Gentium - A Unicode Typeface for Multilingual Use
Gentium is a typeface that contains almost 6,000 glyphs, making it a single font usable in thousands of languages.
There is a certain satisfaction in being knowledgeable in one area or another – an expert. That’s why we like to bore each other at cocktail parties, going on and on about the professional challenges we’ve been facing recently even though no one has any hope of really understanding what we’re talking about – and yes, I’ve been a frequent offender in this regard.
Knowing things that no one else does is kind of fun, and it may even be the secret self-centred reason I write these articles (don’t tell anyone). As a perfect example of the sort of secrets I like to drop into party conversation, let’s take a moment to explore one of the most fascinating projects directly related to the translation business: The Gentium Font.
A Font for All
You might wonder what a font has to do with translation work. The answer is: Everything. After all, not every language in the world can be written using the Latin Alphabet, and many languages that do have a system of writing in the Latin Alphabet suffer greatly for it. Mandarin Chinese, for example, is not meant to be decoded into the Western alphabet just so Westerners don’t have to learn all those glyphs. And less dramatically, many of the world’s 6,000 living languages use the Cyrillic Alphabet, or the Greek Alphabet, or other variations.
When working digitally, this means that depending on the language pair you’re working with, you might need different fonts for the source and target documents. If both source and target are popular languages spoken by many millions of people, you have a good shot at finding a high-quality font for this purpose. If the language is more obscure, your chances plummet. Enter Gentium.
Roman, Cyrillic, Greek, Oh My
Gentium was developed over the last 10-15 years by Victor Gaultney. It began as a school project when he was studying typeface design at the University of Reading, and had a simple concept: A modern typeface that could take advantage of all the great technical innovations in the Unicode specification and that could span as many languages on Earth as possible.
The idea is simple, at the core: Simply include as many glyphs (letters or symbols) as possible. Today Gentium has been revised and updated continuously (it’s open source software, and thus can be improved or updated by anyone at any time) and contains almost 6,000 glyphs spanning almost every language on Earth. Put simply, if you have Gentium loaded on your system you can write something out in the alphabet of almost every language that uses the Latin, Cyrillic, or Greek Alphabets in existence.
Gentium has been tweaked to be usable in OpenType and Graphite, meaning it can easily be used in the most advanced typesetting and word processing systems. The benefits to the translation industry are almost incalculable.
Image courtesy 1001fonts.com