Writing Systems Technology

The vision of the Writing Systems Technology (WSTech) team is that writing systems related computing problems will not impede effective and productive work of and in language communities.

The mission of WSTech is to provide guidance, information, research, and development that facilitates the use of simple and complex scripts in linguistic study, translation, literacy, and publishing.

About one quarter of the languages needing Bible translation use non-Roman scripts. Their alphabets are also unrelated to the Roman script used for writing English and other Western languages. Some are unique. Some are referred to as “exotic.”


The configuration of the letters used in their alphabets is only part of the problem. Some languages are written from right-to-left. Others are written vertically from top to bottom. Some are written with sloping lines. Translators face obstacles when they attempt to use word-processing software to prepare texts in these languages. Publishers are limited in image setting for printing because of the variety of such unusual alphabets and writing styles.

To understand the complexity of these issues, watch this:

Why Design New Scripts?

Many times scripts are used to write languages for which they were not originally designed. For instance, in Nigeria’s Fulfulde language Genesis is printed in Roman script on the left-hand page and Arabic script on the right-hand.

Two characters called implosives appear in the Fulfulde Roman script: ɗ and ɓ. Arabic script doesn’t have characters for implosives, so the authors had to create new characters to represent ɗ and ɓ, plus a number of other characters not found in Arabic script. To publish Genesis, people had to write Arabic by hand. Imagine how time-consuming and error-prone that process would be!

SIL’s Non-Roman Script Initiative has created a number of fonts for use in writing Arabic script, including Scheherazade.

Open Type Fonts

The Writing Systems Technology (WSTech) team created comprehensive fonts for Latin and Cyrillic character sets. These fonts cover almost every known need in the Latin and Cyrillic world.

The original fonts, at over a megabyte each, however, are now much too large for mobile phone usage, which along with web usage need small, compact fonts.

To resolve this problem, WSTech has created regional subsets of the fonts, currently containing OpenType smart code. Each regional font contains only the characters (and glyphs) known to be used in that region of the world. The goal is to provide the most common glyphs required for that region.

Annapurna SIL is a Unicode-based font family for writing systems that use the Devanagari script.
Padauk is a Unicode-based font family used for over 27 languages in Myanmar.