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The review comes in for beautiful and free fonts for all languages

Six months ago I posted the discussion beautiful and free fonts for all languages. Since Google launched Noto Fonts, language communities have been busy assessing this new resource for pros and cons and the results are in:

Right now, Noto includes a wide breadth of language scripts from all around the world — specifically, 100 scripts with 100,000 characters. That includes over 600 written languages, says Jungshik Shin, an engineer on Google's text and font team. The first fonts were released in 2012. But this month, Google (in partnership with Adobe) has released a new set of Chinese-Japanese-Korean fonts — the latest in their effort to make the Internet more inclusive.

But as with any product intended to be universal, the implementation gets complicated — and not everyone for whom the product is intended is happy.


But critics like Pakistani-American writer Ali Eteraz are suspicious about grand plans by any of these big companies.

"I tend to go back and forth," Eteraz says. "Is it sort of a benign — possibly even helpful — universalism that Google is bringing to the table? Or is it something like technological imperialism?"

What he means is that when one group of people (in this case, Google) decides what to code for and what not to — and in what way — people who are not a part of that decision-making process, those who actually use these fonts and these languages, can feel ill-served.


James Crippen is from one such endangered linguistic community. He belongs to one of the Tlingit tribes — tribes of indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest whose language has only 200 native speakers. He is also a linguist who studies language revitalization at the University of British Columbia.

Crippen, who developed a love for languages when his grandmother taught him calligraphy as a child, tries new fonts out on different programs to test them. He's often disappointed. He says using Noto to type Tlingit doesn't pass the test. Tlingit speakers are lucky because the language uses the Latin alphabet, he says, but even then, only some of the Noto Latin fonts support the accents (called "diacritics") that bring out various sounds.

He has made his peace with the fact that Tlingit is often neglected.

"You don't count as different from some other groups ... and it's kind of a put-down," he says. "It's frustrating too because everybody is supporting the least common denominator, so, yeah, it kind of stinks."

To read the full article, click here (I recommend it. I only quoted bits and pieces of it here and not all of the reviews are bad. Noto has done some great things!)

Recent, related discussions on Duolingo: Digital Language Death and Icelandic at risk; robots and computers can't grasp it

April 25, 2017



That article was originally published in 2014. All weights of both Noto Sans and Noto Serif currently support both the US and Canadian orthographies of Tlingit; I don’t know if there is a standardized Cyrillic orthography of Tlingit that could also be checked against the Noto typefaces.


This is great information! I'm up voting the comment to help it rise.

The larger issues discussed in the linked article, such as power imbalances in culture, language, and technology are what most interest me, beyond just how Noto is doing.


The NPR article is inaccurate in some of its details. For example, the Han unification issue (exemplified by the U+9AA8 and U+66DC images at this linked blog entry) was more akin to the similar unification of Latin letters in varying languages, e.g. “ö” representing both the German letter that sorts before “p” and the Finnish letter that sorts after “z” — the particular form that any of these characters take in a given typeface (e.g. the several shapes of U+9AA8, or the preferred height of the diacritic in “ö”, for which each can have a national preference) is a glyph choice made by a font designer, and with open source tools like FontForge, any sufficiently interested person can rectify a perceived power imbalance of a typeface (at the intersection of culture, language, and technology) by designing a glyph more to the person’s liking.


"Sufficiently interest" seems to imply that extra effort is required.


Not everyone has the will or inclination to make use of software like FontForge, which is why I’d specifically noted “sufficiently interested”.


Thanks I found that interesting. I kind of feel the same way about a lot of the things google does. You have to love all the things they do for you but at the same time you have to wonder what the driving force is behind a huge company like that.


I'd imagine those minority languages already have tons of font difficulties. I'd venture that having a font that incorporates as many languages as possible doesn't cause extra issues for people who have those font problems; it just simplifies things for everyone else.

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