A couple of years ago a Korean student of mine explained to me how the Korean writing system worked – it was very ordered and logical and made a lot of sense. I noticed she had a few tourist leaflets with her for Brighton and London, in Korean, and that the typefaces were quite different on each. It hadn’t really occurred to me before that you could have serif, sans serif, modern and antique Korean typefaces before (because I’d never really thought about it) and I began to realise that I’d only ever seen ‘foreign’ type on documents intended for western audiences -hence Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic always looked ‘traditional’ (the way ‘ye olde’ English is always rendered in illegible Germanic type, I suppose.)
Anyway, the world of non-western typography is a rich one worth looking in to. Gill Sans for Chinese? Helvetica for Urdu?
The image above is from an interesting project, the Khatt Network for Arabic Typography:
The Typographic Matchmaking project was initiated by the Khatt Foundation (Amsterdam), in April 2005. The Khatt Foundation selected and invited five renown Dutch designers and matched each one of them with an established and upcoming Arab designer.
The aim was to facilitate a collaboration bewteen the Dutch and Arab designers in order to design Arabic typefaces that match and can become part of the font family of one of the Dutch designers’ existing font families. The main thrust of the project is to address the modernisation of Arabic text faces that can provide design solutions for legible Arabic fonts that answer the contemporary design needs in the Arab world (namely for publications and new digital media applications).
This project raises some interesting issues, in particular the one of how the symbolism of an ‘exotic’ or ‘alien’ language rendered in an ‘exotic’ or ‘alien’ way contributes to the alienation of the community that uses it. (The matter of ‘modernisation’ might also be another issue for some.)
Could rendering Arabic in western typefaces really be such a simple way of breaking down cultural barriers? It’s an interesting idea.