Contra Universal Writing Systems

From: Gregg Reynolds (
Date: Sun Aug 22 1999 - 23:33:18 EDT

Several recent threads on this list have discussed notions like
phonemically-based writing systems, spelling reform, etc.; and Unicode
itself more or less purports to be all things to all people. I have
strong, visceral reservations about such notions. I guess this note is
just a little sqeak, so that at least one voice was heard objecting; I
watch this stuff in my spare time so I'll probably never have time to
formulated a really well-argued response. However, I do make it to the
library once in a while, and recently found something that some of you
may find worth looking in to:

    "Bilingual Typography", by Alistair Crawford, in "Visible Langauge",
Vol. XXI, nbr 1, Winter 1987.

"Drawn from the results of recent investigations into both the history
of typography of printed Welsh and bilingual typography in English and
Welsh, this article ... argues ... that if we are to regard typography
as a subject and a discipline, as distinct from a form of applied
decoration or self-expression, we need to begin to consider typography
as essentially language-based. The solution to the problem of designing
for multilingual texts rests in the need to produce individual
language-based typographic systems." (-editors' intro)

From the article:
    "Each identical sound signal, accented letter, word picture and
letter group has a different role in each language. The same letter
shapes appear differently in different langauges. This being the case,
in the design of any bilingual page, the problems of language must be
primary consideration."

    "The shape and style of the typefaces used in the visual
presentation of any language must be determined, not by habit or
expediency, but by the visual characteristics of that language."

    "'Technological' typefaces, in fact, reflect a monopolistic cultural
arrogance on a grander scale than previously seen."

Much of the article discusses the unsuitability of English typefaces and
typesetting practice for Welsh texts, reflecting economic and cultural
oppression of one language by another.

Is the situation really any different with respect to the design of an
abstract encoding of languages?


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