fonts for Aleut linguistics

aric's picture

I'm looking for fonts suitable for use in my master's thesis, which will deal with the computerizing of an Aleut-English dictionary. Modern Aleut orthography has only two tricky characters, g with a circumflex and x with a circumflex. However, I anticipate needing to include several sample entries from the dictionary, and the dictionary uses a plethora of accented or otherwise special characters, some of which are only supported in Unicode via combining diacritics. So criterion number one is to find a font that supports (most of) the characters I need.

Criterion number two is that it have bold and italic variants. Small caps sure would be nice, as would the complete International Phonetic Alphabet.

There are a handful of free fonts that meet criteria one and two; the best one I have so far is Charis SIL. I've also looked at Doulos SIL, Aboriginal Serif and Aboriginal Sans (from, Junicode and Linux Libertine. In the absence of anything better, I'm really glad to have these fonts, but I wonder if anybody knows of some other (more professional) options. Ideally I'd like to have a sans-serif font and a serif font that complement each other; it seems to be popular in lexicographic typesetting to have a bold sans-serif font for headwords and source-language material and a serif font for most of the other stuff.

I'm attaching a file showing the characters used in the dictionary. If anyone knows of fonts that might fit the bill, I'd love to hear about them.


characters.pdf33.77 KB
Michel Boyer's picture

You could also check the Computer Modern family of fonts. To see what the version of the American Mathematical Society looks like, you can have a look at the file cmsample.pdf which is the pdflatex output from the AMS .tex sample file.

There are otf extensions of those fonts. The most complete I have found is here on I can't guarantee its quality (the fonts seem to be intended for use on X-Windows), but it gives almost all the characters you need in serif and sans, both bold and regular. Here are what my script reported as missing characters from your list:

   uni1D4D uni1D58 are missing from

   cmunss.otf      CMUSansSerif
   cmunsx.otf      CMUSansSerif-Bold
   cmunsi.otf      CMUSansSerif-Oblique

   cmunrm.otf      CMUSerif-Roman
   cmunsl.otf      CMUSerif-RomanSlanted
   cmunbx.otf      CMUSerif-Bold
   cmunbl.otf      CMUSerif-BoldSlanted

   cmunbmr.otf     CMUBright-Roman
   cmunbmo.otf     CMUBright-Oblique
   cmunbsr.otf     CMUBright-SemiBold
   cmunbso.otf     CMUBright-SemiBoldOblique
   cmunbbx.otf     CMUBright-Bold
   cmunbxo.otf     CMUBright-BoldOblique
   cmunrb.otf      CMUSerif-BoldNonextended

   uni0259 uni0263 uni0294 uni02B3 uni1D4D uni1D58 are missing from

   cmunti.otf      CMUSerif-Italic
   cmunbi.otf      CMUSerif-BoldItalic
   cmunci.otf      CMUClassicalSerif-Italic
   cmunso.otf      CMUSansSerif-BoldOblique


paul d hunt's picture

i believe Segoe UI has combining diacritics, a bold version & full IPA set.
No Serif or Smallcaps though.

You might look at Fedra.

paul d hunt's picture

or... you might find a fontface you like with a EULA, which allows for modifications and have a type designer modify it specifically to fit your needs.

Si_Daniels's picture

Vista versions of Arial and TNR include the combining diacritics OpenType code and all the needed base characters (same goes for the Windows Vista UI fonts). But I'd agree with Paul custom would be the way to go so you can make sure the needed characters and diacritic combinations are optimized for this language.

Michel Boyer's picture

> I’d agree with Paul custom would be the way to go

Would you add ligatures for the combinations or just adjust the kerning?

aric's picture

Michel, Paul, Simon,

Sorry for not replying sooner--I gave up on this thread after about a week and didn't realize anyone had responded. Thanks for all the input!

Michel, I use LaTeX regularly but I haven't used Computer Modern in years. I guess I forgot about it. It's not my favorite font family, but now that you mention it I'm sure it covers the bases. Thanks for the suggestion.

Paul, thanks for the pointers. Fedra is an impressive family.

Paul and Simon, custom modifications to a font sounds wonderful but also pricey, especially for a starving student trying to support a family of four. What's the going rate for, say, a dozen new characters and four combining diacritics tuned to seven specific base+diacritic combinations?

Michel Boyer's picture

> Michel, I use LaTeX regularly but I haven’t used Computer Modern in years.

The same is true with me; I mainly use pdflatex with utopia. However, the sans serif CMU Bright should in my opinion not be overlooked. Here is a parallel between CMU Bright and Myriad Pro, that I made to get a feeling of how both handle diacritics.

> custom modifications to a font sounds wonderful but also pricey

It is my feeling that you could do that yourself. Copying two letters, shrinking them to 65% horizontally and 55% vertically, moving them up and fixing the sidebearings is in my opinion no big deal. Moving around a few diacritics is (still in my opinion) closer to editing than to font design. I am certainly no font designer but that's the kind of thing I can do (as well as adding a custom GSUB table to get the character variants I want). One problem with CMU Bright is that it is not class kerned and so, if you add a "ligature" x_hat, you cannot add it to the same left and right kerning class as x, but I think that's a minor problem.


John Hudson's picture

Check out Plantagenet Novus, Ross Mill's ever expanding typeface that supports a large number of North American aboriginal languages:

It isn't on general release yet, but special licenses and even private builds can be requested.

aric's picture

Michel, this is something I'd like to know more about. Can you recommend resources where I can learn to do what you describe?

John, the Plantagenet Novus character set is an Americanist's dream come true. This font looks very promising for the task at hand (and many more, I'm sure). Thanks for the pointer.

Michel Boyer's picture

> Can you recommend resources where I can learn to do what you describe?

I use FontForge which comes with online documentation (just follow the links). For your needs, that should be enough. If you use a PowerPC with OS X 10.4, I keep resources here.


Michel Boyer's picture

Another interesting project is the DejaVu fonts. The characters you need are all there (but no small caps). The diacritics are anchor positioned. The dot under the lslash (0142 0323 combination) is way off but all you need to do to reposition it is to add the proper anchor at the lslash's bottom (you copy the anchor at l's bottom and paste it at lslash's bottom); here is a xeLaTeX output (after repositioning).


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