By Kevin King, Typotheque

The Typotheque Syllabics Project, an initiative based out of Toronto and The Hague,
Netherlands, undertook research with language keepers across various
Syllabics-using Indigenous communities in Canada to document and address both
local typographic preferences, as well as technical barriers they faced.

This research contributed to two proposals to amend the Unicode
Standard for the Syllabics, which is an important step in the preservation and
revitalization of Indigenous languages.

The local
Indigenous communities were given a voice in reclaiming ownership over the use
of their language, as well as the resources for self-determined expression in
the writing system that they identify with. By working in collaboration
with Nattilik language keepers Nilaulaaq, Janet Tamalik, Attima and Elisabeth Hadlari, and elders in the community, key
issues the Nattilik community of Western Nunavut faced were identified, and it
was discovered that there were 12 missing syllabic characters from the Unicode
Standard. The Nattilik community was unable to use their language reliably for
even simple, everyday digital text exchanges such as email or text messaging.

The Nattilik Kutaiřřutit (Nattilik special characters), required for representing sounds unique to the Nattilingmiutut dialect of Inuktut.

It was also revealed that the glyphs of the Carrier (Dakelh) community of central
British Columbia were incorrectly represented in the UCAS code charts.
Additionally, 4 characters for a now-obsolete sp series were successfully
proposed to Unicode for representing and digitally-preserving historical texts
in the Cree and Ojibway languages. These important alterations meant that all
Syllabics typefaces that are fully Unicode-compliant – including system level
typefaces on common operating systems – would be capable of accurately and
legibly representing text for the Carrier, Sayisi, and Ojibway Syllabics-using
communities moving forward.

When the comprehensive glyph set was produced by the project, the
results provided not only a stable environment for the local Indigenous
communities to use their languages on their devices, but it also changed the
standards for the development of all future Syllabics fonts, and ensured that
writing systems of all communities will be accurately represented.

Above, a representation of the missing characters for Nattilingmiutut, a dialect of Inuktut in Western Nunavut.

Where to learn more:


Special thanks to Liang Hai, Deborah Anderson, and Sarah Rivera for their contributions to this blog.

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