Mix Starmath and LaTeX / Mix English and Tamil in same Org file (or) How to conditionally export text using Macros and Drawers in Org mode


Mix Starmath and LaTeX in same Org file
Mix English and Tamil in same Org file
How to conditionally export text using Macros and Drawers in Org mode

In a previous article(1), I insisted that one should use Starmath (and not LaTeX) as the Math dialect when exporting to OpenDocument / LibreOffice / Microsoft Word format.

That article concluded with the following sentiment:

“There is no way you can mix Starmath and LaTeX together in same Org file. You need to choose one or the other, not both.”

In this article, I outline how you can mix Starmath and LaTeX dialects in the same Org mode file, and still produce good looking Math documents irrespective of the final format.

You will accomplish this by a sleight of hand where by

  • the OpenDocument exporter will “pick” the Starmath fragments while ignoring the LaTeX fragments
  • the HTML and LaTeX exporters will “pick” the LaTeX fragments
    while ignoring the Starmath fragments

To achieve this, you will use the following Org facilities

  • (conditional) Macros(1)
  • Drawers(1, 2)

What the end result looks like

Down below you see the same Org mode file which is exported to three different formats—LaTeX/PDF, HTML, and LibreOffice.

Pay attention to the Math, both the inline math and display math.

Doesn’t the math look “good” in all these formats?

Note that

  • Math in LaTeX and HTML export uses the LaTeX, a dialect of Math that is native to Org
  • Math in OpenDocument export uses Starmath, a dialect that is not native to Org but to LibreOffice.

How the Org buffer looks like in Emacs


How the document looks when exported to LaTeX/PDF(1)


How the document looks when exported to HTML(1)


How the document looks when exported to OpenDocument / LibreOffice(1)


Ok. I am convinced! But how do I do it?

Your Org source doesn’t make sense. Could you please tell me what is going on in there?


Before proceeding ahead, remember that Math equations can be of two types:

  1. inline math
  2. display math

This article outlines strategies for including each equation type—inline math and display math—in each of the dialects—Starmath and LaTeX—of interest.

The #+SETUPFILE: says “Each export format specifies what DRAWER it wants, and each DRAWER uses it’s own Math dialect”


What to do with Display-ed Equations


Put each dialect of the display-ed equation in a DRAWER of it’s own.


Fold away the STARMATH drawer, for ease of editing

What to do with Inline-d Equations

Handling of an inline equation is a bit involved compared to a display equation. This is because you want to “squeeze in” the different dialects within the “shared” prose that surrounds the equation.

There are two ways to handle inlined-equation:

  • STRATEGY 1: Replicate the paragraph of interest in to different DRAWERS, with each DRAWER holding a different dialect
  • STRATEGY 2: Don’t duplicate the paragraph text. Instead, include the dialects in a conditional Org macro

STRATEGY 1: Replicate the math paragraph in to different DRAWERS, with each DRAWER holding a different dialect

You have seen STRATEGY 1 in action the previous section titled What to do with Display-ed Equations. All you need to realise is that a display-ed equation is nothing but an inline-ed equation that contains (a sole) equation and no surrounding “prose”.

STRATEGY 2: Don’t duplicate paragraph text. Instead, include the dialects in a conditional Org macro

Comparing STRATEGY 1 and STRATEGY 2

The Math markup, be it in Starmath or LaTeX, looks like line-noise. What makes Math markup bearable, is the preview feature of LaTeX fragments(1). No one would use Org for Math, if it didn’t allow inline preview of Math fragments. So it makes sense to compare STRATEGY 1 and STRATEGY 2 based on how they fair with respect to previewing.

Remember, the Starmath dialect is not the native format for Math in Org markup. This means that inline preview of Starmath is, for all practical puposes, useless.

  • When using STRATEGY 1, you can fold the STARMATH drawers away, and keep only the LATEX drawers visible.(1)

    There is another problem with this STRATEGY 1: You are duplicating a paragraph. So, if you choose to rewrite a paragraph in one DRAWER then you need to carry over the change the other DRAWER(s).

  • When using STRATEGY 2, you mix the Starmath and LaTeX dialects together in an Org macro. Since math preview doesn’t work for any Math fragment—be it Starmath or LaTeX—when embedded within a Org macro, there is not only visual clutter but also no feedback on what the math looks like(1). This makes STRATEGY 2 cumbersome.

    There is an advantage with STRATEGY 2 though: You aren’t duplicating any  paragraph content.

Both STRATEGY 1 and STRATEGY 2 has it’s problems. There are two ways to overcome these problems:

Better planning
At first, type your article solely in LaTeX, and only when you are thoroughly convinced that there aren’t any more changes, do you proceed to incorporate the Starmath dialect in to the article. In a sense, you are reserving the use of Starmath dialect as the ultimate step in document production.
Improved tooling

This would involve

  1. Add support for previewing LaTeX fragment in a Org macro
  2. Control STARTUP visibility(1) so that some DRAWERs remain always folded, while some other DRAWERs remain unfolded. In our case, the STARMATH drawer would remain invisible and the LaTeX drawer would remain visible.
  3. Convince Org developers about the need for different dialects for Math
  4. Enhance Org markup so that one can say what dialect a Math fragment is in. Right now, math fragments can be in one and only one format: LaTeX.
  5. Tell Org what your preferred dialect for Math is when editing the Org source in an Emacs buffer. This is much the same as how one specifies the size of the inline images within an Org buffer.
  6. Add support for previewing Starmath fragments. Note that (a) the enhanced ODT exporter(1) already supports export of Starmath to a OpenDocument formula file, and subsequently to PDF and (b) the LaTeX exporter or the Docview module already has support for converting PDF files to various image formats.
  7. Use Starmath as the primary dialect for Math, and use a Starmath-to-TeX and Starmath-to-MathML converter for exporting to LaTex and HTML. This is much similar to how the LaTeX fragments are converted to MathML using some LaTeX-to-MathML converter as part of export processing.

In my opinion,

  • Items 1 and 2 could be taken as bug in core Org
  • Items 3, 4 and 5 are unlikely to even take off.

    The Org developers are convinced that the markup is mature, and routinely resist any modification to the existing syntax. So, it will take extraordinary effort to convince Org developers of the dire need for another Math dialect.

    Org and Emacs in general is a LaTeX shop, and the core developers have little interest in catering to other formats.

  • Items 6 and 7 can be taken up as bug requests with enhanced ODT exporter(1).

Before I conclude, a word about producing multi-lingual documents

Note that the suggestions here go beyond including Math dialects.

For example, you can use the methods outlined here to produce multilingual documents with  the same Org file.


In the preceding article(1), I argued that Starmath alone is the most sensible option when exporting to OpenDocument / LibreOffice / Microsoft Word formats.

In this article, (a) I have gone further and established that one can mix both Starmath and LaTeX as Math dialects in the same Org file (b) I have illustrated how to produce multilingual documents from the same Org file.

I have relied on following resources for producing this article:

conditional inclusion of “a span of text” using Org macros
Org Macros
conditional inclusion of “blocks of text” using DRAWERs
Discussion in emacs-orgmode mailing list dtd. Jul 2013
efficacy of “serial replication” of content for the purpose of translation

org-translate | GNU ELPA

In this context, some observations are in order …

The README to org-translate gives this example:

* Le Rouge et le Noir                                             :source:

  La petite ville de Verrières peut passer pour...

* The Red and the Black                                           :translation:

  The small town of Verrieres may be regarded...

Above package is written by a professional translator, and understandably the different languages are in a subtrees of their own. In the context of mixing different math dialects, we don’t use distinctly-tagged subtrees, but distinct DRAWERs.

I hope that this and the preceding article help, existing Org mode users who have a need for “conditionally multiplexing” different contents in the Org export pipeline. Here are some instances of such past requests:

a need for different Math dialects in different output formats
Discussion in emacs-orgmode mailing list dtd. Jun 2018
producing ENGLISH and SPANISH content from same Org file
Discussion in emacs-orgmode mailing list dtd. Jul 2013

euler.org: The Org source for this article

This is how the Org file(1) looks like

# ---------------- PURPOSE ----------------

# This document illustrates how to mix human and math dialects
# conditionally in a Org file.

# ---------------- README ----------------

# Ingest all the Emacs Lisp blocks before export.

# In other words, with cursor inside the Emacs Lisps block do a
# ~M-x org-babel-execute-src-block~ or a ~C-c C-c~

# ---------------- CONFIGURE EXPORT ----------------

# Common setup for all backends

#+setupfile: setup.org

#+begin_src emacs-lisp :exports results :results none
(defun add-includes-for-current-backend ()
  (let ((setupfile (format "setup-%s.org" org-export-current-backend)))
    (when (file-readable-p setupfile)
      (format "#+setupfile: %s" setupfile))))

# Include a setup file specific to each target format.
#+MACRO: add-includes-for-current-backend (eval (add-includes-for-current-backend))

# Each backend has it's own setup.  For example, when exporting to
# ODT, include ~setup-odt.org~.  But when exporting to HTML or LaTeX
# do nothing.


# ---------------- INFORMATIONAL ----------------

#+MACRO: printbackend (eval (upcase (symbol-name org-export-current-backend)))

# ---------------- CONDITIONAL INCLUSION OF SPAN OF TEXT ----------------

#+begin_src emacs-lisp :exports results :results none
(defun current-backend-is-one-of (backends)
  (member (symbol-name org-export-current-backend) (split-string backends ":")))

# Include Starmath or LaTeX according as the target format is ODT or non-ODT.
#+MACRO: starmath-or-latex-full (eval (if (current-backend-is-one-of "odt") $1 $2))

# Same as ~starmath-or-latex-full~ but encloses them in `\(' and '\)'.
#+MACRO: starmath-or-latex (eval (format "\\(%s\\)" (if (current-backend-is-one-of "odt") $1 $2)))

# Functionally same as ~starmath-or-latex-full~, but for /human/ languages.
#+MACRO: english-or-tamil (eval (if (current-backend-is-one-of "odt") $1 $2))

# ---------------- TEXT CONTENT BEGINS HERE ----------------

/(You are viewing this document in {{{printbackend}}} format)/

Hello {{{english-or-tamil(நண்பனே!, my friend!)}}}

How are you?

நீ எப்படி இருக்கிறாய்?

You asked me for some help with Euler's Identity. There is a very helpful article about this on
Wikipedia.  Here is an extract from the Wikipedia page.

Euler's Identity தொடர்பாக என்னிடம் உதவி கேட்டாய். விக்கிபீடியாவில் இதைப் பற்றி மிகவும் பயனுள்ள கட்டுரை
Hope this helpsஉள்ளது. விக்கிபீடியா கட்டுரைலிருந்து எடுக்கப்பட்ட ஒரு பகுதியை இங்கே இணைத்துள்ளேன்.

Hope this helps.

இது உனக்கு உதவும் என நம்புகிறேன்.

Kind regards,




_*On Euler's Identity*_

# STRATEGY 1: Replicate the paragraphs while replacing the text spans.  You can see an example in
# the following paragraph.
# Enable preview with ~M-x org-latex-preview~ (or ~C-c C-x C-l~).
# Starmath has no preview.  So, it is "broken".

Euler's identity asserts that ${func e}^{i %pi}$  is equal to −1.

Euler's identity asserts that $\mathrm{e}^{i\pi }$ is equal to −1.

# STRATEGY 2: Retain the paragraph, but conditionally pick the text spans using a macro.  You can
# see an example in the following paragraph.

The expression {{{starmath-or-latex({func e}^{i %pi},\mathrm{e}^{i\pi})}}} is a special case of the
expression {{{starmath-or-latex({func e}^{z},\mathrm{e}^{z})}}}, where $z$ is any complex number.

# The problem with STRATEGY 2 is that Org mode doesn't recognize latex fragments within a macro.
# You can see what I mean if you do ~M-x org-latex-preview~ (or ~C-c C-x C-l~)

In general {{{starmath-or-latex-full(\({func e}^{z}\),\(\mathrm{e}^{z}\))}}} is defined for complex $z$ by
extending one of the definitions of the exponential function from real exponents to complex
exponents. One such definition is:

# LaTeX Equations that are NOT inlined doesn't pose a problem when it comes to previewing.
# There is no preview for Starmath fragments.

${func e}^{z} =  lim from{n -> infinity} ({  1 + z over n })^{ n }$

$\mathrm{e}^{z}=\lim _{n\rightarrow \infty }\left(1+\frac{z}{n}\right)^{n}$

Euler's identity therefore states that the limit, as n approaches infinity, of
{{{starmath-or-latex(({ 1 + {i %pi} wideslash n })^{ n},\left(1+\frac{i\pi }{n}\right)^{n})}}} is
equal to −1.

Euler's identity is a special case of Euler's formula, which states that for any real number x,

# I wish there was a way to selectively fold only some named drawers, much like there is a way to
# selectively export only some named drawers.  If such an option were available, I would happily
# fold away the STARTMATH drawers and hide the visual clutter like so:

${func e}^{i x} `=` cos( x ) ` + ` i ` sin( x )$

$\mathrm{e}^{ix}\ =\ \cos (x)\ +\ i\ \sin (x)$

where the inputs of the trigonometric functions sine and cosine are given in radians.

In particular, when {{{starmath-or-latex(x = π,x=\pi )}}},

${func e}^{i %pi} `=` cos %pi  ` + ` i ` sin %pi $

$\mathrm{e}^{i\pi }\ =\ \cos \pi \ +\ i\ \sin \pi $

Since {{{starmath-or-latex(cos %pi `=` -1,\cos \pi =-1)}}} and {{{starmath-or-latex(sin %pi `=` 0,\sin \pi =0)}}}
it follows that

${func e}^{i %pi} = -1$

$\mathrm{e}^{i\pi }=-1$

which yields Euler's identity

${func e}^{i %pi} + 1 = 0$

$\mathrm{e}^{i\pi }+1=0$
Categories gnu

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