One of the interesting cultural problems of the Internet is that most fonts aren’t created to display more than one or two languages. If you visit foreign-language sites, you’ll notice that you’re always having to download “language packs” so that your browser can display the words correctly, with all the characters unique to the country’s language.

Victor Gaultney, a font designer, decided to tackle this problem by creating the Gentium typeface. His mission, as he describes it, is:

Gentium is a Unicode typeface that contains Roman, Greek and Cyrillic characters, including many characters seldom seen in even the most ambitious typefaces. Far from being a luxury, these characters are needed to write many of the over 6,000 languages thought to exist in the world.

He’s not quite there yet; Gentium only covers the Roman, Greek and Cyrillic scripts, which are historically pretty closely linked and thus typologically similar. It’ll be a while before he starts including the script for minor dialects spoken primarily in Ulan Bator. But nonetheless, the project is fascinating because it highlights an interesting point: That fonts are political, or at very least, have political implications. There’s a great interview with Gaultney on his site, in which he talks about how a font can affect global discourse:

Gentium has managed to break down some of the barriers between people. There used to be a wide gulf between the greater publishing, academic and multilingual communities. Publishers would hesitate to do work in unusual languages because the available fonts were so poor. Academics had to do their own thing because the industry did not support their needs. Multilingual publishing has often been a constant struggle with incompatible solutions of varying quality. Now everyone can use the same font — and get excellent quality, readable, attractive text.

What’s particularly cool is that he’s made Gentium free for download; you can get a copy of it here.

(Thanks to Snarkmarket for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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