This post is dedicated to my very fabulous friend and designer Fil Vocasek who helped me sashay through the world of fonts.
I’ve been thinking about fonts and no, I am not a designer. In fact, up until I worked with designers, I had never really noticed the existence of fonts on a conscious level. Now, I have yet to find my perfect match and often long for the days of my blissful unawareness.
So why was I thinking of fonts? Well it has everything to do with this crazy idea of mine to learn to read and write Thai. This little project is for the most part going rather poorly. Lack of sustained attention and other more pressing issues have been getting in the way and I’ve just taken a 3 week break from my class which is to say I’ll be back at square one when I resume classes next week. That said, I have learned all the basic consonants and vowels — all 44 of them— and in a bid to try to keep these fresh in my mind, I’ve been looking at signs and storefronts when my taxi sits idling in traffic. Given that I live in Bangkok, this happens a lot!
But I am getting ahead of myself. The way I was taught the letters at my Thai School was 3 fold:
- We were introduced to small groups of consonants and vowels that shared certain characteristics like being high or low, short or long, and paired them together in both writing and pronunciation. There was a lot of repetition involved writing out the letters.
- We also spent time reading them out across, down and diagonally in table form to try to avoid learning the sounds by rote.
- Finally we would finish with dictation of the actual alphabet followed by groups of sounds like bapadosila.
Another form of quizzing came in a flash card format:
My teacher would show me a card and I would have to respond with the name of the letter. Here is where the trouble began. Look at the picture above. This letter is a low-class consonant called Ho. And yes, even letters have classes here in Thailand. The thing is, when I learned this letter, its bottom was curved like an O, not square. To make matters worse, there are other letters that I’ve been taught with square bottoms that I now come across in a font where they are curved or edgeless. Having dutifully studied, I was none too pleased to find myself failing the quiz by not recognizing letters due to font issues. “Foul play!” I cried, having not gotten over needing the affirmation of good grades. Pathetic…I know.
This is how I got to thinking about fonts and the role they play. See, until now, fonts may have been, on occasion, a serious affront to my senses —honestly, how does anyone still use Comic Sans MS these days? <she types ignoring the fact that she once actually had her CV in that font>— but apart from the pain to my delicate eyes, things were always legible.
Now when I’ve sat in my taxi in traffic, I think I might have understood…actually that is very ambitious so let me rephrase that…I might have deciphered the letters, but for whatever reason, like trying to stand out or a sale on really bad lettering, most of the signs and awnings are totally illegible to me. It simply takes too long to figure out what has been done to the letter for me to figure it out, even in Bangkok standstill traffic.
It will come as no surprise then that I was interested in learning that Nokia has designed a new font that will work in any language, which must actually be more difficult than it initially sounds. I am also saddened by the fact that I’ve just written a post on fonts. Seriously, how boring is that? Kudos to anyone who actually made it through this post in its entirety.