Linguistically correct Python text rendering

David Opstad opstad at
Sat Feb 21 17:59:59 CET 2004

I have a question about text rendering I'm hoping someone here can 
answer. Is there a way of doing linguistically correct rendering of 
Unicode strings in Python? In simple cases like Latin or Japanese I can 
just print the string and see the correct results. However, I don't know 
how to get Python to do the right thing for writing systems which 
require contextual processing.

For example, let's say I create this Unicode string in Arabic:

string1 = u"\u0644\u062e\u0645"   # lam khah meem

If I print string1, I get just the characters I specified above, which 
is not correct rendering behavior for Arabic. In the simple case, I 
should get an output string where the order is reversed, and the codes 
have been changed into their contextually correct forms: initial lam 
(\ufedf), medial khah (\ufea8) and final meem (\ufee2). Optionally, I 
could even ask for a single ligature combining all three of these; 
Unicode even encodes this at \ufd85.

The situation is even more complicated for writing systems like 
Devanagari (used in Hindi and Marathi). In this case there are rules for 
ligatures (called "conjuncts") which are linguistically required, but 
unencoded by Unicode. Technology was developed 15 years ago to deal with 
this: fonts contain tables of extra information allowing access to the 
correct conjunct glyphs at rendering time, even if they're unencoded.

Apple has software that deals with correctly rendering text in cases 
like this (ATSUI); Microsoft does as well. IBM provides the ICU software 
classes for this kind of rendering, and I believe FreeType has made a 
start on dealing with AAT and OpenType fonts as well. So my question is 
this: how do we get this functionality integrated into Python? I'd love 
to be able to print any Unicode string and have it come out 
linguistically correctly, even if I have to do a little extra formatting 
(e.g. something like adding a new string-formatting conversion character 
%t for typographically rich output).

Any ideas?

Dave Opstad

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