Skip to content
New issue

Have a question about this project? Sign up for a free GitHub account to open an issue and contact its maintainers and the community.

By clicking “Sign up for GitHub”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy statement. We’ll occasionally send you account related emails.

Already on GitHub? Sign in to your account

imperialism and technology for typography #2

Open
cathschmidt opened this issue Jul 14, 2016 · 9 comments

Comments

@cathschmidt
Copy link

@cathschmidt cathschmidt commented Jul 14, 2016

I'd like to write an essay about imperialism, typography, and technology (or, technologies for typography).

Here's an outline:

  1. In ​_Imagined Communities_​ Benedict Anderson theorizes that codification of vernacular languages in Europe (French, Spanish, German, Czech etc) due to the printing press ushered in the modern European nation-state. The printing press disseminated and standardized European vernacular languages. Once people could belong to a language group, they could imagine themselves as a nation-state.

  2. In the introduction to his ​_Print Areas_​, Abhijit Gupta wonders what the printing press means to cultures for whom it was a colonial imposition. For colonized cultures, the (western) printing press was a foreign technology used to rule.

  3. Moveable type as conceived by Gutenberg—the most widely used, though not the first printing technology—requires writing systems to behave in discrete parts, like an alphabet. Gutenberg's system makes some demands: that your characters not touch each other, that they don't change based on their neighbors, and that there aren't too many of them. Many of the world's writing systems do not meet these criteria. If any one of these demands aren't met, the system becomes cumbersome.

  4. Still, renaissance and enlightenment orientalists, whether tasked by the crown or the church, quickly started to adapt writing systems moveable type.
    slack-imgs com
    The early adaptations were clumsy at best, especially for scripts with robust calligraphic traditions.

  5. In the case of Devanagari (the script that you use to write Hindi, Sanskrit, and a few other languages), in 1791 (I need to check this...), the East India Company tasked Charles Wilkins, a Sanskritist, with creating metal types for the script. The intentions of the East India Company were clear: typography was a tool to rule. In a preface to a Bengali grammar (for which Wilkins had also designed the types), Nathaniel Halhed writes:

    The English, who have made so capital a progress in the Polite Arts, and who are masters of Bengal, may, with more ease and greater propriety, add its language to their acquisitions: that they may explain the benevolent principles of that legislation whose decrees they enforce; that they may convince where they command; and be at once the dispensers of Laws and Science to an extensive nation.

  6. In colonial India, to produce typography was expensive and time consuming. The metal—and, with character sets often over 1,000 glyphs, Devanagari required a lot of metal—was also heavy, making it hard to transport. Initially, only colonists could afford to buy and make movable type. Too, unlike in Europe, Indian publishers would like to print in multiple writing systems. During the early 19th century publishers would hire a calligrapher to work on a litho stone, bypassing the typographic system altogether.
    slack-imgs-1 com

  7. By the end of the 19th century Indians made their own beautiful types for letterpress. But no matter how gorgeous the form of the type, the mechanics of Devanagari were altered. —matra placement, hanging half-forms, not enough samyukta/conjunct consonants
    slack-imgs com

  8. Character sets shrank in the 20th century as hot metal printing technologies made typesetting Devanagari even more challenging. After partition, the government started to consider "script reform". Language of modernization/progress applied to the writing system, as though it were backward.

  9. Text rendering—essentially typesetting—on computers follows Gutenberg's system. Conceived in the west, the system was built for a writing system with a small character count and discrete, immutable letters. Original character encoding systems like ASCII only allowed for 128 characters.

  10. Though Unicode and OpenType fonts allow for "difficult" scripts like Devanagari and Naskh to be rendered more or less correctly onscreen, computers are built on a similar imperial paradigm. This technology, like Gutenberg's, is built with the latin script in mind. Many of the world's languages, some written and spoken by hundreds of millions of people, are seen as something to be adapted to the system.

  11. In this paradigm, speakers of languages with non-Latin writing systems are beholden to Western software companies to "support" the rendering of their languages. If the software company can't find a financial incentive to support a writing system, they won't.

  12. Until large, often American software companies build solutions for complex scripts, local governments will sometimes fix the gap with proprietary software or encoding standards. (These solutions include input systems like keyboards too). As is the case in India, this can delay the adoption of universal standards.

  13. Writers of complex writing systems find ways to subvert this imperialism. In contemporary culture, hand-writing is no longer an option. Our words are almost always mediated through typography (when was the last time you read a friend's hand-written note?). Writers of complex writing systems might:
    take screenshots of text composed in proprietary language-friendly software
    take photos of written text
    use romanized spellings; that is, transliterate the language into the Latin alphabet

  14. The latter is the most scary prospect. Anderson posits that cultures were built from the printing press; perhaps others are destroyed.

@thisischrisswift

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@thisischrisswift thisischrisswift commented Jul 26, 2016

I wonder if Anderson is confusing the idea of the nation with the idea of a culture?

@davelab6

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@davelab6 davelab6 commented Aug 9, 2016

A nation is a culture. I think you are confusing nations with states.

@g-a-v-i-n

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@g-a-v-i-n g-a-v-i-n commented Aug 9, 2016

@davelab6 elaborate please

@cathschmidt

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link
Author

@cathschmidt cathschmidt commented Aug 9, 2016

@davelab6 @thisischrisswift paraphrasing Anderson here and oversimplifying his point. Good to know about the confusion though. Will be careful here.

@morgane

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link
Contributor

@morgane morgane commented Aug 9, 2016

Let's not nitpick the details of an outline plz

@davelab6

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@davelab6 davelab6 commented Aug 9, 2016

Nations are geographic cultures:

screen shot 2016-08-08 at 11 49 59 pm

Belgium is a state that spans 2 nations, the Flemish and the Walloon.

Belgium

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Belgium#Regional_demographics

North America has 3 federal states and 11 nations.

north america

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/11/08/which-of-the-11-american-nations-do-you-live-in/

@cathschmidt

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link
Author

@cathschmidt cathschmidt commented Aug 9, 2016

@davelab6 Specifically am referring Anderson's definition of nation as imagined community https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imagined_community#Nation_as_an_imagined_community. The nations of Europe needed to be imagined as nations before they could be formalized as modern states (as opposed to the colonized nation —>state). As an American, I am familiar with stateless nations from where I grew up https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samish_Indian_Nation ;)

@davelab6

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@davelab6 davelab6 commented Aug 9, 2016

I concur

@litherland

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@litherland litherland commented Oct 20, 2016

I'd like to write an essay

This is a book. Publish that shit.

Sign up for free to join this conversation on GitHub. Already have an account? Sign in to comment
Projects
None yet
6 participants
You can’t perform that action at this time.