Double Acute/"Hungarumlaut"

Birdseeding's picture

Hi everyone, I'm very new on these forums, and I'm already hooked on the type identification end of things, it's extremely good for learning about how typefaces are constructed.

Being half-Hungarian, one such construction I'm especially interested in is the double acute accent, the "hungarumlaut", that occurs in the letters /ő/ and /ű/. I've searched for threads discussing it and I can't find any, so I thought I'd check if anyone has posted on it before - and if not I'd love to hear some discussion on it from the esteemed type degniners here.

Thing is, looking through the typefaces on my hard drive, if they have it at all, a lot of them seem to get it simply wrong from what I understand Hungarian is supposed to read like. :)

The double acute accent is a long version of the umlaut; as I understand it, it is supposed to relate as directly to that umlaut as typographically possible. That means the spacing between the acute accents should ideally be the same as the space between the umlaut tittles, and the accents should ideally grow out upwards of the place the umlaut would have been. Below I've modified Arial (I know, I know!) to show sort of what I mean:

Or look at the /ő/ in the modified Charlemagne in the header of the website of this municipality.

Now, this is not always typographically possible - it can create an unbalanced and too-high glyph, I guess. But so many typefaces have double acutes that are very close to each other, much closer than the umlaut tittles, and in many the accents are very far to the left, centering the whole diacritic or even extending to the left when it's supposed to lean substantially to the right.

Am I right here? Or have I misunderstood the problems of constructing this diacritic, or how it's "supposed" to be?

Bendy's picture

>The double acute accent is a long version of the umlaut; as I understand it, it is supposed to relate as directly to that umlaut as typographically possible. That means the spacing between the acute accents should ideally be the same as the space between the umlaut tittles, and the accents should ideally grow out upwards of the place the umlaut would have been.

Interesting. I like the idea of relating it to the dieresis in terms of spacing and position...where did you get that idea? Have you seen the entry on diacritics project?

Birdseeding's picture

It's how you're taught to write it, at least, and I think a lot of Hungarian-made printed material has it that way. Let me see if I can round some up off the net. :)

The diacritics project page is substantially correct as far as I understand the history.

Birdseeding's picture

Okay, I've looked at a whole bunch of solutions from different print media and it varies substantially.

In signpainting (as in handwriting) the double acute is quite often just two vertical lines:

Whereas in printing it can do very different things. Here's a book from the turn of the last century where the diacritic behaves pretty much as I describe it above:

Here's a recent engraved inscription where again it is more to the right and spaced wider apart than what's common in Western European fonts:

Then there's plenty of printed material that uses the diacritic more optically centered and tighter, of course. What's correct?

Also, to complicate things there are two more factors I hadn't considered, because I thought they were obvious but clearly are not! Firstly, relative size. In this example the double acute is bigger than both the acute and the diaresis:

And then there's relative angle (!). Look at the recent logo for this women's magazine:

The two acute accents are at different angles. This is not the only place I've seen that, either.

In general, a quick internet browse-through at the very least suggests that the diacritic should not be optically centered but lean a fair bit right. Right?

Birdseeding's picture

Just one more to confuse. Here the lean is extremely to the right, the size is slightly different (I think) from the regular acute, the position is different from both the umlaut and the acute, and there's a slight difference in angle between the two accents, but it's the opposite difference to the magazine logo. From a recent, well-typeset Doring Kindersley book.

(Oh, and you can always compare to the metrically centered, extremely tightly spaced accents on the Avant Garde (or whatever the geometric font is). Many different variants!)

quadibloc's picture

All I knew before of the Hungarian double acute was one Selectric element I had for Hungarian, on which the accent was small and light.

To try and find out what this accent "should" look like, I looked in Google Books for some old Hungarian books, and in my first two results, I found that the "relative angle" type was what was used:

And it's also smaller that both a single acute and an umlaut.

Here's an image from my other search result, in a significantly different typeface, but with the same thing true of the accents:

So that seems to be what used to be the standard for books.

quadibloc's picture

Apparently, there's a facsimile edition of the type specimen of the (Jesuit) Academy Press of Tyrnavia, as published in 1733, available for only 2,710 forints. I can't say whether it would actually be helpful...

I tried Googling information about Hungarian handwriting, but while I found the Wikipedia article on the double acute accent, I didn't find any information on what that accent meant to Hungarians through that either.

Here's an example in an oldstyle typeface:

This book contains text in Latin, German, Polish, and Czech as well as Hungarian. Apparently, it's a list of very old books, and so it tries to reproduce the forms of letters which they use on their title pages exactly. Thus, a very unusual accent appears at one point in the book, looking like a small lowercase e above the letter, and apparently used as a replacement for the umlaut.

Here, it's used in a Hungarian name, elsewhere it is even used in German words.

Birdseeding's picture

Bizarre with the little /e/ diacritic - although of course as a typographic solution a similar attempt is the origin of the scandinavian å, another letter that's incidentally often drawn "wrong" (with a zero-contrast, light ring even in sturdy, serifed typefaces).

Thanks for the other double acutes. There seem to be many, many solutions to this! Needs more investigation, perhaps - I'll look at a whole bunch more Google Books sources when I get home.

quadibloc's picture

I had thought that the ring in the Scandinavian å is supposed to be a geometrical circle - not a raised letter o, with the sides thickened. If that is indeed its origin, I don't think I've seen a typeface in which it retained that vestige of it.

In another thread, I noted that while confusing the ogonek with the cedilla or a reversed cedilla produces very bad results visually, it resembles the Greek iota subscript accent. I didn't mean to suggest that was necessarily where it was derived from, but I think I was not clear enough on that point.

The versions of the double acute accent with the change in curvature are reminiscent of the Greek "smooth acute" polytonic accent. So, this could be a wrong form being used simply because it was familiar from another language, and the fact that it appeared in older books doesn't necessarily mean that it is what Hungarians would consider the "right" way to represent the accent in a text face. I wish there were someone from Hungary here who could provide some insight into why an apostrophe-prime form might, or might not, be more appropriate than a double-prime form for this accent.

And, of course, what is appropriate for Hungarian might not be appropriate for Faeroese...

quadibloc's picture

That is, the change in curvature form reminds me of Greek ἄ, whereas, if the accent is meant to indicate a vowel that is both one which takes an umlaut, and one that is long, I would be inclined to imagine that it was decided that an acute accent coming out of the middle of a diaresis was rejected (I thought there was a Polytonic Greek accent like that, but I can't find it in the Unicode Greek Extended block)... and, if the idea of having "two accents" is rejected, I suspect that the current conventional practice - two small acute accents, close together and neatly centered, is what is preferred. The fact that there is two of them is all the reference to the umlaut that is required.

kentlew's picture

> I don't think I've seen a typeface in which it retained that vestige of it.

Where are you looking?

When designing Whitman, I was advised by a Danish colleague of the preference for some stress (appropriate to the design) and thus the ringaccent has some slight contrast.

I’m sure mine is not the only example.

quadibloc's picture

I admit to not looking far and wide. I couldn't recall seeing stress on those few occasions where I saw the accent - primarily places where the Ångström unit (1/10 nm) was referred to.

mrgann's picture

I am a native Hungarian and here are a few thoughts about this topic, however old it may be:
- I like the ö/ő comparison in the first post, however, I have found it useful to move the accent of ő a bit to the left to balance its leaning (on the other hand, I think that they have gone too far in the case of Gyömrő's website)
- The example which reads "szöveggyűjtemény" is the most comfortable for my eye; I might make the accent a bit smaller, but it is good as it is
- I think it is a good idea to make the double acute lines shorter and more upright than the simple acute; but this might be just my taste. However, it is clear that this accent is not just two acutes next to each other!
- Schoolchildren learn writing ő and ű with two parallel slanted lines. I would stick to this, I don't like the relative angle, it looks as if it was messed up.
- Upright lines look really bad to the native eye. Avoid them.

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