29 October, 2007
Fonts in Space
Our erstwhile language researcher and font developer Luke Joyner (not pictured) files this dispatch from the campus of the University of Chicago:
A recent late-show at U. Chicago's Doc Films was Plan 10 from Outer Space, a stinker of a B-movie that's somehow unrelated to Plan 9 from Outer Space, Ed Wood's better-known cult classic. Plan 10 includes the standard staples of the genre: extraterrestrials with beehives for heads, musical numbers, an assassin in the employ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and a major plot point involving typography.
The story rests on the contents of an ancient text written in the Deseret alphabet, a bonafide orthography developed in the nineteenth century under the direction of Mormon leader Brigham Young. Spelling reform has a long history, as does the invention of writing systems by those with missionary ambitions; these goals came together in the person of Young, who sought a new phonetic alphabet that would more unambiguously render the sounds of the English language.
Like most phonetic alphabets, Deseret was doomed to reach only a limited audience — but perhaps one that's now expanding, thanks to the 80-minute Plan 10? The font debuts in the film's opening credits, and goes on to appear on a metal plaque, and finally on a vintage green-on-black CRT monitor operated by the protagonist (it was 1994, after all.) In any case, Deseret seems poised to enter this century in earnest: the Unicode Consortium, whose character encodings form the underpinnings of today's OpenType fonts, has included all 80 Deseret characters in its established specifications. If you can read that page, you've got Deseret on your computer. And if you've got Deseret on your computer, can the hiveheads be far behind? — LJ