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What is the proper placement of the circumflex accent on the lowercase letter "ĥ"? I am asking from a typographic perspective, as in what a font designer should do.

Should the accent mark be placed higher than the entire letter (left in image), or should it be placed within the space between the initial vertical line and the top of the arc (middle in image)? Am I right in assuming that centering the circumflex above the vertical line (right in image) is to be avoided?

3 possible glyph shapes of Esperanto lowercase ĥ

Note that the right-hand glyph was taken from the Calibri typeface. I generated the other two glyphs by adjusting the original Calibri glyph. Something like the middle glyph (where accent placement that doesn't increase letter height) is likely to look better in a typeface in which the left-hand vertical line rises higher above the arc than it does for the Calibri glyph; an example would be Linux Libertine G:

Esperanto lowercase ĥ in Linux Libertine G

Finally, note that the Esperanto letter ĥ often looks similar to the IPA symbol ɦ

IPA ɦ and Esperanto lowercase ĥ in 3 different typefaces

which denotes a voiced glottal fricative. While this won't be an issue for many Esperantists, there are many language aficionados in the community who might take note.

I understand that there is a subjective element to this question. It is possible to divide this question into 2-3 parts:

  • How was this letter originally shaped? Or was there no consistency?
  • What is most common practice, as one encounters it nowadays?
  • What do users of the language feel looks best? Nowadays typeface design is so easy that we needn't be bound by historical precedent.
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    I've all three forms but the first one looks more familiar and natural to me because the hat is centered, even if it makes the letter a little bit too tall. I like it as long as the hat doesn't get cut off as in ḧ (thats a ¨ + h BTW). From the Fundamento linked in the answers, it seems that the original shape was somewhat more like the last one, tho.
    – marcus
    Feb 28, 2023 at 19:32

3 Answers 3

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  • How was this letter originally shaped? Or was there no consistency?

While it might be impossible how Zamenhof originally wrote it, you can see how they chose to write in the original printed version of the Fundamento.

  • What is most common practice, as one encounters it nowadays?

I don't think you can get a definitive answer for that. As with any language, typefaces are a matter of taste and users will find different versions, depending (among other things) on the sites the visit the most.

You might want to check a font comparing site, like this one https://www.fontcomparer.com/ to get an idea of what's out there. Try typing for example Ĥaĥa.

  • What do users of the language feel looks best?

That one is off-topic here.

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  • The third question might technically be off-topic, given the focus on fact-based questions on StackExchange, but I think it's in principle a useful and researchable question. As a Unicode expert, I would like to draw attention to the fact that many writing systems are undergoing a renaissance with the advent of modern technology. The most obvious example is Urdu speakers' preference for nastaʿliq-style rendering of Arabic writing (as opposed to: naskh), only slowly and increasingly made possible in recent years. Feb 28, 2023 at 18:47
  • Because the letter Ĥ/ĥ occurs almost exclusively in Esperanto, it wouldn't be surprising if font designers made arbitrary decisions (not based on user or historical research) when deciding how to render the circumflex on the 'h'. I conclude that perhaps my impression that ĥ looks a little off in many typefaces might be based in something other than raw subjectivity. Feb 28, 2023 at 18:53
  • It should be noted that the frequency of ĥ in Esperanto is very low. According to this site it is just 0.01%, the least used letter in the language. An early arbitrary decision on such a rare letter could indeed have gone a long way. Feb 28, 2023 at 20:16
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As some Esperantists adopted the typesetting system TeX which allows precise accent placements, they came up with a macro setting the letter ĥo in a shape as illustrated by the Libertine G example: Lowered circumflex centered over the right part of the letter.

This shape is, as far as I know, still supported by the esperanto option of the babel package for TeX and LaTeX.

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Historically French was the prior "World Language." Trendy, and delivering many French terms. French was really ubiquitous. And hence type writers with the dead key circumflex ^ for û and other letters. As even today keyboards mostly have a circumflex. The circumflex was an easy choice. Maybe there was an influence of the Slavic z-with-caron ž.

For this reason were acquainted with the first form, maybe scrolling one half line upwards to get the circumflex above the h.

Press products introduced actual typography, with displacement of circumflex above the h and dotless j. I think a normative typography cannot be given.

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