Angle of the tonos? Part 2

Nick Job's picture

I've has a look at this thread about the tonos.

My question is...Is there any good reason to make the angle of the tonos steeper in monotonic Greek than the acute accent (especially if an acute is quite steep anyway)?

I can see the merit in making it steeper for the upper case vowels in which the tonos appears upper left aligned with the cap height but what other reason is there for making it steeper than the acute (when in law the tonos is to all intents and purposes equivalent to an acute?)

John Hudson wrote: "it tends to be steep and often taller than the Latin acute". Any reason why?

I understand that you might want a steeper tonos/oxia in polytonic where space above a letter may be at a premium but why does it always seem to be steeper than the acute in monotonic Greek where there's all the room in the world (particularly over the lower case vowels)?


quadibloc's picture

If, of course, the tonos has one size and shape in polytonic Greek, then the natural thing for Greek readers would be to have it "look like a tonos" in monotonic Greek as well.

Making it look like an acute accent is a bad thing that would be distracting to the reader.

Given that it appears before the letter, rather than above the letter, with upper-case letters, the main reason for having a shallower angle does not exist.

The main issue is that an acute accent in French, for example, turns a short vowel into a long one. The tonos, on the other hand, indicates the stressed vowel in a word. Introductory Russian textbooks sometimes use a similar mark to indicate the stressed vowel in Russian words, because of the strong effect this has on pronunciation - stress basically turning a schwa into a non-schwa.

I'm not familiar with the effect of stress on vowel quality in Greek, but even if there is a significant effect, the vowel in question not simply becoming louder, stressing a syllable is psychologically something very different than the long-short change in vowel quality (often signaled in Greek, as in English, by the use of dipthongs in spelling).

So I suspect many Greeks would loudly say, "don't fool with our stress marks to make them look like your accent marks".

Nick Shinn's picture

It's not a bad idea to make the acute accent quite steep.
That way, it also serves for the kreska (Polish) and tonos.

dezcom's picture

Since it has its own codepoint, it is not a problem to design the tonos to look like a tonos instead of an acute.

Nick Job's picture

Thanks everyone, but no-one is telling me whether it should be like an acute or not???

Chris, when you say it should look like a tonos and not an acute you are making an assumption that a tonos looks different from an acute but you're not telling me why it is different.

I know it has its own codepoint but so do Alpha and A and yet you could substitute the A for Alpha (and nearly everyone does) and even the X and Chi although these are completely different sounds...

Why is the advice, make the tonos steeper and different?


dezcom's picture

"Why is the advice, make the tonos steeper and different?"

because that is what Greeks expect to read. Would you make an acute steeper just to match the tonos? Just because there are more languages that use acute than tonos does not mean one can replace the other. I almost never sub the A for Alpha or X for Chi, or P for Rho. I see no need to or even an advantage. Would you ask Cyrillic readers to flop their glyph to look like an R just because Latin scripts do it that way? A glyph is what it is, not what is most expedient for the type designer to save some time.

Nick Shinn's picture

Is this really an issue?
After all, the acute accent has many different angles in different typefaces.

The reason the tonos is traditionally steep may be, as John notes, to take up less horizontal space when preceding capitals, and also when combining with psili and dasia, but in those combo accents, there is no need for it (oxia/varia) to be the same angle as a plain tonos.

quadibloc's picture

I would admit that if someone was making a unique typeface looking like, say, Stymie Bold, for Greek, they could make the tonos look like anything they wanted.

My suspicion - and, not being Greek, I admit I could be completely off base on it - is that accents can be thought of as hats worn by vowels to give them a distinctive personality. Thus, think of á as an a wearing a fedora with a feather in it, of â as an a wearing a conical party hat...

But a tonos is an arrow pointing down at the vowel from above, singling it out as the stressed one... while it is still the same vowel.

So, psychologically, a tonos isn't thought of as an "accent" as such, and thus making it typographically similar to an acute accent would arouse ill-feelings of foreigners trying to tamper with their language and the like.

Nick Job's picture

>>>Is this really an issue?

You may feel that you have some closure on it from the original thread, but I like to do one thing over against another because I am clear on the rationale for doing so, surely you think that too?

Even now I'm not sure whether to make my tonos like my acute (or steeper because it's not an acute and, more importantly, Greek readers are used to something steeper).

I'm not about to make my acute steeper to match my tonos, but my question now is, should the tonos match the acute or is that in some way offensive (which is the vibe I'm getting from Chris and John)?

I guess this is an admission of ignorance. What I'm saying is I don't know what a tonos should look like because I am not a Greek speaker/reader, much as I love Greek letters. I certainly want Greek readers to be comfortable. If you're a Greek reader are you comfortable with a tonos being shallower or does it jar?


dezcom's picture

Suppose you never ever saw an acute but were faced with the task of designing a tonos? How would you proceed? I guess I am saying is, why do you even think the two marks should be the same? I am not discounting, their similarity, I am just trying to get at your reasoning. A typeface is a system of glyphs that should be harmonious together in writing text of whatever language is intended. The first order of harmony is within each script if you have more than one included. In other words "when in Rome..."

Granted, history has thrown a monkey wrench into this. There was a time, after the Ottoman's conquered Greece and even thereafter, when finding Greek type was difficult. This is especially true of Latin scholars who wanted to print Greek words accurately in their books. There was a choice between leaving it out or trying to make do with what was available (including borrowed diacritics). What else could they do? There were several non-Greeks who, thankfully, wanted to preserve the classic Greek writings as important literature, philosophy, science, and history. Thanks to them and with the help of some native Greeks, types began to come out in Greek but hand cut punches were a daunting task and were time consuming.
Today, it is a different story. There is no technological, political, economic, or sociological problem standing in the way of producing Greek type easily.
Again, ask yourself your own question but also ask what would the purpose be to homogenize diacritics? Why not then change them all to reduce the number in some abstract amount? Make the grave, tonos, acute, kreska, as well as comma, apostrophe and inch, a single vertical straight line? You might say it would confuse the reader and I would agree.


Nick Job's picture

Cheers, Chris.

>>> I guess I am saying is, why do you even think the two marks should be the same?

It's not me who's saying the tonos is (identical to) the acute. As I understand it, the 1982 adoption of monotonic states that the accent is an acute. I wondered why the de facto accent used is generally steeper than the de jure acute. Is it as simple as the accent used before the upper case vowels was compressed and this compressed version was then used above the lower case vowels or is there more to it?

dezcom's picture

"De facto" Latin and "Du jour" French, are ironic terms to use in defining a Greek diacritic mark :-)

In the old days of the 1980s, 8 bit was the limit so they had to make room somehow. The funny thing is, by the time they acted on what do do with 8 bit, Unicode had come out making room not only for ploytonic Greek but numerous more demanding scripts as well.
I have seen older writing that says the Monotonic Greek tonos, replaces the "oxia" and it's grave-like partner, as well as the tilde looking "Perispomeni" and is simplified to be just an accent denoting where the emphasis should be. I do not interpret this as looking exactly like the Latin acute necessarily but just reducing the number to one. Since there is still quite a bit of Greek published in polytonic yet today, it seems odd to have a discussion in a time when the bit depth has been well eclipsed. It would be like limiting air speed readings on todays airplanes to those of the propeller-only era.

Check this link for more detail :

quadibloc's picture

He said de jure, not du jour! But then, you knew that, as your smiley indicates.

By the way, a while back I ran across a web site by a Greek who feels that it's a sad thing that the days of polytonic Greek are over: the homepage of the Citizens' Movement for the Reintroduction of the Polytonic System.

Of course, this represents the views of one individual, not necessarily mainstream Greek public opinion. Since the various marks now simply indicate the stressed vowel, which behaves the same way no matter what symbol was used to indicate this, at least for writing modern Greek, it would seem the current monotonic system is less confusing. (Reading the site, I see his argument for keeping polytonic Greek is analogous to how someone would argue for keeping the existing spelling of the English language, as opposed to changing to a phonetic spelling - the differing accents help to make the grammatical elements of the language clear, just as different spellings for vowels, now pronounced the same, help with etymology.)

But since Greek is a language with a rich past, the ability to accurately quote older texts will remain highly important; I think it's still strongly recommended that people designing Greek typefaces include full polytonic capabilities in their fonts.

quadibloc's picture

Incidentally, while I cannot find the information now, I recall reading that the sequel to the Odyssey written by Nikos Kazantzakis (Νίκος Καζαντζάκης), best known as the author of Zorba the Greek, was written in a reconstructed Ancient Greek incorporating words the author found through researching the Greek dialects spoken in rural areas of Greece. (His other major literary works in Greek were written in dimotiki with influence from the Cretan dialect, which was controversial at the time.)

Apparently, this made it hard for people to read... so, while Greece also had katharevousa, no one has, to my knowledge, suggested going beyond the classical literature to the rural dialects to attempt to more fully reconstruct the full Greek language... and produce Greece's answer to nynorsk. For which most Greeks are no doubt thankful.

Apparently, I misunderstood what I read. It included a glossary at the end of words used by ordinary Greeks, but unknown to Greece's scholars, but it was still written in modern Greek - the intent was to approach the Greek of the common people of the present, not the ancient past.

Jongseong's picture

The main issue is that an acute accent in French, for example, turns a short vowel into a long one.

Sorry to comment just to nitpick, but that's an incorrect description. In French the acute accent is used on 'e' to indicate that it is not an unstressed or silent e. It is not used on any other letter, and the French é is a short sound. Languages where the acute accent basically indicates 'long' vowels include Czech, Hungarian, and Icelandic (though often the 'long' vowels are not simply long versions of the short vowels).

quadibloc's picture

the French é is a short sound

Huh? The French é has the sound of long A. But I take it you don't mean the same thing as I do by a "long vowel", since "not simply long versions of the short vowels" apparently means that you are thinking of a long vowel in terms of duration, rather than vowel quality.

There are languages - I think Japanese is one - about which the term "long vowel" is used in this manner, because vowel duration contrasts exist and are significant.

English doesn't have that sort of thing at all, and, thus, the normal use of the term "long vowel" in English means... A as in cave, instead of A as in cat; E as in be, instead of E as in bet; I as in ivy, instead of I as in tin; O as in open, instead of O as in cot; U as in puny, instead of U as in push... and so on.

It's strictly a distinction of vowel quality, and not at all of duration.

Jongseong's picture

In French, the vowel represented by é is short. In fact length distinction in vowels has largely disappeared in Modern French, except for some speakers who distinguish the open E sounds in maître (long) and mettre (short). There is some automatic lengthening of certain vowels due to position, but the é vowel does not usually occur in such contexts. See the Wikipedia article for more detail. Quebec French makes more of a difference in pronunciation between long vowels and short vowels so it's easier to tell that the é vowel is short when you listen to that variety of French.

The French é vowel is mapped to the English long A only because of the similarity in quality, so this says nothing about whether the French vowel is long or short.

Once upon a time, English long vowels and short vowels were distinguished by duration, not quality. The Great Vowel Shift and subsequent sound changes altered the vowel qualities so that for example long A as in cave doesn't match the quality of short A as in cat. But in Standard British English, for example, the long vowels are still appreciably longer than the short vowels. It is only in certain varieties like North American English that the quantity distinction has become less important so that speakers might think of the long-short distinction exclusively as one of quality.

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