Peter Bilak - Giving Voice to People

Peter Bil'ak


From The Conference September 01, 2023

“I wish there were governments who paid for this”

Peter Bil'ak is a well-known name within the narrow field of typography and type design. Having worked for many years digiitising handwritten scripts from South Asian regions, he shares some of the implications of digitally missing and incomplete alphabets. While the global population is growing very quickly, the number of spoken languages is simultaneously shrinking. As education and other systems become standardised, languages that aren’t even properly documented don’t stand a chance.

With examples from both India and indigenous Canadian societies, Bilak explains how linguists and designers need to leverage technology if we want to be able to save some of these languages and scripts. Because if they disappear we risk losing a lot of localised knowledge. In Canada, Syllabics include a group of 40 different languages. Several of them are incomplete on computers, meaning some people cannot even spell their names. And in India… no one even knows how many languages there are in total.

Optimisation of font software and the Unicode framework are vital for these marginalised languages. Working with the community is the only way to make things happen, says Bilak. One such result is the November Type System: a versatile and accessible collection of fonts based on the needs of readers of hundreds of languages in South Asia.

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Theme 2023
Tagged with 2023 Doing Equity