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For those not familiar with Han unification, Unicode uses the same codepoints to encode CJK characters as used in Chinese and Japanese, even when they look slightly different. This has spurred some controversy, since the characters look "wrong" if the default font of the user doesn't match the intended language, unless one uses metadata to specify the language (e.g. the HTML "lang" attribute).

Leaving pros and cons of Han unification aside, are there any other (non-CJK) examples of glyphs that look (or should look) different depending on the language? Failing that, perhaps there are historical examples where that used to be the case?

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There are quite a few examples, even within the roman script. The OpenType font standard has a feature tag for this very purpose: locl. There is also diachronic variance, hence hist.

The most prominent examples are not the base letters, though, but diacritic marks. The French accent acute is flatter than the Polish kreska, for instance, though coded the same. On the other end, there is no proper justification by way of a minimal pair to treat cedilla, ogonek and comma below as separate diacritics. A written language that has only one kind of diacritic, say German umlaut double dots, will allow much stylistic variation thereof (e.g. look like macron, tilde, double acute etc.) which would be different letters in other languages, say Hungarian.

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  • Interesting. I see the same "ó" in the Polish and Icelandic Wikipedia, so either the font they use doesn't support this tag, or Firefox doesn't honor it. Is there any way to reproduce this difference? Also, you said that diacritics are the most prominent examples, but are there any examples with base letters? – Nikolai May 4 '15 at 14:15
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    Few fonts are properly internationalized in this regard and the Web platform (CSS in particular) learned just recently to handle OT features, most authors do not know or care about it. Even less of these fonts are freely or commonly available. Example: A text in Old Irish should use an insular g, among others. – Crissov May 4 '15 at 14:24

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