New fonts give Ti­betans tex­ting op­tions

Com­puter users, pub­lish­ing houses also em­brace the type­faces based on mu­rals, his­tor­i­cal stamps and more

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By XIN­HUA and CHI­NADAILY

The re­lease of brand-new Qo­molangma Ti­betan fonts by the China Ti­betol­ogy Re­search Cen­ter means the iPhone is no longer the only main­stream op­tion for Ti­betans who want a smart­phone that can dis­play their lan­guage.

Ti­betan-speak­ing users can down­load the fonts from the In­ter­net and per­son­al­ize their smart­phones by choos­ing their fa­vorite fonts from among 17 type­faces. Pre­vi­ously, only Uchen, the clas­sic block-style Ti­betan script, was of­fered.

The fonts have quickly been adopted by com­puter users and pub­lish­ing houses as well.

The tech­ni­cal ad­vances achieved by Ti­betan re­searchers over the course of eight years have made dig­i­tal Ti­betan stylish, said Nor­gye, di­rec­tor of the In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter of the Minzu Pub­lish­ing House, which re­leased the new fonts in mid-Novem­ber.

“It’s like hav­ing only one set of cloth­ing for a long time. Sud­denly, you can dress up and pick what­ever you want from the closet for dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. Such change is ex­hil­a­rat­ing to end users,” Nor­gye said.

As at least eight of the fonts are based on the hand­writ­ing of fa­mous Ti­betan cal­lig­ra­phers, the Qo­molangma fonts dis­play the essence of Ti­betan let­ter­ing de­sign.

The break­through re­quired overcoming many dif­fi­cul­ties, as the rules re­lated to hand­writ­ten Ti­betan vary ex­ten­sively, said Lu Ya­jun, of the Ti­betol­ogy In­sti­tute at the Northwest Univer­sity for Na­tion­al­i­ties. The stroke of one vowel can ex­tend over sev­eral words, for ex­am­ple, quite a chal­lenge for dig­i­tal me­dia, he said.

“Com­pared with the pre­vi­ous stiff Ti­betan fonts avail­able, the new Qo­molangma fonts are more flex­i­ble. With the stretched strokes, they of­ten re­mind me of shad­ow­box­ing,” Lu said.

Lu, who has stud­ied Ti­betan cul­ture for decades, said he was im­pressed by the Ti­betan peo­ple’s pas­sion for cal­lig­ra­phy. Ti­betan chil­dren tra­di­tion­ally prac­tice hand­writ­ing with a bam­boo pen on a sand-cov­ered plank to im­prove their writ­ing skills be­fore mov­ing onto pa­per. ATi­betan id­iom even likens a good au­thor with poor hand­writ­ing to a war­rior with a bro­ken arm, he said.

To quench the pub­lic thirst for stylish Ti­betan fonts in the dig­i­tal world, the re­search cen­ter launched the govern­ment-funded pro­ject in 2007.

An ex­pert panel was or­ga­nized to de­cide the style of each font so that the Qo­molangma fonts could meet the aes­thetic pref­er­ences of Ti­betans in dif­fer­ent re­gions, said Tashi Tser­ing, a re­searcher who led the pro­ject.

Apart from be­ing artis­tic, the Qo­molangma fonts also had to dis­play a strong his­tor­i­cal fla­vor while meet­ing the dif­fer­ent needs of pub­lish­ing houses.

The most eye-catch­ing fonts are the Qo­molangma-Dunhuang, which is based on Ti­betan works col­lected in the Dunhuang Grot­toes in Gansu prov­ince, the old­est Ti­betan works on mu­rals; the Qo­molangma-Wood­block, which is based on the scrip­tures in the Dre­pung Monastery in Lhasa; the Qo­molang­maE­dict, which is based on an­cient im­pe­rial edicts and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments; and the Qo­molangma-Ho­ryig, which is based on his­tor­i­cal stamps and doc­u­ments.

To Tashi Tser­ing’s sur­prise, the Ho­ryig font pre­vi­ously re­served for the seals of im­pe­rial fam­i­lies and pres­ti­gious liv­ing Bud­dhas was par­tic­u­larly wel­comed by users. It al­lows a pub­lish­ing house to test a ver­ti­cal lay­out for the first time and gives Ti­betans a chance to have their ownseals.“Ho­ryig fonts are not easy to rec­og­nize and are barely used now. Grow­ing in­ter­est might re­vive the use of the dy­ing font,” he said.

When Tashi Tser­ing was study­ing at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in 1985, IBM had just be­gan man­u­fac­tur­ing per­sonal com­put­ers.

“When I first sawChi­nese char­ac­ters pop up on the screen, I started to dream big. I wished one day Ti­betan could also be typed and I thought I could be the one to stand up and give it a try,” he said.

In the fol­low­ing years, he has stud­ied com­puter tech­nol­ogy at Ts­inghua and Ti­betan atMinzuUniver­sity of China. Af­ter join­ing the re­search cen­ter upon grad­u­a­tion, he de­voted him­self fully to the de­vel­op­ment of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in the Ti­betan lan­guage.

Over the past 30 years, he has par­tic­i­pated in the de­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese and in­ter­na­tional com­puter cod­ing stan­dards for Ti­betan, in­vented the Hi­malaya Ti­betan font for Mi­crosoft and com­piled the Ti­betan-Chi­nese-English In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Dic­tio­nary.

Based on in­ter­na­tional en­cod­ing stan­dards and OpenType tech­nol­ogy, the New Qo­molangma fonts adapt to the op­er­a­tion sys­tems of Win­dows, Mac­in­tosh, An­droid and Linux, and are highly com­pat­i­ble with dif­fer­ent com­put­ers and smart­phones.

As pre­vi­ous fonts were de­vel­oped ac­cord­ing to self-de­fined cod­ing stan­dards, they would ap­pear as gib­ber­ish on other op­er­at­ing sys­tems, mak­ing Ti­betan data­base con­struc­tion very in­ef­fi­cient.

Lu, of the Ti­betol­ogy In­sti­tute, said more and more tech­ni­cians re­al­ized the on­ly­way Ti­betans could em­brace in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy was to fol­low in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized stan­dards.

“The spread of the Qo­molangma fonts will def­i­nitely speed up the process,” he said.

In the past few weeks, Tashi Tser­ing has re­ceived good feed­back from users, in­clud­ing phone pro­duc­ers seek­ing au­tho­riza­tion to pre-in­stall a cer­tain font on their prod­ucts and pub­lish­ing houses so­lic­it­ing help in pro­cess­ing com­pli­cated Ti­betan words.

Free down­loads of the Ti­betan fonts have pleased many smart­phone sellers in Lhasa be­cause they have helped their busi­ness.

“This is a good thing for Ti­betan peo­ple as the Ti­betan lan­guage is widely used in Ti­bet, and it has brought great con­ve­niences for them,” said Yan Baichuan, 39, a mo­bile phone shop owner in Lhasa.

With the emer­gence of Ti­betan for smart­phones, iPhones no longer dom­i­nate the mo­bile phone mar­ket in Ti­betan ar­eas. They are too ex­pen­sive for many Ti­betans in pas­toral and farm­ing ar­eas.

“Now the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple can buy less ex­pen­sive cell­phones and in­stall Ti­betan fonts them­selves. More Ti­betans can ben­e­fit from dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy,” said Dor­dram, vice-pres­i­dent of Gansu Nor­mal Univer­sity of Na­tion­al­i­ties in­Hezuo, Gansu.

Drolma, 26, a Ti­betan mo­bile phone seller in Lhasa, said it’s easy to down­load Ti­betan to the An­droid smart­phones. “It has be­come a trend that Ti­betan cus­tomers al­ways ask the seller if a phone can down­load the Ti­betan lan­guage be­fore de­cide to buy one,” he said.

To down­load the fonts for free, users can log on to yala­ A copy­book of the Qo­molangma fonts has also been pub­lished by the China Ti­betol­ogy Pub­lish­ing­House.


Cheng Yun­jie and Palden Ny­ima con­trib­uted to this story.


The Qo­molangma-Ho­ryig font, a pop­u­lar type­face among the Qo­molangma Ti­betan fonts, was once re­served for the seals of im­pe­rial fam­i­lies and liv­ing Bud­dhas.

The other three fonts among the 17 type­faces of­fered by the Qo­molangma Ti­betan fonts by the China Ti­betol­ogy Re­search Cen­ter.

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