Project Noto, one of Google's most ambitious undertakings ever, reached a milestone last week with the company announcing that Noto now supports 800 languages and 100 writing scripts.
Noto is short for 'No Tofu. Outside the typographic world, tofu is something to eat — but to insiders, it is those annoying rectangles that appear on the screen when a computer does not have a font to display the characters in a document or on a Web page. Noto is Google’s answer to tofu.
Google, alongside Monotype, one of the world's leading companies specialized in digital typesetting and typeface design, launched an open-source initiative to develop a font family called Noto. The Noto typeface family, which has both serif and sans serif letters in up to eight weights, along with numbers, symbols, musical notations and emojis is capable of providing a harmonious look and feel to the display of nearly all languages in the world, even rarely used languages.
All Noto fonts can be downloaded for free from https://www.google.com/get/noto/.
Hundreds of researchers, designers, linguists, cultural experts and project managers around the world were involved with the ongoing process of developing Noto. New scripts are added to the Unicode Standard, which is a character coding system designed to support the worldwide interchange, processing and display of written texts representing the diverse languages. Essentially, the standard aims to establish a unique combination of numbers for every character in every written language ever written.
"The aim of the Noto project is to provide digital representation to all the scripts in the Unicode Standard," said Kamal Mansour, a linguistic typographer at Monotype. "That in particular is something that many different language communities could not afford to do on their own."
As happens with Google projects from time to time, Noto began as an internal project. "Our goal for Noto has been to create fonts for our devices, but we're also very interested in keeping information alive," said Bob Jung, director of internationalization at Google.
Google believes it's really important to preserve even dead languages, he added, and "without the digital capability of Noto, it's much more difficult to preserve that cultural resource."
When adding languages to Noto, priority is given to widely used languages, but it's important to support other languages, too, even if no one is still speaking them, said Google Product Manager Xiangye Xiao.
"There are some characters you can only see on stones," she explained. "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."