The Font that Never Was: Linotype and the “Phonetic Chinese Alphabet” of 1921

In: Philological Encounters
Thomas S. Mullaney Stanford University

Search for other papers by Thomas S. Mullaney in
Current site
Google Scholar
Download Citation Get Permissions

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institution


Buy instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



Since the invention and globalization of hot metal printing in the United States and Europe, engineers and entrepreneurs dreamt of a day when linotype and monotype technologies would absorb Chinese script into its growing repertoire of non-Latin writing systems, just as they had Arabic, Armenian, Burmese, Devanagari, Hebrew, Korean, and over one hundred other scripts. In the early 1920s, the much-celebrated release of a new font—the “Chinese Phonetic Alphabet” by Mergenthaler Linotype, and later by the Monotype corporation—led many to believe that the day had finally come. This article charts out the quixotic history of Linotype and Monotype’s efforts to enter the Chinese market, examining the linguistic challenges that had long prevented China’s absorption into a Western-dominated “hot metal empire,” the design process by which artists in Brooklyn and London crafted these new fonts, and ultimately the cultural misunderstandings that doomed the projects to failure.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1423 220 16
Full Text Views 128 18 0
PDF Views & Downloads 144 37 0