The Unicode cookbook for linguists: Managing writing systems using orthography profiles

Steven Moran, Dr.   Michael Cysouw, Prof. Dr.  


This text is a practical guide for linguists, and programmers, who work with data in multilingual computational environments. We introduce the basic concepts needed to understand how writing systems and character encodings function, and how they work together at the intersection between the Unicode Standard and the International Phonetic Alphabet. Although these standards are often met with frustration by users, they nevertheless provide language researchers and programmers with a consistent computational architecture needed to process, publish and analyze lexical data from the world's languages. Thus we bring to light common, but not always transparent, pitfalls which researchers face when working with Unicode and IPA. Having identified and overcome these pitfalls involved in making writing systems and character encodings syntactically and semantically interoperable (to the extent that they can be), we created a suite of open-source Python and R tools to work with languages using orthography profiles that describe author- or document-specific orthographic conventions. In this cookbook we describe a formal specification of orthography profiles and provide recipes using open source tools to show how users can segment text, analyze it, identify errors, and to transform it into different written forms for comparative linguistics research.

This book is a prime example of open publishing as envisioned by Language Science Press. It is open access, has accompanying open source software, has open peer review, versioning and so on. Read more in this blog post.

The book is continuously being improved. You can follow the development on





Steven Moran, Dr., University of Zurich

Steven Moran is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of Zurich. He has a broad background in computational linguistics and works with data from under-resourced and endangered languages to answer research questions regarding worldwide linguistic diversity and language evolution. He focuses on phonology, language acquisition, and historical-comparative linguistics. He also does linguistic fieldwork in West Africa.

Michael Cysouw, Prof. Dr., Philipps-Universität Marburg

Michael Cysouw is Professor of language typology at the Philipps University Marburg. His research interests are broad-scale investigations of the world's linguistic diversity, with a particular fondness for unusual structures from a worldwide perspective. He focusses not only on the content of linguistic diversity, but also on the methodological aspects of doing cross-linguistic research. In his research, language comparison is taken both as a window into language universals (focussing on aspects on which languages do not differ) as well as historical reconstruction (by interpreting differences between languages as the result of historical processes).


March 7, 2018
LaTeX source on GitHub
Cite as
Moran, Steven & Cysouw, Michael. 2018. The Unicode cookbook for linguists: Managing writing systems using orthography profiles. (Translation and Multilingual Natural Language Processing 10). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1296780


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