New Google Font Noto Aims to Represent All Languages

Google's Noto font currently supports 100 scripts, 100,000 characters and over 600 written languages.

Noto

Google transformed online search to build its brand, prioritizing digital access for consumers across the globe. Then came Google Glass, which according to BetaBeat, “dropped on the world in a kind of public beta.”

Google has since been a leader in futuristic projects; its fleet of driverless hydrogen-powered vehicles may make our roads and highways safer and help the environment. Another lofty initiative aims to provide Internet access via satellite to all corners of the world. Project Loon powers the Internet with balloons. And Google Fiber is 100 times faster than today’s basic broadband.

Now, the tech giant is working on a new typeface that supports every written language. Google’s Noto font gets its name from “Tofu,” those tiny, empty rectangles that show up when a script isn’t supported. Noto is a portmanteau of “No Tofu” and currently supports 100 scripts with 100,000 characters, including over 600 written languages.

Google teamed up with Adobe this month to release its newest set of Chinese-Japanese-Korean fonts, the first open-source font that supports variations of those languages.

In keeping with the character coding system called Unicode Standard, which was designed in the late 80s to “support the worldwide interchange, processing and display of the written texts” of diverse languages, Noto’s fonts will allow people to create URLs, web pages and apps in their own languages.

But Google’s Noto is not without its critics. Such grand projects can feel like technological imperialism, particularly when certain groups of people are codifying language for populations they don’t fully comprehend. Users of the Unicode character set for the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages — called Han unification — pointed out that grouping characters together for all three languages led to spelling discrepancies and other errors in each language.

Thus, while Noto supports the more widely spoken languages, certain scripts may not accurately reflect the culture in which they’re used. The Urdu language, for example, is based on the naskh script of the Arabic alphabet. But many in the Persian and Urdu language communities say nastaliq is a more accurate language representation than naskh, which is more linear and angular. Google says it plans to further develop nastaliq and other scripts, like Tibetan, in the coming years.

At the same time, a few endangered linguistic communities typically without digital representation such as Canada’s Inuktitut are included in Google’s fonts.

*image via Adobe Typekit