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article imageGoogle Noto is a font with every language in human history

By James Walker     Oct 7, 2016 in Technology
Google has announced the most ambitious font creation project ever undertaken. In collaboration with foundry Monotype, the company has created a font family that includes every character and language in history, a single unified font for all.
Google Noto is a typeface that includes dozens of fonts for different languages and styles. It was released today for free for any kind of usage under the OFL license. As part of the project, you'll find characters ranging from modern English to scripts last used in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Creating Noto has been a monumental effort that's taken the best part of five years of largely secret work.
The version of Noto released today covers over 800 languages and includes more than 110,000 characters. Google created Noto out of a desire to build a "no more tofu" font project. "Tofu" refers to the blank boxes displayed on websites and in apps when a device isn't able to display a font character. This occurs when the character can't be found in any installed font, such as when viewing foreign language texts or material that uses historic scripts.
Fed up with running into tofu issues while building Android and ChromeOS, operating systems designed to be used by millions of people worldwide, Google started work on Noto out of necessity. The original aim was to build a single cohesive font covering hundreds of languages, ensuring any text displayed in Android and ChromeOS would have a matching character in the system font. Over time, the scope of the project grew as Google expanded the number of languages included and brought in specialists for help with specific scripts.
Noto is no longer a font aimed solely at ending the tofu problem on digital devices. Google now views it as a way to preserve the history and culture of rare and endangered languages, keeping them alive through digitisation. The company intends to add every new character introduced into the Unicode standard to Noto. It is working with Monotype, Adobe and volunteer reviewers to make this possible.
The help it has received has enabled Google to create a "beautiful and consistent" typeface joining every character currently defined by Unicode. The English alphabet, modern Arabic, ancient Tibetan, contemporary emoji and hundreds more have all been represented in a single typeface, creating the largest font family in history. Every Noto character has a distinct look and feel, linking centuries-old scriptures with emoji introduced earlier this year.
"Google Noto is a daunting project in size and scope, and I'm proud of how we've worked hard over the past five years to develop a really good product that solves a problem no one else has taken on before," Bob Jung, director of internationalization at Google said to TechCrunch in a statement. "Our goal for Noto has been to create fonts for our devices, but we're also very interested in keeping information alive. When it comes to some of these lesser used languages, or even the purely academic or dead languages, we think it’s really important to preserve them. Without the digital capability of Noto, it’s much more difficult to preserve that cultural resource."
Noto is now available for designers and developers to use in their products. For apps and services that need to be available in regions across the world, Noto could be an important resource to have access to. While not the most exciting or inspiring font, as a functional typeface it excels in its scale and scope. Google's commitment to keep expanding Noto could make it an important record of the evolution of human communication and language over time.
You can download Noto from Google's website dedicated to the project. The complete typeface weighs in at 472.6 MB. Individual font faces can be downloaded separately, letting you acquire parts of Noto as required. Google has also uploaded the fonts and tools used in Noto's development to its GitHub repository, letting other font creators see how it was built.
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