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Multilingual typography symposium

Conflict and complexity

This forum, at least what your correspondent witnessed, was a little gem lurking in a quiet corner of Sunday’s programme. The themes and running order were intriguing: Zvika Rosenberg’s introduction to Hebrew typography was followed by moderator Sherry Blankenship’s presentation on Arabic script, which was followed by Mathew Staunton who showed now the Irish Nationalists struggled to be different, but not incomprehensible, in reviving gaelic script. And how they bought type from Britain to use in propaganda promoting Irish-only commerce.

I wondered whether I could detect a theme: we know that in the middle east, we have a clash of cultures which is powerfully visible through different scripts with a very different feel. In 1910s Ireland, it was possible for the occupying security forces to overhear conversations in gaelic, but not to read the same words in gaelic script. So the script was made illegal in public signage.

The final presentation of the first session came from R K Joshi. An overview of the requirements of typesetting in India, it presented evidence of a technical challenge far beyond anything seen in Ireland or the middle east. A bewildering range of scripts, and for each a galaxy of ligatures, alternate positioning, compound characters and the like.

Through generation after generation of typesetting systems, this must be an organisational headache easily as much as it is a time-consuming process: now OpenType has meant Windows 2000 can offer some of the complex features of these scripts to people outside the graphics industry.

Moderator Sherry Blankenship introduced the forum with the hope that the multilingual aspects of typography could be given more prominence at AtypI 2003. On the evidence of these four presentations – and undoubtedly the later ones with a more technical, specific angle – this seems a promising direction to follow. With Vancouver committee members in the audience we can hope that this comes to pass.

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