Font Follows Function

October 29, 2014 § 2 Comments


“ZOMG what a tasty burger”

As writers in the modern age, many of us debate pen-and-paper over computer, with a few staunch holdouts for the manual typewriter. The form in which we write affects how our writing process functions. Some swear by the connection of heart-to-hand when writing with a pen, and the portability of a Moleskine or a dime-store notebook. Others feel you’ll pry their MacBook Air from their cold, dead hands (right before the barista seeks help moving the body). We love our internet-blocker apps and our Evernote and our Scrivener. And we cling like a lifeboat to our Times New Roman or Garamond or the swoops of our own handwriting.

What if the very shapes of our letters were controlled, or we didn’t get to pick our own font? Ali Eteraz, a Pakistani-American writer, discusses the media storm when IKEA switched from Futura to Verdana, and how silly that outrage seemed. Then he draws a comparison to the death of the ancient Urdu script, now being replaced by a modern version:

Now imagine if the Futura loyalists had been faithful for hundreds of years; had produced poets of Shakespeare’s caliber that had written in Futura; and had institutions and schools where the stylish rendering of Futura script was mastered over the course of a lifetime, only to one day be told that not only could they no longer write in Futura, but they had to write in Braggadocio, and if they didn’t like that then they could write in Chinese.

As someone whose alphabet is the dominant alphabet in world media, it’s never been an issue for me to change my letter-shapes or adapt to new letter-shapes imposed upon me by my phone or my keyboard. I’ve never had to phonetically spell out my words in another language’s script. I’ve never thought about how my meaning can be unintentionally changed by the visual presentation of my work. All of those situations are being experienced by Urdu writers. How they are reconciling, holding out, and morphing the Roman alphabet to serve their purposes is a fascinating read.

Check out Ali Eteraz’s essay on the mutations of Urdu and the effect on Urdu writers, over at Medium.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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