Thuistezien 308 — 18.01.2022

Bergerhausen & Huot-Marchand
The Missing Scripts Project

In May 2019, the Unicode Standard 12.1 was published and encoded more than 137.000 characters coming from 150 writing systems. The ever-expanding Unicode Standard makes it possible for us to use this vast number of characters in our digital writing, ranging from ancient scripts to the modern-day Latin alphabet. Yet, these 137.000 characters do not cover the full spectrum of the writing system the world has been using and is still using. Since 2016, the ‘Missing Scripts Project’ has addressed this issue by systemizing and designing an overview of the, in total 292 scripts that exist in the world, encoded or not.

In their introduction talk for the 2019 ‘Alphabetica’ symposium, Johannes Bergerhausen and Thomas Huot-Marchand introduced the motives and efforts for creating the ‘Missing Scripts Project’. The ‘Missing Scripts Project’ began in 2016 as a joint effort between the three institutions Atelier National de Recherche Typographique in Nancy, France (ANRT), Hochschule Mainz, Germany (IDG), and the Department of Linguistics at UC Berkeley (SEI). Huot-Marchand Is the director of the ANRT, which reopened in 2012 as a Postgraduate research course whose goal is to investigate a new path in typography. Bergerhausen is teaching at the Hochschule Mainz. In 2004, he was part of founding the Institut Designlabor Gutenberg, with a strong focus on typography. The ‘Missing Scripts Project’ started with the basic idea to work on type design for the missing scripts. With the knowledge that the Unicode Standard then included 46 scripts, the initial question was how many scripts were missing. With help from the researcher in the Department of Linguistics at UC Berkeley Deborah Anderson, they concluded that half of the world’s writing systems were missing in Unicode.

The beginning of the project was to make an overview in the form of a poster of these 292 scripts, in which the idea was to give each script a representative letter or glyph. A lot of research has gone into the creation of the representative glyph, as sources were not always easily accessible and readable. With caution, it was necessary to adjust the proportions of some glyphs to make them fit. In the process, they asked experts from different parts of the world to provide feedback as the goal was to be as respectful to the scripts as possible.

The first poster was released with 600 copies and, as the ‘Missing Script Project’ is an ongoing research project, a second version of the poster was released a year later in 2019. The second edition contains a few alterations, reflecting on the new information which had been gathered since the first release. The second edition is now hanging in the Alphabetum and can be viewed and purchased once West can open its doors again.

‘Alphabetica’ was a one-day symposium about letters, scripts, and languages. The symposium took place in late 2019, joining the two exhibitions ‘Missing Scripts’ (Alphabetum IV) and ‘Laws of Form’ (Alphabetum III) and was presented in collaboration with the Institut Designlabor Gutenberg (Hochshule Mainz), Atelier National de Recherche Typographique (Nancy), SEI Departement of Linguistics (Univerisity of Berkekey, USA) and Type and Media (KABK Den Haag).

Text: Rosa Zangenberg