variablity. I should have said, absolute, salient, on-phase periodicity is probably anatgonistic to readability.

Eben, I wonder if these two slides from my UQAM talk help in elucidating what I mean by fairly tight packing. They show that in readable, well-spaced types, information from the vertical components of the letters in the words falls at intervals close to a phasal mean. Notice that the highlights on the horizontal axis are not thin vertical stripes, but fuzzy verticle elipses. I take this clustering around a phasal mean to be one of the key signatures of readable Latin type. I would expect the fourier transforms of non-latin scripts to reveal a rather different picture. In the transforms shown, there are no competing phasal peaks on the x, or horizontal, axis, and the information is not mechanistically on-phase. I would expect that a fourier transform of textura will show much more ‘on-phase-ness' in the horizontal direction of writing.

But the rhythmic cohesion set up by this phasal structure binds the cluster of glyphs into an objext-like entity resistant to what I have been calling 'slot-processing.' That is, the rhythmic cohesion promotes the consolidation of the word.

enne_son's picture

Hrant, I should have added that I think the essential core is sound.

enne_son's picture

Further to the discussion about textura, variety and regularity: Noordzij writes (The stroke:theory of writing, page53): “[…] in the end his chasing after a perfect rhythmn lapsed into uniformity, because the narrowing of letters led to interior shapes that were not only equivalent, they became identical, and the humanists could justifiably call this barbaric—gothic.”

ebensorkin's picture

When you say 'information' here what is being measured exactly? Is it the black shape of the ascender -or the outline? Also, it is the ascender we are talking about - yes?

When you yo say 'phasal mean' what is that? The idea I have is that it is the overall tendency of the shapes. If the shapes are fairly consistent then you have a tight phasal mean? If so, a Textura that has 'lapsed into uniformity' would be the extreme example. Futura's lower case would fit nicely too but the Upper Case would not. Something with a lot of width variation in the Lower Case might not. A Monospace might adhere fairly closely to the 'phasal mean'as well . Is this right?

The odd thing about this idea is that it seems to be working against the idea - not absolutely; you have made that clear, that glyph divergence or distinctiveness is a good idea. But again, if I have understood you the question is not one of absolutes but of where on the continuum of regularity & divergence is likely to be best for a reader's immersive reading. It sounds like you are more comfortable with the phasal mean than Hrant is. And I admit I may even be outside of Hrant's range. Maybe not though. He may be outside mine. It probably depends on the feature & the reason for it...

Is ’slot-processing.’ a way of describing a Kevin style one glyph at a time model of processing?

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