Google's open source Noto: Free font covers 800 languages, including dead ones

Google and Monotype's new font, Noto, brings some written languages to the web for the first time.

Google has released a new open-source font called Noto, which supports 800 languages and covers 110 writing systems.

Short for 'No more Tofu', the name of the new typeface is a nod to what people call the default white boxes that appear when a computer doesn't understand a character on a website.

"One of the goals of the project was to support every language and every character, so one of the things we wanted to do was make sure there's no tofu for all our users," said Bob Jung, an director of internationalization at Google.

The huge project was carried out by Google and type firm Monotype over five years, resulting in a single font in eight weights that covers 800 languages supported by the Unicode standard.

Noto consists of 110,000 characters and 110 writing systems. To ensure consistency with Unicode, Google intends to update Noto as new characters are introduced to Unicode, such as the recent emoji updates. It's also available under an Open Font License, allowing developers to add to the design of scripts, and use them freely.

According to Jung, the project started out as a necessity to eradicate tofu from ChromeOS and Android products and now Noto is used to display text, emoji and music symbols on these devices.

Google says Noto should be thought of as "stylish yet conservative item of clothing" that doesn't go out of fashion after one season since it's intended to ensure readability across languages while retaining each script's unique character.

The Noto fonts serve both as an access function for lesser-used languages and as a way to help preserve written languages.

The family, for example, includes Noto Sans Canadian Aboriginal, a writing system used in several indigenous languages in Canada and spoken by fewer than 250,000 people.

Monotype highlights that Noto offers the first digital version of Urdu Nastaliq, a writing system used by 100 million people that hasn't been supported on the web.

Pakistani writer Ali Eteraz in 2013 wrote about his battle to have Urdu Nastaliq recognized by platform providers such as Microsoft and Apple, but in a 2014 interview with NPR was suspicious of Google's intentions under Noto.

Another supported system is Noto Ogham, which brings to the web an alphabet from the fourth century that is found mostly on monuments and manuscripts.

"If you don't move them to the web, over time those stones will become sand and we'll never be able to recover those drawings or that writing," said Noto product manager Xiangye Xiao.

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