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Contemporizing a Historic Script: The Development of Adinatha Tamil Brahmi Typeface and its Community Impact

This presentation narrates the story of the creation of a modern typeface, Adinatha Tamil Brahmi, for the historic Tamil-Brahmi script and the wide-spread impact it had on the community in terms of script revival. Tamil-Brahmi is a regional adaptation of the historical Brahmi script that was used to write the Old Tamil language between 300 BC and 200 CE in the region corresponding to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Scholarly publications using the script were usually published as transliterations or were handwritten at best. We will recount the journey from our original motivation of producing a conservative typeface to accurately typeset inscriptions in their original script, to the eventual standardization and creation of a slightly ahistorical typeface that’s suitable for contemporary use. We detail the design decisions taken while standardizing the highly irregular forms of the historic script, including various anachronisms and reconstructions that had to be introduced to make it suitable for Modern Tamil. Though initially embraced only by history enthusiasts, we outline the various factors that led to the eventual popularity of the typeface among the general population. This is showcased through examples of its use in a contemporary milieu, including digital media like blogs and social networks. One of the most interesting consequences is the creation of various learning materials, with our typeface being used as the normative standard for Tamil-Brahmi. Consequently, we explore its potential impact in creating a modern variety of the historic script. The presentation will conclude with our considerations on what it entails to encourage the use of a historical script in a modern setting and various issues that unfortunately hinder it.


Udhaya Sankar


Vinodh Rajan

Product Manager Clintworld GmbH

Vinodh Rajan is a computer scientist with a great interest in writing systems. After working as a software engineer in India for three years, Rajan left to pursue a PhD in Digital Paleography at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as a researcher at the University of Hamburg in Germany. Rajan’s research interests include handwriting quantification, machine transliteration, and digital humanities. In his own time, he works on providing computational support to minority and historic writing systems and contributes to their outreach efforts.