Scripts from the past in your computer



Minority scripts and ancient writing systems don't fit always easily into the digital age, where mass interests often prevail over the needs of small communities. However, going digital is without any doubt a good way to ensure the preservation of cultural and human heritage, to which writing systems undeniably belong.

In order to contribute to the digitalisation and dissemination of historical scripts, a team of scholars from the universities of Barcelona, Paris-Sorbonne, UC Berkeley and l'Atelier National de Recherche Typographique in Nancy is working in a proposal to include the ancient writing systems of the Iberian Peninsula into the Unicode standard. That way, it will be possible to use the Palaeohispanic characters in anyone’s computer, tablet or mobile phone from now on, avoiding compatibility problems between different devices or software.

This initiative, which started a few years ago, is now achieving its final stages thanks to a Marie Curie Action project, Zephyros, run by Noemí Moncunill in Paris-Sorbonne, which has made it possible to coordinate the different parts involved, and to the Script Encoding Initiative, run by Deborah Anderson in UC Berkeley.

The scientific content of the proposal has been developed by Joan Ferrer, Noemí Moncunill and Javier Velaza, members of the AELAW COST action, and it integrates the latest discoveries on Palaeohispanic literacy, such as the recent identification by Joan Ferrer of Iberian abecedaries in rock inscriptions from the Pyrenees or a Southern “Espanca’s type” abecedary in the ostracon from Villasviejas del Tamuja, along with the latest progress in palaeographic studies, including the identification of a range of “dual type” scripts.

Although the initial proposal foresaw two separate encodings for the Southern and Northern scripts, the final proposal unifies all the Palaeohispanic writing systems under a unique encoding, taking into account the common ancestor of glyphs for the basic set. Nevertheless, in order to assure the proper representation and distinct entity of each script, this proposal includes a font collection with eleven different fonts: the mandatory basic glyph chart, mainly based on the North-eastern Iberian dual scripts, and one additional font per script (North-eastern Iberian, dual standard, dual extended, and non-dual; Eastern Celtiberian, dual and non-dual, Western Celtiberian, dual and non-dual; dual South-eastern Iberian, South-western and Espanca). A team of researchers of l'Atelier National de Recherche Typographique (École nationale supérieure d’art et de design (ENSAD) de Nancy) will be in charge of the design of the Paleohispanic fonts.

After several months of hard work, in May 2017 this proposal will be finally submitted to the next Unicode Technical Committee meeting in California. We hope it works, and that our scripts from the past can this way more effectively face the future and reach the following generations.

You can read the documentation related to this proposal in the following link, which will be progressively updated.

Rock inscription abecedaries (J. Ferrer 2014) with encoding examples. Above: non-dual from l’Esquirol. Below: dual standard from Ger.