Fonts & Related Issues

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Fonts & Related Issues

THL provides access to a number of Asian-language fonts. Because of the library’s subject matter, our focus has been on Tibetan and diacritic fonts, with a secondary emphasis on Chinese and Devanagari. THL has collaborated with the external link: Tibetan Computer Company (TCC) and the external link: Trace Foundation to create a public-domain Open-Type Unicode Tibetan font freely available along with software developed by THL for the inputting of Tibetan. Information on these fonts can found by following the links below:


Digital technologies provide the means for quickly processing and displaying all types of data. While information can be displayed pictorially in the form of charts, the majority of data is presented in a textual form. In order to display text on a computer screen, it is necessary to have the appropriate fonts. Fonts are composed of tables that correlate numeric codes with character images, called glyphs. The form that these numeric codes take for any given character set is known as an encoding scheme. To date, the most common encoding scheme is ASCII ("American Standard Code for Information Interchange") or some extension of it, such as ANSI or ISO-Latin 1. At the most, such encoding schemes can handle 256 characters, which, while sufficient for standard English, is inadequate for dealing with many other languages or multiple languages in a single font. In the past, additional glyphs have been added by creating separate "code pages", each using the same codes (0-255). Thus, to display a character outside of the standard English character set, one had to call another code page and use it to look up the desired character. This made the creation of multilingual documents difficult to say the least.

The problem of multilingual documents and languages with large character sets, such as Chinese, led to the formation of the external link: Unicode Consortium and the publication of its first release in 1992. The guiding principle of Unicode is to provide each character in all languages a unique encoding (i.e., number) so that in theory a single font could cover all the world's languages. In recent years, Unicode has quickly gained ground so that it is rapidly becoming the standard encoding scheme throughout the computer world. The complexities of how Unicode functions cannot be discussed here, but the main issue is that THL policy is to use Unicode encoded fonts only.

In the geographical and cultural region that is the subject of THL, the predominant language is Tibetan and Nepali. It is therefore crucial that THL offers guidance for use of Tibetan fonts. THL recommends its own Tibetan Machine Uni, an OpenType Unicode font, available for free download. This font was created by THL's Than Grove in collaboration with Chris Fynn. The initial glyphs and basis for these fonts were two elegant Tibetan fonts that have also been made available to THL and the general public, through the efforts of Tony Duff from the external link: Tibetan Computer Company and through the generous support of the external link: Trace Foundation. These fonts, Tibetan Machine and Tibetan Machine Web, are available for free download, though we do not recommend their use - they are now legacy fonts that are not Unicode-compliant.

Scholarship dealing with Asian cultures necessarily entails transliteration of indigenous terms and phrases. Transliteration of Asian languages in turn often requires the use of diacritic marks, such as the an o with a macron (ō), s acute (ś), or u with an umlaut (ü). Such diacritic marks are available in a number of Unicode fonts, all of which can be used interchangeably, provided they cover all the necessary characters. THL has developed tools for easily inputting diacritics through a standard keyboard, and along with these we have made recommendations as to which Unicode fonts to use. Information on fonts can be found on our Diacritic Fonts page. Information concerning the input of diacritics can be found on our Diacritic Input page.

Because of the Tibetan cultural region’s close ties with India, Nepal, and China. Fonts for the languages of these countries are also valuable tools for scholars of the Himalayan region. The Devanagari script is one of the most common fonts for Indic languages, being used for Nepali, Sanskrit, and Hindi, among others. Unicode fonts are widely available for it, as discussed in our Nepali Fonts page. We also have information concerning Chinese Unicode fonts, which may be found on our Chinese Fonts page.

The increasing implementation of the Unicode standard is making the handling of foreign language fonts easier. As the major platforms gradually become Unicode compliant, input methods, i.e., keyboards, are also being developed. Microsoft offers external link: information about the input methods for the various languages supported by Windows, while Apples offers similar external link: information about foreign languages and their input on the Mac OS X.

Provided for unrestricted use by the external link: Tibetan and Himalayan Library