Medieval Unicode and Word Processing

I’ve been using Mellel for about a month now for the dreaded dissertation. Mellel is a different kind of word processor; the theoretical model seems to be of text in “streams” rather than in an endless scrolling page. So far Mellel has been quite easy to use, and has super support for scholarly writing and Unicode, including yoghs, thorns, and even medieval Irish and Welsh. I’ve yet to see if Mellel supports the very specific dissertation layout requirements, particularly in terms of footnotes and headers. Mellel also supports Bookends a bibliographic database that “hooks” into various word processors. I’m not very interested in the bibliography/footnote generation features of Bookends, but I’m trying it out as a bibliographic database.

Meanwhile, Nisus Writer Express promises to have footnote and endnote support in its next major update. Nisus Writer Express has a nifty language palette, which makes using multiple languages in one document dead easy, and I quite like the interface (one of the best Cocoa implementations of Apple’s HIG I’ve seen). But much as I like Nisus Writer Express, it strikes me as more appropriate for non-academic writing, as least thus far.

More on the Yogh

You’d be amazed at how hard it is to find information about the yogh. First, I’ve managed to learn that Unicode 4.0 Latin Extended B does indeed have both an upper and a lower case yogh, a yogh is that not an ezh. Take a look, if your browser supports Unicode 4.0 characters: an uppercase yogh Ȝ or U+021C and a lower case yogh ȝ or U+021D. And there are even Mac OS X fonts that support yogh as part of the Unicode character set (I particularly like Junicode). That’s the good news.

The problem is that the only word processor (versus text editor) for Mac OS X that supports the complete Unicode character set, and by “supports” I mean I can use Insert from the Character Palette, or hex encode the character, is Nisus Writer Express. Microsoft Word X does not, since the character is a Unicode character; neither MarinerWrite nor AppleWorks 6.x support Unicode only characters. The problem with Nisus Writer Express is that it doesn’t support footnotes, and the more esoteric formatting dissertations require. Mellel looks promising though, and I have hopes for true Unicode support in Microsoft Word 11. My ultimate plan is to create a custom keyboard layout, so I can easily access the characters I need. But I’m still going to check out LaTex.

I want my Yogh

There is a glyph in Middle English called the yogh.You can see a manuscript version of a yogh here. The yogh was used almost exclusively for Middle English in England, but it lingered through the eighteenth century in Scotland. The yogh, along with the thorn, another of the four special medieval English characters, is used in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Orfeo, two core texts for my dissertation.

Unfortunately, there is no yogh in Unicode. There should be; the other Medieval English characters are represented in Unicode. I’m not sure why there isn’t yogh, but there’s a very good discussion of why there should be a yogh in Unicode by Michael Everson.

I’m not alone in my desperate craving for a proper Unicode yogh; you can see some of the efforts others dealing with manuscripts on the web have had to make in order to substitute for the yogh. Here’s a scholar trying to present an edition of the Ormulum, and here’s the wonderful online edition and facsimile of the Auchinleck manuscript. Both of these examples (and I could give many more) are substituting other characters for the yogh. This sort of substitution is really not a long-term solution.

We need a yogh, in Unicode.