Last year, the University of Regina Press launched a series of story anthologies in a variety of indigenous languages, including Plains Cree, Woods Cree, Blackfoot, Saulteaux, and Lillooet. Obviously, none of these languages use the Roman alphabet – some have no alphabet at all, and others don’t even use a specific character set. As a result, the press is presenting these traditional and contemporary stories in three ways: as English translations; in standard Roman orthography, which uses the Roman alphabet to create words in other languages; and in syllabics: written characters that represent syllables. Most indigenous languages with their own character set can be recreated with Aboriginal, a free font developed by First Nations University. “The challenge for me is, I don’t speak these languages,” says URP art director Duncan Noel Campbell. “We work closely with scholars so they can tell us what we’re doing wrong or what we have to look out for.”
Other challenges abound. For one, the Cree language doesn’t use capital letters or allow words to be hyphenated across two lines. This means designers are unable to rely on software to flow text, and often must set each line manually.
“When I’m dealing with setting text in various indigenous languages, it’s very limited,” says Campbell. “I’m hoping, through our effort, and through the efforts of many people, to try and revitalize these languages, and that a new generation of typographers will come up and make alternate typefaces.”