Encoding of glyph variants - some preliminary experiments

  1. 1. Christian Wittern

    Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Institute for Research in Humanities - Kyoto University

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Encoding of glyph variants -- some preliminary


Kyoto University, Institute for Research in
Humanities wittern@kanji.zinbun.kyoto-u.ac.jp


University of Tübingen







1. Introduction
The character-glyph model, which essentially describes a class-instance
relationship between a character and the class of glyphs that can be used to
render it, has been the underlying model that made modern character encoding
standards possible.
While this model has been successfully applied to many scripts, its
application to East Asian logographic writing systems has not been
satisfying. One of the reasons for this fact is that the model implicitly
neglects the importance of differences on the glyph level and does not allow
for the encoding of such differences. In East Asia, however, there are a
variety of orthographic conventions in place, that do require that specific
glyphs can be selected. Since the model did not allow for this, in many
cases such glyphs have been encoded as separate characters that would have
to be considered merely glyph variants according to the character-glyph
model. This fact has largely contributed to the bloat of East Asian
character encodings and has severely hampered information processing in this
cultural sphere.
In this paper, I am presenting research that is designed to solve this
problem. It does this by storing information about the relationship of glyph
variants, characters and a considerable number of other attributes in a
separate database in form of a topic map. Encoded documents are normalized
to use only codepoint to represent one character. Information about the
intended glyph is separated out and represented with markup constructs. Upon
rendering of the document, this can be used to draw the glyphs that where
present in the original document. Additionally, this approach allows also
alternative renderings according to various requirements. Since information
about the usage of these glyphs is stored in the topic map, it can be used
to render with the respective glyphs expected by audiences in modern Japan,
Taiwan or mainland China, where the typographic and orthographic conventions
have widely diverged in the last decades.
As a proof of concept, a fragment of a topic map for East Asian logographs
has been implemented and used with a small sample of texts to produce output
in the described manner. Some details of this process are given below.

2. Some considerations
In a series of experiments, some different rendering processes have been
tried. They vary in how the information needed for rendering is deduced and
how explicit the markup for this has to be. The two most extreme cases
No explicit information about glyphs that may have variant
rendering forms is stored in the texts. All information has to be
deduced from contextual information (e.g. the date and place of the
origin of a text and the information associated with this in the
database) or explicit information about these occurrences in the
All information for rendering the glyphs is stored in the texts.
In this case, no external database is needed.

The main purpose of the experiments has been to determine a good compromise
between these two extremes. What can be considered a good compromise itself,
however depends on a range of different factors and will only be possibly
established independently for every project, no global recommendations are
possible. Any encoding scheme, that attempts to deal with these
complexities, will have to take this into account and be better adaptable to
the needs of its intended users.
In this experiment, the texts are encoded according to the TEI Guidelines
(P3/P4) and the database of characters and glyphs is encoded in the topic
map XML format, a XML implementation of the ISO 13250 Topic Maps. Both of
these are widely used standards in their respective areas and provide the
flexibility and expressive power that was needed here.

3. A topic map of East Asian logographs
The topic map of East Asian logographs contains information in the following
abstract character
character instances
mappings to coded character sets
structure of glyph
glyph variants
time scope
location scope
equivalent characters

This list is not exhaustive, since one of the characteristics of the topic
map paradigm is that it is always possible to add basic data types, but
reflects which particular character properties proved necessary for the
problem at hand. This list will have to be modified as other application
domains and areas are explored.
It should also be noted, that this list is not flat, but the data are
organized in super-class/sub-class and class/instance hierarchies. This will
be made more explicit in the presentation.

4. The rendering process
The rendering process requires a two pass processing.
In a first pass, the rendering process will read the text and determine which
characters require special treatment. These might be marked as such in the
text, or this information might depend on parameters passed to the rendering
After information about which characters occur in the text is available In a
first step, the rendering process has to read the topic map and store the
information contained in there in tables that will be accessed in the later
stages of the rendering process. What information is extracted from the
topic map depends on the desired form of rendering.

5. Conclusions
Since the character encoding lacked the necessary differentiation of
characters and glyphs and appropriate mechanisms to access them, an
additional layer of information has been created in form of a topic map that
mediates between the characters that are encoded in the document and the
rendering of these characters with instances of glyphs. This allows for the
additional feature of rendering according to various user requirements, that
otherwise would involve costly and error prone conversions on the character
encoding level. It thus opens a new prospect for the information processing
of East Asian texts. It should be noted however, that this process
introduces the abstraction from the concrete glyph instance to the
underlying character, which is an act of interpretation that might introduce
The experiments reported here might also provide valuable input for a
revision of the Writing System Declaration (WSD) in TEI, which currently
does not support such fine-grained and flexible encoding of glyph


Association for Computers and the Humanities

Association for Computational Linguistics

Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing

Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange
(TEI P3)



Chicago, Oxford
Text Encoding Initiative
May 16, 1994

International Organization for

ISO/IEC 13250, Information technology - SGML
Applications - Topic Maps






A Project for Dealing with the Missing Character

Presentation at the Electronic Buddhist Text Initiatvie
(EBTI) meeting held May 25 and 26, 2001 at Dongguk University in



Toward a Web-based Scholar's Workbench

Presentation at the 'Third Conference On Sinology',
held at the Academia Sinica June 29 to July 1, 2000 in Taipei



Non-system characters in XML documents

Zenkoku buken - jouhousentaa Jinbunshakaigaku
gakujitsujouhouseminaa Series [Series of the National seminar of
Computer application in the Humanities and Social Sciences ]



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Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website: http://web.archive.org/web/20041117094331/http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/allcach2002/

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None