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When we started making fonts for the GNU project, we had to decide on some font encoding. We hoped to use an existing one, but none that we found seemed suitable: the TeX font encodings, including the "Cork encoding" described in TUGboat 11#4, lacked many standard PostScript characters; conversely, the standard PostScript encodings lacked useful TeX characters. Since we knew that Ghostscript and TeX would be the two main applications using the fonts, we thought it unacceptable to favor one at the expense of the other.
Therefore, we invented two new encodings. The first one, "GNU Latin text" (distributed in `data/gnulatin.enc'), is based on ISO Latin 1, and is close to a superset of both the basic TeX text encoding and the Adobe standard text encoding. We felt it was best to use ISO Latin 1 as the foundation, since some existing systems actually use ISO Latin 1 instead of ASCII. We also left the first eight positions open, so particular fonts could add more ligatures or other unusual characters.
The second, "GNU Latin text complement" (distributed in `data/gnulcomp.enc'), includes the remaining pre-accented characters from the Cork encoding, the PostScript expert encoding, swash characters, small caps, etc.