[lltx] A new Babel?

Élie Roux elie.roux at telecom-bretagne.eu
Thu Jan 14 10:37:35 CET 2010


recently I got interested in polyglossia and had interesting
discussions with François Charette. The reasons I got interested in
polyglossia were:
 - having (the very romanian) ș instead of (the very turkish) ş in
romanian titles, which is not possible in standard 8-bit TeX (and I
don't really like tricky TeX patches)
 - having a modern Unicode+OTF solution without all the 8-bit+T1 heavy machinery

The discussions I had with François were on these topics:
 - is it possible to adapt polyglossia to LuaTeX? currently it uses
things like \XeTeXintercharclass that are not accessible in LuaTeX.
This means we have two choices: (a) adapt \XeTeXintercharclass and
stuff to LuaTeX, which would be quite funny, (b) copy-paste bunches of
code from Babel with active characters.
 - why isn't it possible in polyglossia to have some features from
babel (especially in french) like modification of the shape of the
lists, of the indentation, etc. that are really mandatory for me
(english typography is so awful when you're used to french one). The
answer is: "it's on the TODO list"

I'd like to know what you think about a new babel. First you can read
the discussions on the XeTeX list that lead to the birth of
polyglossia: http://www.tug.org/pipermail/xetex/2007-April/thread.html
in the thread "[XeTeX] "new-babel", was: Ancient Greek hyphenation".
The README is also useful to see the functionalities:
http://mirror.unl.edu/ctan/macros/xetex/latex/polyglossia/README .
These readings are really interesting and hard to sum up, but the main
open points are:

 (1) should it set a font for each language or just set the language
option in the current font:
    - for french and german, the same font can obviously be used
    - for arabic and japanese obviously not, so for close languages it
shoudn't be changed, when it should be for far languages... but what
is the limit... should we make groups of languages?
    - for german and polish the ligatures are not the same even though
the languages are close, do all the fonts change the ligatures
according to the language option?
    - I must say I have no preference for this... except that we
should allow the user to do whatever he want by providing the good

(2) should it include typographic rules or should they be in another
package? in a different file? For me it should as an option, activated
by default.

(3) Is all the babel machinery included in Unicode+OTF? Do we still
need active characters and things like that? I think we still need
some active characters for some languages, or to implement the \XeTeX
machinery... but I think the babel active characters have been more
tested and work in more cases.

(4 - not discussed on the XeTeX list) how far should it be from babel?
I was thinking about loading the babel files and then overriding the
translated strings to Unicode, so that we have the same result as
babel... This is a point that would need further inquiries for me. But
we shouldn't forget that some language files change very often
(frenchb for example, which often breaks backward compatibility), and
maybe we should be aligned with babel to confuse less users...

Even though Will has already participated in the XeTeX discussions,
I'd like to have your opinions on these topics. The main reason is
that François gives up polyglossia and proposed me to take the
leadership on the package, allowing me to change a lot of things... If
we manage to agree on something I'll move the discussion to a wider
range, including the babel team, and the luatex and xetex

Thank you,

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