Ligature (typography)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lead letter and printed image of a ſi ligature (long s, i) in 12p Garamond
Wooden letters with ligatures (from left to right, each mirror-inverted)
fl , ft , ff , fi in 25  Cicero = 300  points = 112.8 mm (font Futura narrow bold)

A ligature (of medium latin Ligatura , link 'to ligare , bind, associate') or letters composite referred to in the typography the fusion of two or more letters of a typeface to a glyph . Ligatures are also used in handwritten Currencies . There these were created either through quick spelling of frequently used character combinations or for optical correction.

In set ligatures are today mainly used when two letters with ascenders (z. B. f, i, l, t ) follow each other, since no ligature is a gap between the letters would arise or when used in the undercut to unsightly compounds of ascenders would come. In lead type , ligatures are absolutely necessary to enable undercuts. The amount, type and use of ligatures differ depending on the language and writing system.

Character set

Ligatures in an Antiqua font with a long inner s (which has usually only been used in Fraktur fonts since its disappearance from Antiqua around 1800)

Ligatures avoid optical gaps that disrupt the appearance and legibility of a text. They are mainly used in professional typesetting , but have been left out in newspaper typesetting for reasons of time and economy. Ligatures are designed primarily from an aesthetic point of view and not just created by simply reducing the spacing (see illustrations).

In German-language texts, the ligatures ff, fi, fl, ft and their combinations ( ffi, äufig and so on) are common, ligatures from fk, fj, fh, fb, fz, ll, st, ch, ck, are less common . ct, th, tt, tz, kk, Qu, ſi, ſſ, ſt, ſch . Depending on the font, these are seldom ligatures in the narrower sense, as the individual letters are only moved closer to one another to undercut , but do not actually form a connection. The number of ligatures varies with different fonts.

Application in German

In German, ligatures are only set if the letters to be connected are in the same morpheme , for example in the root of the word . Ligatures are usually not set if the letters extend over a grammatical joint (e.g. a word joint ). " Chewing surface" (chewing surface) is therefore written with a fl ligature; “Merchants” on the other hand, because the letters f and l belong to different parts of the word ( merchants ) . An exception are suffixes that begin with i (-ig, -in, -ich, -isch) . Ligatures are also set here across the grammatical fugue. For example, "frequently" in spite of the joint (common) written with fi ligature. In case of doubt, the structure of the word according to spoken syllables is followed and the ligature is set accordingly.

The use of ligatures is not regulated in a binding manner, in general the following principle is followed: Separately spoken letters are not used in ligatures.

Lead type

The use of ligatures in lead type has not only aesthetic but also technical reasons. Without ligatures, the only option for the letter f would be to place it flush on the cone , which would result in a 'hole' in the sentence that would interfere with the flow of reading, or to allow it to extend freely over the cone on the right so that it partially over the cone of the next letter rage. The exposed part of the f would, however, easily break off without the protective cone. For this reason, the relevant combinations are poured together directly onto a cone (see logotype ).

Computer set

Today computer typesetting allows letters to be positioned almost anywhere. It is therefore possible to set the spacing between two characters and, in many cases, do without ligatures. Many fonts offer special ligatures. Other ligatures are emulated by positioning the typographic characters accordingly . The ß ligature is treated as one letter and is used by default.

New writing techniques such as OpenType , Graphite from SIL or Apple's less common AAT allow the manual or automatic use of ligatures without changing the underlying code, provided this is explicitly provided for in a font. Some programs such as B. QuarkXPress (from version 7) or InDesign offer this possibility with OpenType under Mac OS X as well as under Windows .

In most Microsoft programs such as Word (up to version 2007) ligatures still have to be inserted as special characters and therefore confuse the spell check. Emulating many ligatures of several individual characters is more successful if the font design of fonts is already adapted to it. Microsoft Word 2010 is the first version of Word to officially support OpenType-based ligatures.

Above: automatic, incorrect fl ligature (“chew fleute”).
Bottom: correct without ligature ("Kauf · people").

Difficulties can arise when checking the spelling. Some typesetting programs support the use of ligatures only in a rather complex manner. Some typesetting programs (e.g. TeX ) therefore shift the use of ligatures into the output process, which only partially solves the problem, since it depends on the context whether a character has to be set as a ligature or not. The typesetter must be able to explicitly specify whether a ligature should be set or not (e.g. in LaTeX Kauf"|leute or HTML Kauf‌leuteto prevent the automatic ligature). The automated setting or suppression of ligatures using the hyphenation dictionaries has so far only been carried out by the LuaLaTeX typesetting program with the help of the “selnolig” package.

Unintended "ligatures" can occur when letters are moved too closely together. Many fonts contain information to optimize the spacing between letter pairs, so-called kerning pairs .

The universal character set - Unicode - has very limited support for ligatures. Only a few ligatures like “fi” have their place in Unicode for reasons of compatibility with existing character sets / encodings (e.g. Macintosh Roman ). The Unicode Consortium generally rejects the inclusion of further ligatures in Unicode and justifies this with the fact that ligatures are a problem of character representation , not of character encoding . A control of the thus necessary automatic ligation should be done with the binding inhibitor U + 200C (suppress connection) and the non-width connector U + 200D (force connection) , which in HTML as character entities ‌ (zero width non-joiner) or ‍ (zero width joiner) were recorded.

Fracture set

Mandatory ligatures ch , ck , , tz are retained in the blocked sentence .

There are a number of ligatures in German Fraktur . In Fraktur the rule also applies in any case that a ligature must not be placed over a word joint (example: Ta-tz-e = tz ligature, but Lu-ft-z-ug = ft-ligature + z). This also applies to family names of Slavic origin in -cky (e.g. Ranicky ), which - according to the separate pronunciation - are not written with a ck ligature, but with separate letters c and k.

In blocking set the ligatures ch, ck, ft and tz unlocked. All other common ligatures (ff, fi, fl, ft, ll, ſi, ſſ, ſt, tt, since the beginning of the 20th century also ſch) are blocked, that is, broken down into single letters in the blocking sentence. With there is also the possibility that it is not blocked in the blocking rate, but is still resolved. As early as the 19th century, the ß was no longer understood as a ligature, but as a single letter and was consequently not dissolved.

The reformed German spelling revived an idea from the early 19th century in the area of ​​the s spelling, the so-called Heysesche s spelling . In Heysean Foreign Dictionary, a specially created ligature ſs appears for double s at the end of the word .

Meaning in the writing system

In European scripts, a ligature is an element of the graphical surface structure of the written language, which means that it is not a necessary part of the writing system ( orthography ). Their use only follows typographical rules that serve the visual or aesthetic design, without being necessary for the differentiation of meanings of words . For example, for the German spelling to work, it is not necessary to write “tricky” with the ligature for ffl . The use of ligatures is not prescribed orthographically in any European language; it is purely a stylistic device and varies from font to font. Ligatures are therefore not graphemes of a writing system.

A distinction must be made between these real ligatures, which are used synchronously as such, of units of a writing system that originally ( diachronically ) arose from ligatures (cf. also the development of the Latin writing system ). These include letters like w , ß , æ , œ and characters like & and % (see below). The use of such letters is now subject to ( synchronous ) orthographic regulations; they are the smallest units of a writing system that distinguish meaning and thus graphemes like other letters.

The ligatures w and ß

Antiqua-ſs vs. Textura and Fraktur ſz

The letter w developed as a ligature from two u and v . Until the Middle Ages, a distinction was made between the letters u and v only aesthetically, not according to their phonetic value. In some languages, this origin can still be traced from the letter designation ( English double u "double u", Spanish doble uve or doble v "double v", French double v "double v").

In print, the lowercase w was implemented in different ways if there was no letter, for example with a round r as “rv” in the Fraktur type .

Historically, the ß in the German language goes back to a ligature from ſ (“long s”, originally another letter of the German alphabet) and z in the broken scripts . However, a ligature made up of the long Antiqu and s was also important for the form of the ß in today's antiqua fonts . This variant of the double s went out of use in the mentioned scripts in the 18th century at the same time as the long ſ . In the second half of the 19th century, the letter ß - based on the model of Fraktur typesetting - gradually became popular in antiquity as well. With the adoption of the resolutions of the Orthographic Conference of 1901 , the ß became the official rule in antiquity as well.

While the current German spelling limits the ß to use after long vowels and diphthongs and thus only recognizes the ß letter, authors and publishers such as Diogenes , who continue to use the spelling of the 20th century , also use the ß ligature after Adelung . From a linguistic point of view, both variants are usually regarded as equivalent, while there is still disagreement about typographical equality. In any case, the "inventor" of the reformed ß / ss spelling, Johann Christian August Heyse , had suggested in 1826, after strong criticism of his spelling variant, "to create a new character [and] combine a ſ with an s" . This new ligature corresponded in principle to the ß newly created in the 20th century from ſ and s for the Antiqua.

Ampersand (left) and original et ligature (right)

The characters &,% and @

The & sign (ampersand) is a ligature made up of the original single letters “e” and “t” ( Latin et , “and”). In cursive script , it first developed into a representation in which the arc changes from the lowercase e to the stem of the lowercase t . If the E is capitalized, the following illustration results in many italic fonts . This has become more simplicity today known ampersand ( English Ampersand formed).

The percent sign  % is a ligature of “per cento” ( Italian “of one hundred”), the @ sign is commonly viewed as a ligature of “ad” or “at”. The origin has not yet been clarified.

Gravestone of the Roman soldier Dasmenus from Remagen , detail with the ends of lines 2–4: In line 2, the letters C, V and S were merged into a ligature to save space, in line 3 an I was “placed” in the V, in line 4 the three letters XXX merged into a single character

Ligatures in inscriptions

Ligatures occupy a special position in inscriptions , where they were often used not for design reasons but to save space. Even if the area that was needed to chisel the intended text was roughly estimated beforehand and the size of the stone and the letters were adjusted accordingly, it was often only towards the end of the text or a single line that it became clear that there was not enough space for the intended letters more would be enough. In this case, the stonemasons often resorted to ligatures in order to accommodate the missing words. In addition to the amalgamation of letters, which were spontaneously inserted into the text due to lack of space, there are also occasional deliberate examples of frequently used word or letter combinations in ancient inscriptions. The use of such purely decorative ligatures increased especially in late antiquity ; the monograms finally emerged from them .

Ligatures were originally a characteristic phenomenon of ancient Latin inscriptions . From the Roman conquest of the Greek-influenced eastern Mediterranean area, however, they were also used in Greek inscriptions , while they only appear very rarely and sporadically in older texts.

In the Greek context, the ligatures often the text distribution on the stone can not by lack of calculation explain but seem from contemporary cursive (acquisitions script to have been). In other cultures, however, such influences from the italic on the design of inscriptions have been very rare and the vast majority of ligatures are explained by the close proximity of letters for aesthetic reasons or to save space. In order to be able to differentiate between these phenomena, it is sometimes suggested in epigraphy to restrict the term “ligature” to those letter combinations that have arisen from the continuous lines of the cursive script, and instead use the term “nexus litterarum” for the majority of other letter combinations in inscriptions "(" Connection of letters ") to be used.

Ligatures in other languages ​​and scripts

The name Mohammed in Arabic script, above as a ligature, connected below on the base line, as is common in simpler prints

The ligatures of ſk , ſl and ſþ are common in Scandinavian texts . In the French language a distinction is made between aesthetic and orthographic ligatures. The orthographic ligatures are binding, must not be written separately and are considered separate letters ( Æ and Œ , l'e-dans-l'a and l'e-dans-l'o). The position of the ligature IJ as a separate letter in the Dutch alphabet is controversial .

Ligatures are not only found in the Latin script, they are also present in many others. In the Greek alphabet there is a numeral for the number 6 still the old letter Ϛ ( Stigma ), a ligature from Sigma and Tau . Since the Byzantine period is occasionally the digraph ΟΥ ( Omikron - Ypsilon spoken ⁠ / u ⁠ / , ligature)  Ȣ used.

The Cyrillic letter Ю (Ju) is based on a ligature of the Greek letters Iota and Omicron . The Serb uses the ligatures Љ (LJE) and Њ (Nje) composed of Л or Н and the soft sign Ь for palatalised sounds / L / and / n /.

Some fonts are generally only written and printed together word by word, such as B. Mongolian and Arabic. In Arabic script , the shape of the character depends on the context. There are up to four different forms for each letter: standing alone, initial, medial and final. The only compulsory ligature in Arabic is the Lām-Alif (لا) when connecting the letters ل (Lam) and ا (Alif) arises. With certain fonts there are a large number of additional ligatures, but their use is not mandatory.

Complex ligature ddhrya in the Devanagari script

Ligatures play an important role in almost all Indian scripts . Here they are not just typographical variants, but have a graphematic status, so their use is meaningful. In the Indian scriptures, each letter has an inherent vowel (usually  a ). When two consonants meet immediately without a vowel, they are connected to form a ligature. Especially in Sanskrit texts, there are sometimes very complicated ligatures with three or more components. Some ligatures are simple in their formation; B. in the Devanagari script स (sa) and न (na) result in the ligature स्न (sna). In the case of other compounds such as क्ष (k --a) - from क (ka) and ष (dagegena) - the individual components can no longer be easily recognized. Only the Tamil and Sinhala scripts do not use ligatures, but a special diacritical mark , which indicates the absence of the inherent vowel.

The Japanese know the Katakana ligatureヿ( koto ) and Hiragana ligatureゟ( yori ).


  • Jan Tschichold : Master book of writing . Ravensburg 1952, 2nd edition 1965, 1979, 1992; ISBN 3-473-61100-X .
  • Albert Kapr : Fonts . Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1955, 1971, 1996, Sauer, Munich 1983, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-598-10463-4 .
  • Georg Kandler: Alphabets. Memories of the hot type . Minner Verlag, Kornwestheim 1995 (Volume 1), 2001 (Volume 2); ISBN 3-922545-21-1 , ISBN 3-922545-23-8 .
  • Carl Faulmann: The Book of Scripture . Vienna 1880, Hildesheim 1986, Eichborn, Frankfurt 1990; ISBN 3-8218-1699-6 .
  • Robert Bringhurst: The Elements of Typographic Style . 2nd Edition. Hartley & Marks, Point Roberts 2002, ISBN 0-88179-133-4 .
  • Eberhard Dilba: Typography lexicon and reader for everyone. 2nd edition, Books on Demand , Norderstedt 2008, ISBN 978-3-8334-2522-6 .
  • Thomas Nehrlich: Phenomenology of the ligature. Theory and practice of a character between letter and gap. In: Mareike Giertler, Rea Köppel (Ed.): Of letters and gaps. To the order of the font in lead type . Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2012, pp. 13–38.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Duden: Ligaturen , In: Die deutsche Rechtschreibung , 22nd completely revised and expanded edition, Dudenverlag, 2001
  2. Can one (more or less) automatically suppress ligatures for certain words? . Mico Loretan, September 14, 2011.
  3. Unicode FAQ. Ligatures, Digraphs and Presentation Forms . Unicode Consortium, June 9, 2006.
  4. ^ Richard L. Niel: Composition technology pocket lexicon . Vienna 1925, p. 871.
  5. ^ Duden, Volume 1, spelling of the German language . 20., rework. and exp. Edition, 1991. Dudenverlag Mannheim, Vienna, Zurich. Typesetting Guidelines, p. 73. ISBN 3-411-04010-6 .
  6. The Great Duden. Dictionary and guide to German spelling . 16th edition. VEB Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1968, p. 682.
  7. Guidelines for Fraktur Theorem (PDF).
  8. a b Heysesche's writing .
  9. James Mosley: Esszet or ß. Retrieved September 11, 2010 .
  10. CIL XIII, 7801
  11. ^ Manfred G. Schmidt: Latin epigraphy. An introduction. 3rd edition, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2015, ISBN 978-3-534-26755-2 , p. 21.
  12. ^ Brian F. Cook: Greek inscriptions. British Museum Publications, London 1987, ISBN 0-7141-8064-5 , p. 11.
  13. Günther Klaffenbach : Greek epigraphy. 2nd edition, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1966, p. 44.
  14. ^ Wilhelm Larfeld: Handbook of Greek Epigraphy. Volume 1: Introductory and auxiliary disciplines. The non-Attic inscriptions. OR Reisland, Leipzig 1902, p. 407 f.
  15. German inscriptions. Font description terminology. Developed by the staff of the inscription commissions of the Academies of Sciences in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Mainz, Munich and the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-89500-087-6 , p. 13.