Writing Systems

This is closely related to languages, of course, but it's a broad enough and interesting enough field to warrant its own section.

Obviously, writing is a big part of how humanity got to be where it is today. Language is all well and good, and it lets us share our thoughts with people who are around us, but without writing we could never amass knowledge through the ages and build on what past generations learned. What's neat is how many intriguing ways people have come up with to solve the problem, and the way they've developed through the ages, and how writing affects language development and vice-versa... And also the æsthetic aspect of how things look on the page (that gets into fonts and typography, which I should have on here somewhere).

A truly awesome and bold and important project (which also has its flaws, of course) relating to writing systems is of course Unicode. Unicode is a standard for computer-encoding of pretty much all the world's writing systems, past and present. It's a big goal, and there are stumbles along the way, but it's still pretty impressive. I've been involved in it for a while now, mainly chiming in on matters pertaining to Hebrew writing and typography. I've co-authored some proposals for Unicode, which you can find on Michael Everson's formal proposals list, and also participated in the Unicode mailing list.

I've studied a lot of writing systems, though I can't say that I can actually read them. As with most things, I tend to particularly enjoy the ones that are a little bizarre and off the beaten track. I am pleased to be able to write something about Visible Speech, a really neato phonetic alphabet designed by Alexander Melville Bell (father of Alexander Graham Bell). It's all feature-based, with different features of the glyphs representing different phonological features (as they were understood then). It had trouble getting accepted because, among other things, you had to cut special type for them, but that's not an issue anymore. I have some computer fonts of it to make available (though the encoding is kinda random, because Visible Speech isn't in Unicode yet).

An interesting subset of the whole writing-systems deal is fonts, which can be a lot more interesting than you might think. (My wife tried borrowing a book on typefaces that I had been reading, when she was having trouble sleeping; she thought it would be boring and help her sleep... but discovered that it was actually interesting! Oops.) I have even gone so far as to fancy myself worthy of creating my own fonts, and some will be downloadable from here, while some are actually for sale at MyFonts.com.