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RE: What's the definition of a word? (was: [css3-text] line break opportunities are based on *syllable* boundaries?)

From: Phillips, Addison <addison@lab126.com>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2011 00:22:02 -0500
To: "Kang-Hao (Kenny) Lu" <kennyluck@w3.org>, Koji Ishii <kojiishi@gluesoft.co.jp>
CC: WWW Style <www-style@w3.org>, WWW International <www-international@w3.org>
Message-ID: <C7A5719F1E562149BA9171F58BEE2CA412CB3735F3@EX-IAD6-B.ant.amazon.com>
The term "grapheme cluster" would be wrong for this context. A grapheme cluster is a sequence of logical characters that form a single visual unit of text (what is sometimes perceived as a "character" or "glyph"). This term is used for cases such as an Indic syllable followed by a combining vowel--in which a base character is combined with additional characters to form a single glyph on screen, rather than cases in which separate visual/logical units form a single "word" or "sound". It also applies to cases such as a base letter followed by a combining accent.

To help illustrate this, notice that the word "the" is not a grapheme cluster, although it is a single syllable. Notice too that "ソース" consists of *three* graphemes (grapheme clusters), but only two syllables.

The relationship of Han ideographs to both "words" and "syllables" is complex and depends both on the language (it is different for Japanese, for example) and on context. It is sometimes true that "ideograph == syllable" and sometimes also true that "ideograph == word".

In any case, the concept of "grapheme cluster" should most definitely not be consider to be synonymous with either "word" or "syllable". It is a distinct unit and may not be *either* in a given context. My understand was that languages written using Han ideographs could be broken anywhere except for certain prescriptive cases (which differ by language). While this might map to some other concept such as syllables, wouldn't it be better to refer specifically to language specific rules?

Unicode Standard Annex #14 [1] provides a useful description of line-breaking properties that may be helpful here.



[1] http://www.unicode.org/reports/tr14/

Addison Phillips
Globalization Architect (Lab126)
Chair (W3C I18N, IETF IRI WGs)

Internationalization is not a feature.
It is an architecture.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: www-international-request@w3.org [mailto:www-international-
> request@w3.org] On Behalf Of Kang-Hao (Kenny) Lu
> Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2011 8:43 PM
> To: Koji Ishii
> Cc: WWW Style; WWW International
> Subject: What's the definition of a word? (was: [css3-text] line
> break opportunities are based on *syllable* boundaries?)
> > In Chinese, Yi, and Hangul, a character represents a syllable as
> far as I understand, but in Japanese, Kanji characters could have
> more than one syllable, and also there are cases where multiple
> characters represent single syllable (like Kana + prolonged sound
> mark).
> >
> > Although this part is not normative, it looks like we should
> replace "syllable" with "grapheme cluster".
> >
> > Please let me know if this change can be incorrect to any other
> writing systems listed here than Japanese.
> The situation is similar for Chinese as far as I can tell.
> Speaking about this, this is editorial but the last time I read the
> spec, I got a little bit perplexed about the definition of "word".
> Is
> there a plan to briefly mention what a "word" is in the
> introduction
> section? Or perhaps there should be a glossary that puts "word" and
> "grapheme cluster" together? I doubt that there would be a
> consistent
> and precise definition throughout the spec but a brief and non-
> normative
> introduction seems helpful.
> Cheers,
> Kenny

Received on Friday, 28 January 2011 05:22:38 UTC

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