W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > December 1998

Language (in)dependent hyphenation properties

From: Bob Virkus <bobv@HealthMagic.com>
Date: Wed, 2 Dec 1998 14:28:37 -0500
Message-ID: <20068B8B7560D11194B600805FEA31F2365F69@simba>
To: "'www-style@w3.org'" <www-style@w3.org>
As a designer and  typographer from the old school and a web designer
from the new school, I have one basic thought on hyphenation on the Web
- don't. Especially if it is a means for offering justified text. 

Type is difficult enough to read on screen without making it even worse
by altering word and letter spacing.

That being said, if hypenation must be an option, some of the things to
consider include:

What of the four approaches is to be taken towards hyphenation? 

1. A whole-word hyphenation dictionary contains whole words and
information about where they my be hypenated, and it may even indicate
preferential hyphenation points for large words. The problem with this
approach is the sheer size of the dictionary and the time it takes the
program to search for a word and decide where to hyphenate it.

2. Root hyphenation dictionaries save space and time by using only parts
of words in their searches. They reduce redundant dictionary entires,
letting one entry serve for many words with the same root construction.

3. Hyphenation based on prefixes and suffixes. English relies heavily on
prefixes and suffixes to build words. This approach has a lot of
shortcomings, however, because of the complex ways in which prefixes and
suffixes are used.

4. Logic-based hyphenation routines take prefixes and suffixes one step
further, analyzing the structures of words to look for rules that allow
or prempt hyphenation. Such a rule might allow hyphenation between
consecutive consonants.

What controls will the designer have? They should include:

1. The number of characters that must precede and follow a hyphen.
2. The size of the hyphenatable word.
3. The number of consecutive lines that can be hyphenated.
4. The treatment of linebreaking characters, such as hard hyphens, em
dashes, and slashes.
5. The manual ability to change hyphenation -- the discretionary hyphen.
6. Optimum, minimum, and maximum wordspacing.
7. Optimum, minimum, and maximum letterspacing.

Quality typography is still a craft and attention to detail must be


Robert Virkus
Creative Director
HealthMagic Inc.
803 748-9444
Received on Wednesday, 2 December 1998 14:31:59 UTC

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