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Decolonizing Ascenders and Descenders: Resisting homogenization and encouraging diversity

Imagine belonging to an Asian language community which for centuries has considered the art of writing an integral component of its cultural identity and an essential element of its visual communication and artistic expression. It has produced eminent artists and skilled craftspeople who have employed letterforms in the most creative, efficient, and imaginative way. It has successfully survived conflicts and divisive forces of every conceivable nature. Despite this background, your language is poorly represented in typographic environments today. This description applies to several language groups that use Arabic script or its modified forms. Although still inadequate, better typographic choices are available for users of languages like Arabic and Persian; however, only a handful of Arabic script digital typefaces exist for South-Asian languages (such as Pashto, Sindhi, and Urdu), whose users form around one-third of the world’s Muslim population.

This presentation examines specific historical, cultural, economic, and socio-political cases that contributed to the current state of Arabic script typography and the surprisingly disproportionate representation of different languages. It also addresses issues around the imposition of Latin script typographic standards and aesthetic values on Arabic script and the lack of support for its localized forms. Drawing from significant historical examples of type-making from vernacular type foundries and printing presses, it argues that many of the current shortcomings in the design and development of Arabic script typefaces are not due to the ‘complexity’ of writing styles but either uninformed or deliberate choices of companies and individuals. It emphasizes the importance of reflecting cultural, linguistic and stylistic preferences of languages that use the Arabic script. The aim is to encourage more dialogue to apply a decolonial lens to norms and practices in academia and the industry concerned with textual communication in various world languages.

Borna Izadpanah

Borna Izadpanah

Borna Izadpanah is a Lecturer in Typography at the University of Reading, UK, where he was also awarded a PhD, and an MA in Typeface Design. His doctoral research explored the history of the early typographic representation of the Persian language. Borna has received numerous awards for his research and typeface design, including the Grand Prize and the First Prize in Arabic Text Typeface in the Granshan Type Design Competition, the TDC Certificate of Typographic Excellence, and the Symposia Iranica Prize for the best paper in Art History.

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