Why so many glyphs?

TypeSETit's picture

It's occurred to me that there are just way too many different languages, and way too many different characters in each language.

Why are there so many glyphs in a font?

Wouldn't it be nice if ALL languages narrowed it down to just two glyphs?

I was thinking maybe a simple zero and a one.

That should be enough to communicate just about anything, don't ya think?

Jongseong's picture

000 001 010 0 110011 011 0 1010 01 10 01 0100 0100 100 111 011 00 1 0000 0111 001 000 1 1 011 111 110 0100 1011 0110 0000 000 010101

dberlow's picture

That's 3.


nina's picture

·− −−· ·−· · · −··

Theunis de Jong's picture

Just one image tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Earth!

Although they should have slapped on a "Don't Panic" sticker.

Nick Shinn's picture

It is possible to reduce the main Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek language scripts to 53 alphabetic glyphs.
The font would be unicase, with many glyphs doing double or triple duty.
The Latin unicase follows Thompson's model, the Cyrillic is a no-brainer, and the Greek my own invention (as implemented in Scotch Modern Display, which is the font used in the diagram).

kentlew's picture

Love the diagram, Nick. It’s like a “Munsell” alphabet.

Ray Larabie's picture

I'm more concerned with the small and large intestine. We should replace it with a more manageable medium intestine.

cerulean's picture

Nick, I believe you're missing epsilon, which would be a prime reason to abandon Thompson and put E into the center. If you do, m could certainly be eliminated by bringing M into the center also.

If you wanted to be a tad more adventurous with Latin, you could replace Y with У, and w with ω, bringing the total down to 50.

Nick Shinn's picture

You're right Kevin, no epsilon, what was I thinking?!
It's in the font, I just forgot to include it in the diagram; it should go with the red letters at the bottom.

I wouldn't want to abandon unicase "m", because Thompson really is very effective, without it Alphabet 26 veers too much towards upper case.

...you could replace Y with У, and w with ω...

True, but I find the lower case shape of У looks too "small" for the Latin unicase, and ω doesn't fit this style.
Perhaps in another typeface it would be possible to reduce the number of glyphs still further.

Here are the Latin and Greek unicase alphabets, compared with small caps.

I didn't actually use that "alpha" form of "a" in the Latin, but I could have.

TypeSETit's picture

53 Glyphs is still WAYYYY too many.

agisaak's picture

The Latin alphabet got along perfectly fine without J and V for most of its existence. I'd eliminate them.


Nick Shinn's picture

If everybody looked the same, we'd get tired of looking at each other.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Cheers for the diagram! (I remember doing the like once … long ago…).
Great utilization of colour, too.

One could place the uncial shape for e/epsilon, which should be acceptable for Cyrillic as well, in the centre. Omega as w is hurting. And the v-glyph for Nu …?
U serving as ‘Upsilon’ doesn’t satisfy me. It seems illogical to me not to unify y and upsilon.
However, I would definitely unify the Greek-Cyrillic lambda and delta (triangular shapes) and also tri-unify the M.
And if it’s to serve not only major languages, two Serbian letters would have to be added on the Cyrillic side; the same for Eth and Thorn and Eng in Latin.

How many Eurocase fonts are on the market already?

… fine without J and V

than please kill U and W too.

agisaak's picture

If we kill U, V, and W, aren't we in a bit of trouble?


nina's picture

That's going to be a similarly bright future as when ze drem vil finali kum tru.

agisaak's picture

On further reflection, this glyph set can be considerably reduced given a sufficiently dyslexic audience -- p, d, b, and q can easily be accommopated with a single glybh. n, u, uqsilon, ii and pe/pi can be merged, as can be s and ge (this wouldn't quite work for gamma, but that can easily be merged with y). Lambda/El can be merged with V, which can subsequently be eliminated altogether as per my preuious suggestiou. I'm sure this apqroacµ will eueutuallγ take us to ouL goal of uo glyqhs at all.


Nick Shinn's picture

... Eurocase fonts ...

AFAIK, it's my idea (but your name!), although I haven't actually produced any fonts with only the unicase LCG glyphs. I suppose to be really hardcore, the common glyphs should have multiple Unicodes. I'm not sure how well that would be supported by layout applications.


I suspect there may be a few typefaces with Greek Unicase. Any Cyrillic unicase fonts?

For Greek especially, it seems that a lot is dependent on the typeface. The balance of upper and lower case letter forms that one seeks in a unicase typeface varies considerably from sans to serif: the typical Greek sans serif lower case glyphs are much more similar to the upper case than their serifed counterparts.

eliason's picture

In his experimental Sum of the Parts font, Tobias Frere-Jones reduced the Latin alphabet to 11 ambiguous glyphs. (Described--but not shown--in his article reproduced in Texts on Type.)

Tomi from Suomi's picture

We do not need c; s or k kan replase that, and q is irrelevant as well; that Latin guality works without it.

dezcom's picture

More or less correct but if less is more, then we have less certainty of what is being said. We have a solution in search of a problem.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

We have a solution in search of a problem.

Well put!

But there is, I think, a serious core in this witty debate. It’s about “how to make things easier and more simple“. Which is a legitimate approach in general.
I remember a saying (from who?): “ things should be as simple as possible but not simpler than that.” – and there it gets interesting. Killing c and q and v is a nice exercise of the mind but of virtual no relevance to practice. But: “how can I make a L-G-C font more efficiently?” IS of practical relevance.

Latin and Cyrillic sprang off the Greek alphabet Hundreds of years ago, yet remained close relative all the time. Now we face the novelty of the three re-united in one single lettercase. That raises the question of practical rationalization and aesthetic harmonization (or however you wish to call it), this is only consequential in my eyes.

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