What will be the next step in the evolution of the Latin alphabet?

Dan Gayle's picture

Someone said they were bored, so here's a discussion that I want to participate in:

What will be the next step in the evolution of the Latin alphabet?

First we had scribal and monumental, the scribal evolved and combined with monumental into humanist which evolved into modern which evolved into industrial that in turn spurred on the development of geometric, then we had Geometric-Humanist-Industrial and Geometric-Humanist-Industrial-Post-Modern.

Will digital be the deciding factor? Will graffiti or urban type direct our steps? Will the degradation of handwriting be the influence that determines where the Latin character will go?

Si_Daniels's picture

I'll put 20 Obama-Galactic-Credits on some kind of gesture based short-hand - letterforms inspired by the iPhone and Natal-like interfaces.

sandrosandro's picture

I thin that we are turning back to humanist approach. Especially thanks to Dutch school of typography.
_

Sandro

Will Stanford's picture

I am of the opinion that changes to letterforms will be driven by digital technical considerations not evolutionary changes in handwriting.
We already see children being taught letterforms and language skills through computers.
This leads to reduced use of the handwritten form and consequently a reduction in the speed and occurrence of changes to those forms and leads to change beign the product of imposed will.
Interesting the same thing can be seen in the reduced speed of genetic change brought on by our current safe existence which will in time be surpassed by imposed changes based on desire and technical considerations.

Will

blank's picture

I think that Palm already nailed the gestural shorthand alphabet. Do their devices still use it, or did they just go to touchscreen keypads?

I really doubt that there will be much more evolution of the Latin alphabet; there’s too much inertia to overcome. It’s more likely that the way the alphabet is used will change in response to the way technology alters our methods of absorbing and processing information. I do expect to see diacriticals jumping from one language to another as people find themselves needing to display foreign words more often than in pre-internet days.

I think it’s that we’ll see an alphabetic revolution in China or Japan similar to what happened with the invention of Hangul in Korea.

Dan Gayle's picture

In my opinion, there are two concurrent thoughts going on that will inevitably effect the development of the Roman alphabet:

1) The futurist "new is better" approach that brought us the Industrial Revolution is alive and well in the computer age. I agree with Sii that touch screen technology can/will play a role, but I fail to see the exact influence of that as of yet. I just hope we never evolve to "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

I disagree with James on the diacritics though. The massive prevalence of txt-type messaging has removed a lot of diacritics from colloquial usage. For instance, my friend Jené just uses Jene for everything now, since diacritics are a pain in the bottom to use efficiently.

2) Anti-futurist, eco tendencies also are highly prevalent. Walk into a Cost Plus World Market, or Trader Joe's and you'll see what I'm talking about. Ironically, this will only get better/more used as Opentype technology allows for greater "naturalness" of a typeset word.

Don McCahill's picture

I would suggest the next, or most recent, evolution in the alphabet the commercial at symbol, which is becoming closer and closer to becoming a letter. Pretty soon c@ will be an acceptable spelling for a feline pet.

Theunis de Jong's picture

Don, maybe not. I've never seen "h&" ...

(OTOH&, I'm not that much in2 texting either.)

dtw's picture

Well we're already seeing "Latin@" as a clumsy (IMHO) gender-neutral... (Latino/Latina)
_______________________________________________
Ever since I chose to block pop-ups, my toaster's stopped working.

Dan Gayle's picture

@Ravel
I can see one definite influence of the Dutch School: Brush inspired letterforms. With digital type, created rounded or slightly rounded forms is much easier than it ever was in metal or phototype.

The new advance bézier curve tools will only push this trend forward, IMO.

dezcom's picture

Handwriting is drifting into being a solely historic medium. I can't see it affecting the Latin script any more. I don't feel we will go back in time to recreate Dutch type or any other historic form. I don't see a new thing coming along until there is either a new medium or some other function based reason to make its way into the vernacular.

ChrisL

Theunis de Jong's picture

... some other function based reason to make its way into the vernacular.

Texting (per SMS) might fall into that category, doesn't it?
I for one am hoping that it never makes it in2 the official dictionaries...

John Hudson's picture

Dan: First we had scribal and monumental, the scribal evolved and combined with monumental into humanist which evolved into modern which evolved into industrial that in turn spurred on the development of geometric, then we had Geometric-Humanist-Industrial and Geometric-Humanist-Industrial-Post-Modern.

What you've described is the development of Latin script typography, not the development of the Latin alphabet.

Something that most people overlook is that scribes never stop inventing new writing styles; this is obvious in cultures with strong scribal traditions, but remains true even when ‘calligraphy’ becomes a marginal artistic activity. Typography evolves slowly between periods of radical change; scribes are continually inventive, experimenting with new tools, new ways of using them, new forms, both formal and expressive. If you want to know what the next evolution of the Latin alphabet is, subscribe to Letter Arts Review.

Kevin Larson's picture

I think the next evolution in the alphabet will be further markup for emotion. In spoken language we have the ability to convey joy, sorrow, anger, and sarcasm by altering the way we say our words. There is nothing similar in written language. Emoticons are the first step in this process. Hopefully they’re not the last.

Nick Shinn's picture

That too is not the alphabet.

paragraph's picture

ɐɓʂoɬʉƭɛɭɥ

blank's picture

There is nothing similar in written language.

Bullshit! Thoughtful writing is quite capable of conveying emotion. Most people are just too stupid or cannot be bothered to produce thoughtful writing.

John Hudson's picture

Kevin: I think the next evolution in the alphabet will be further markup for emotion. In spoken language we have the ability to convey joy, sorrow, anger, and sarcasm by altering the way we say our words. There is nothing similar in written language.

If there is nothing similar in written language in the sense of systematic markup to indicate emotion -- as distinct from all the numerous ways that good writers have expressed emotion in writing for hundreds of years --, why would you think that such a system would evolve now? The fact that over thousands of years and in many different cultures and writing systems no people ever developed a systematic markup for emotional content suggests to me that this is a very unlikely evolution of the Latin or any other script.

James: Thoughtful writing is quite capable of conveying emotion. Most people are just too stupid or cannot be bothered to produce thoughtful writing.

Yup.

John Hudson's picture

PS. Complex emotions require articulation just like complex ideas. Simply holding up a flag that says ‘I am sad’ is not expressing emotion. It might be expressing emotional superficiality.

dezcom's picture

"Simply holding up a flag that says ‘I am sad’ "

Yes, Just like an applause sign in a game show or a laugh track on a sitcom. If it is funny, I will laugh even if there is no canned laughter. If it is not funny, the laugh track sounds stupid.

ChrisL

Kevin Larson's picture

John, I agree that language is productive enough for a good writer to convey any emotion. But between email, texting, and social networks I see a huge increase in the amount of writing that conveys very little beyond basic emotional state. 'I am sad' may not be deep, but it is a frequent communication.

Plus, it's already happening. :0 :) ;) ^_^ These aren't words. They are new marks that are are already being used to add tone to a sentence. A grammar is needed to grow around it: I miss John:) because he's been away:( on an island all summer.

John Hudson's picture

Kevin: I see a huge increase in the amount of writing that conveys very little beyond basic emotional state.

Yes, and words are totally sufficient to convey those basic emotional states. And people who learn to use words effectively are able to express more complex emotional states, which means that they're also better equipped to understand those states and to engage with them in healthy ways. People who rely on pictographic symbols to express their emotions risk becoming emotionally stunted, if they are not already. This saddens me, because it seems futile to try to counter so prevalent a social phenomenon, but then in turn I am angered because I recognise that there are companies and individuals who are profiting financially from this phenomenon, in whose interest it is to convince me and other dissidents that it is futile to oppose such social developments, which are not in fact social in origin but carefully manipulated. And this particular sadness, and this sense of futility, and this anger, are also emotions that cannot be expressed in the Newspeak of emoticons, which discourage people from exercising their minds to describe their feelings and, in so doing, also rob them of the ability to register criticism and protest.

John Hudson's picture

Kevin: A grammar is needed to grow around it.

If a grammar is needed, then a grammar will develop, organically. I think it is begging the question to say that a grammar is needed: grammars are evidence of need.

Theunis de Jong's picture

People who rely on pictographic symbols to express their emotions risk becoming emotionally stunted, if they are not already. [..] emotions that cannot be expressed in the Newspeak of emoticons, which discourage people from exercising their minds to describe their feeling ..

Well spank my bottom and call me Brenda. That's spot on.

Nick Shinn's picture

Kevin, emoticons are punctuation, not part of the Latin alphabet.

Are they used in Greek and Cyrillic?

John, isn't an exclamation point the mother of all emoticons?!

John Hudson's picture

I try to reserve the exclamation point for grammatical exclamations. How proper!

Ray Larabie's picture

In the 2050's McDonald's will finally succeed in trademarking the letter M. All fonts will have their M removed or suffer dire legal consequence. Typophiles and McDonalds' lawyers fail to agree on a letter to replace the M so most people use /\/\ .

paragraph's picture

Bad luck, Ray, another infringement notice coming to you: that's a Woolworths logo upside down!

bowerbird's picture

i miss will powers.

he would've had something interesting to say here.

-bowerbird

dtw's picture

Woolworths? I think you may be safe there. But Motorola have /\/\ tradmarked...

FeeltheKern's picture

I think there's something very offensive about emoticons to people who love type, because to care about type is to see language as a serious business, a world where the preciseness of meaning is, well, meaningful. For those who think the flavor of the typeface used has a major bearing on the text, to reduce language to a series of winks, smileys, and frownies is agonizing.

That said, there's something very sweet about seeing emails from my 89 year old grandmother that use smiley face emoticons, and in the Facebook updates from my 13 year old cousin (who you might call a core user and perpetuator of emoticons), something would be lost in the spirit of her excitement if there were any less OMGZ or :D going on. I personally never use emoticons, but my silent protest has no bearing on a ship that has sailed and landed at every port across the planet. In my experience, vendors in Asia use emoticons profusely, and in official business emails that open up with stuff like "Dear sirs..." and end with "Cordially Yours." It seems slightly funny to Western eyes, having extreme formality mixed with what we consider tween's pictograms, but they usually get their point across. You could consult the Chicago Manual of Style to write your emails and not get your point across at all.

William Berkson's picture

I observe here that emoticons are used to remove ambiguity in written text, hurriedly and briefly put. I think that is the effect of the smiley, which is by far the most often used emoticon. It is also used in the context of addressing a particular person, where you know the emotional state of the conversation.

In writing where you don't know the reader, these conditions don't apply. So I would expect when the conditions apply, emoticons will persist, but probably not expand much. I don't expect them to migrate to writing where you don't know the reader.

Si_Daniels's picture

> Simply holding up a flag that says ‘I am sad’ is not expressing emotion.

>People who rely on pictographic symbols to express their emotions risk becoming emotionally stunted,

:-(

dezcom's picture

The art of writing by talented authors has been with us since the beginning of the written word. The art and skill involves putting words together in a way that adds far more than what any emoticon can manage. Skilled writers don't need extra signs to write beautifully. Emoticons are there for the casual use of the average Joe or Jane to deasciify hastily thumbed blurts. Their charm lies in the fact that they are made from pictogramatic constructions from assorted ascii characters. The charm dies as soon as we replace the ascii with a specifically drawn glyph.

ChrisL

Si_Daniels's picture

Those with a love/hate for/of emoticons might want to follow the progress of the emoji encoding efforts in Unicode...

http://www.unicode.org/~scherer/emoji4unicode/20090730/proposed.html

paragraph's picture

I love you :) Carrot :)
I hate you :( Stick :(
Reminds me of Pavlov's dogs: ring bell, give electric shock. Repeat.
Desensitize. Conditioned reflex. Not for me.

Ray Larabie's picture

In Japan, if you don't put emojii in your phone texts, it means you're some kind of freakin' weirdo. So I have been told.

nina's picture

"I think there’s something very offensive about emoticons to people who love type"

I've been thinking about this, and I still disagree. Why should loving type be == categorically worshipping the august seriousness of language? What's wrong with playing with type?
I think emoticons are actually quite interesting – to observe how "normal" (non-type) people use type for the shapes, not the meaning, and have been attaching new meaning to the shapes. Do you still remember when people had to be instructed to tilt their heads? Now everyone knows what :-) means. (I agree they completely lose their charm when they're replaced by specially-made smiley glyphs.)

BTW, so much for a new invention: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/10/20/emoticons-from-the-1...

typerror's picture

John, Great point!

"Something that most people overlook is that scribes never stop inventing new writing styles; this is obvious in cultures with strong scribal traditions, but remains true even when ‘calligraphy’ becomes a marginal artistic activity. Typography evolves slowly between periods of radical change; scribes are continually inventive, experimenting with new tools, new ways of using them, new forms, both formal and expressive."

You made the salient point I believe.

The stylus, the brush/chisel, the quill, the metal pen (chiseled or pointed) and their surface counterparts have been the determinants. Speed and medium also.

Now it is the mouse/wacom and the screen and/or the next incarnation.... oh for the days of paper, wait a minute, I am still using it :>)

And I do not think we have exhausted the "Latin Alphabets" ability to "express" even though there are gazillions of fonts. Or at least I am not done experimenting.

Michael

nina's picture

Saying only calligraphy advances the alphabet is like saying only people who play old music on traditional instruments (and maybe improvise a little) advance music.
If I had a hat, I'd bet it that the next step in the "evolution of the Latin alphabet" has sub zero to do with calligraphy. It's simply not influential, important, or cogent enough anymore.

typerror's picture

Not what I am saying Nina. I was pointing strictly to the tools that have had impact over the centuries.

Michael

blank's picture

I think there’s something very offensive about emoticons to people who love type.

I do not find them offensive and will sometimes use them to make it obvious that I am not flaming people without expanding a sentence into a paragraph that most people will not bother to read. But the notion that emoticons allow us to express things we could not have before is simply wrong.

Don McCahill's picture

While it is true that a great writer can convey emotion with out emoticons, you have to understand that many (most) people are not great readers.

I often use an emoticon when writing so that someone will know I am being sarcastic, since my writing is not great enough to be able to convey that to the majority of readers. (As I have learned long ago in online communications.)

John Hudson's picture

:) is a useful sign in rapid communication, especially among people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds who might not understand each other's sense of humour. It is not, however, an indicator of emotion, it is a sign which says 'I am joking' or 'I get the joke'.

John Hudson's picture

Nina, I think you misunderstand the point that Michael and I were making. The original message in this thread presupposed that the evolutionary history of the Latin alphabet in terms of typography. This history is one of long periods of conservatism between brief periods of radical change. But this is not the history of the alphabet, which includes also the scribal (not 'calligraphic') history which is one of accumulated experiment and invention. I was drawing attention to the fact that this process has not ceased just because formal writing, in our culture, has become a marginal activity.

nina's picture

"I was drawing attention to the fact that this process has not ceased just because formal writing, in our culture, has become a marginal activity."
But the question is, even if this process is ongoing, is it still of any relevance for the "evolutionary history of the Latin alphabet", and its future (which is what this thread was asking about)? Or were you not referring to that at all?

Dan Gayle's picture

@John
"What you’ve described is the development of Latin script typography, not the development of the Latin alphabet."

I will concede that point, but I'll add that Latin script typography is de facto the latin alphabet. It will be de jure when handwriting is demoted by law, a process that has already started in the use of typewritten prescriptions.

When schools stop teaching handwriting is when we know the battle is over.

@dez
deasciify. Not only did you invent a new word, "asciify" (which sounds dirty), you invented the reverse of that word. Kudos!

dezcom's picture

Nina,

I get what you are saying and agree with you. Hand scribed writing had a very profound affect on the development of the latin script just as the Lascaux cave paintings and Cuneiform tablets did but that part of history has passed and that influence has waned in favor of more recent influences having to do with modern technology and the greatly diminished amount of hand writing done today. We will always look back at historical benchmarks but the direct affect on future evolution has to be quite minor from now on of written script except for Arabic, Indic and Asian scripts.

ChrisL

typerror's picture

Nina

Just an aside

Zapf did drawings well over 5 decades ago but the technology did not exist to bring his dream to fruition. Only 10 years ago did Lintype Zapfino hit the market and it is everywhere. So Technology AND calligraphy are alive and well in advertising, editorial, packaging etc. My point is calligraphy may not be on the leading edge but it is capable of more than some of the sterile work that is being pumped out now.

Michael

John Hudson's picture

Nina and Dan. I'm a nominalist when it comes to writing systems: an alphabet is a set of signs, and the definition of that set and the forms that those signs take are all the signs and the ways they are made by people who use that alphabet, in whatever form. Indeed, such diversity is a precondition of evolution, which is why handwritten script evolves more easily and more steadily than typography: it is by its nature more diverse and more adaptable. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be pondering what the next evolution of typographic writing might be, and I'm not saying that this evolution will necessarily be influenced by handwritten forms (although I wouldn't deny that possibility, because a lot of people designing type are also interested in writing). What I am saying is that there is an ongoing evolution that has been happening and is happening just outside of the consciousness of a lot of people who are interested in design and typography, and will continue to happen because this is one of the things that scribes do: they invent new ways of writing.

***

By the way, for the sake of clarity, we should say that the Latin alphabet isn't going to evolve at all, because almost no one writes in Latin any more, and the two main conventions of writing Latin, classical and liturgical, are not evolving. That is what the Latin alphabet is: the set of signs used to write the Latin language. What we're talking about in this thread is either something like the English alphabet or the Latin script, the former being a subset of the latter, which is a superset of all the signs, conventions and forms used to write all the languages, with their independent alphabets, that are derived from and have signs in common with the Latin alphabet.

William Berkson's picture

I agree with Michael that the hand in motion will have a continuing impact on how type will look in the future.

This is for two reasons. First, new symbols will need to have some compatibility with existing scripts. For example the Euro was immediately adapted to faces with serifs. It's design also related to older alphabetic characters.

The second is that people want to see humanity on the page, in letter design as well as the words themselves. We already have the kind of modular square alphabets like on a digital clock, made from two boxes with an X in them. They are clear, but people don't want to read them.

Admittedly this is partly for reasons of the way the eye works, not the hand. But I'm not willing to concede that what the hand does and the eye likes are totally unrelated.

I'm a humanist. I want humanity in type. And the hand in motion can help give it.

There's another thing here, and that's a false idea of simplicity. The Bauhaus had the idea that simple geometric shapes are the simplist. But now with the ideas about fractals, we see that a very simple rule can result in very complex designs, with an underlying unity.

The best "simple" designs, like Futura and Frutiger, are in fact very complex and subtle.

I not saying that the hand will dictate future designs, but it won't go away either.

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