lingua universal



Google is explicit: “Make all the world’s information universally accessible and useful.”

If your device does not recognize a font, it renders little boxes in the character space—unofficially called “tofu.” Google and design company Monotype have been working for over 5 years towards creating a linguistically universal font, one that will render any language on any device : it’s called Noto (no tofu, GET IT!?).

Is there in “digital” the potential for universal language? What does it mean when “universalism” is designed and asserted by commercial actors? Is the effort necessarily more about power, more a move like “commercial imperialism?” Monotype, for its part, tried to be sensitive to this:

Describing the company’s approach to Tibetan, for example, Monotype did “deep research into a vast library of writings and source material, and then enlisted the help of a Buddhist monastery to critique the font and make adjustments. The monks’ constant study of Tibetan manuscripts made them the ideal experts to evaluate Noto Tibetan, and were instrumental in the final design of the font.”

Can a non-imperial universalism be mediated by a multi-lingual digital platform? Readings this week suggest directing this question to the inbuilt protocologic forms brokering digital exchange, where “control” describes our User Interface. Perhaps the question is rather: can a non-imperial universalism be operationalized via any structured interface?


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