SIL's Graphite and Wen Quan Yi

By Rick Jelliffe
October 30, 2008 | Comments: 1

In about 1980, taking a holiday in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, I saw a crazy thing: in the middle of the jungle, at Ukarumpa was a PDP-11 chugging away, doing text processing for the Summer Institute of Linguistics. (My brother's father-in-law was a field translator for them.)

SIL's name comes up a lot in internationalization circles: their involvement in remote languages and scripts, and their willingness to tackle the really hard problems, gets one kind of respect; their academic credentials get another; and their involvement with open source software gives another.

I found a really good recent paper, for anyone wanting to keep generally aware of complex script support issues, in Sharon Correll's Graphite: Smart-font technology to bridge the digital divide. Graphite fonts have knowledge of the arcane rules of the writing system built-in, and which frees the application from having to do this; however, it does mean that different fonts may act differently, depending on their knowledge of a script.

SIL distributes a fork of Open Office 3.0 with Graphite integrated. They put out a new beta version last week, with installers for Windows and Linux.

TrueType merged into OpenType and is now an ISO Standard, Open Font. If any reader knows what the status of complex script support improvements for OpenType is, please feel free to comment.

It is interesting that, even as these really tricky and unusual (to us) scripts are getting technologies that can cope, some major and common scripts are still getting their basics sorted out. Qianqian Fang'sWen Quan Yi (Spring of Letters) project is making fonts for all Han Ideographic characters in Unicode, optimised for basic screen resolutions.

The idea that getting a good complete set of bit-map fonts is still an issue in this day and age amazes me. They are also doing some vector fonts. I am not sure about which styles: they seem to have a Ming (Song) and a Gothic (Zen Hei). GNU UniFont has added the Wen Quan Yi UniBit font (which itself came out of a contribution of bitmaps by a PRC agency.)

For a simple introduction to CJK font styles, from the Japanese perspective, see here
There is a Chinese page on Chinese font styles at Wikipedia: some English language comments are here.

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1 Comment

Good Morning,

I need to filter graphite fonts in C# programming.
Is it possible?

Thanks in advance.

Sankar Venkat

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