Historical Technological Impacts on the Visual Representation of Language with Reference to South-Asian Typeforms

In: Philological Encounters
Fiona Ross University of Reading

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The scripts of South Asia, which mainly derive from the Brahmi script, afford a visible voice to the numerous linguistic communities that form over one fifth of the world’s population. However, the transition of these visually diverse scripts from chirographic to typographic form has been determined by historical processes that were rarely conducive to accurately rendering non-Latin scripts.

This essay provides a critical evaluation of the historical technological impacts on typographic textual composition in South-Asian languages. It draws on resources from relevant archival collections to consider within a historical context the technological constraints that have been crucial in determining the textural appearance of South-Asian typography. In so doing, it seeks to elucidate design decisions that either purposely or unwittingly shaped subsequent and current typographic practice and questions the validity of the continued legacy of historical technological impacts for contemporary vernacular communication.

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