Catching up

It’s been a loooong while I haven’t written anything on this blog, because of the summer holidays (not really holidays), the dissertation and my trying to settle in the second year of my MA. Busy times.

Summer internship

First of all, I’ve spent my summer interning for Portland Design, a design agency focusing on signage and ‘telling stories’ in spaces. I’ve been there for three months full time, assisting senior designers in way finding/signage projects for Saint Pancras station and Sowwah Square in Abu Dhabi and an editorial design project for an estate development. As my first full time internship I have learnt quite a lot, essentially how an agency works, how the ‘real world’ works, as I haven’t had any experience prior to that. Processes, speed and generally how things are done, who to speak to (suppliers etc), how to deal with everything and so on.


Despite my summer internship on the weekdays I was working at the cafe I work for on the weekends (that makes 7 days work per week) that make impossible to work on my dissertation which I submitted in the beginning of October. Of course I have done a bit of holidays in Scotland for a week (yeah not the best place to go for summer holidays, but good enough for a broke postgraduate student). The picture below shows one of the things I’ve done (climbing mountains, meeting friends, having massive burgers etc).Screen shot 2013-09-08 at 00.22.57


So having spent the first week of September in Scotland I had 3 intensive weeks to finish my dissertation (after the 5000 words draft I submitted in May) which had to reach 10000 words (the minimum was 6000 although that number wasn’t enough for what I wanted to say). Other than seating on a chair in my room my activities were limited to going to work, going to the supermarket and a bit of jogging for a break. Fun!

So a bit about my dissertation to begin the year with:

Since my Bachelor studies I was interested in the idiosyncratic uses of language as a result of the Internet and two of my case studies were ‘Greeklish’ (Latinised Greek) and Latinised Arabic. As a start I looked at ‘The Shallows’, a book by Nicholas Carr talking about how the Internet is rewiring our brains and observing Internet behaviours that we all have today: multitasking, scattered brain/behaviours, skim and scan reading habits, short attention span – all results of the nature of the Internet as a fast tool delivering stimulus to the brain from 34765890 sources. This is not new as Nietzsche one said that “our writing instruments contribute to our thoughts” when he started using a typewriter, which is very much true.

When computers were invented they were only supporting ASCII characters based on the English language (guess what, because it was invented in the Americas?) and this had a negative impact to non-Latin alphabets: they had to invent a new way of communicating via email, by adopting the Latin alphabet to represent the sounds in their own language, hence the ‘birth’ of ‘Greeklish’ and so on (from the merge of the words Greek and English).

Although the technological factor is new to the change of languages, the history tells us that languages are rather political: English is the dominant language because of the imperialism, the industrial revolution and the rise of the USA as the world power. The English is viewed as a ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu), the ‘road’ to the ‘global village’ and worldwide opportunities, to international business. The majority of the users of Latinised versions of non-Latin scripts are English learners that found as a solution to use a single platform to speak both in English and their language as English words are part of their everyday discussions.

These Latinised versions of scripts are strangely showed as ‘cool’ by those young people, presenting it as the ‘Internet code’ or a ‘youth language’ just as much text speak (abbreviated words) was the ‘cool’ thing to use with the overuse of the mobile phones. This is proved by one of the editors of Arabic magazines written in Latinised Arabic when asked by a researcher what it would change if it was written in normal Arabic when she asked back “But what would it be special about the magazine then?” suggesting that it could be just another Arabic magazine, therefore suggesting ‘boring’ Arabic magazine and xenophilia, brainwashed by westernisation.

In the case of ‘Greeklish’ (Latinised Greek) there’s a historical background -it’s been used by Greek traders (ethnically non-Greek) and in areas under Venetian rule in the 19th century in Greece. Then the problem was merely political now the problem is also technological. In the case of ‘Greeklish’ though there has been an official response, that of the Athens Academy, which released a letter to preserve the language as the paramount symbol of the Greek civilisation.

My observation is that the Latinisation of the scripts happens because of efficiency and productivity as young people are all learners of the English language and they want a single ‘platform’ to communicate both in their language and in English, leading to at some point to a form of hybridisation of two scripts, then to a homogenisation of the world to one single script and to ‘localisation’, a concept translated that something local adopts useful elements from the ‘global’ which this blend later becomes popular enough to be distributed to the ‘global’ again, the more positive concept in comparison to the other two – a good example for glocalisation is McDonald’s (global business) in Greece and Cyprus serving ‘Greek Mac’ (a McDonald’s version of greek gyros) which later became popular in other countries with the result for those countries to meet the greek gyros (but in a bad way of course).

It would have been a shame not to include design responses to this, so first of all I included Saad Abulhab, a type designer making simplified Arabic fonts, which consist of separate letters than traditional continuous lettering, with no alternative glyphs (the letters in Arabic change in relation to the others, so every letter has 4 alternative forms) and can be written from left to right. This obviously makes it able for mass production and adopts elements from the Latin alphabet. He also states that by doing this he doesn’t completely override the Arabic script with the Latin one although he’s taking away the calligraphic identity of the Arabic script.

On the other hand, in the 90’s when programmers started developing digital type formats to support alternative characters for Arabic, the Latin-based type designers embraced this with new digital calligraphic fonts, escaping the norm of ‘form follows function’ and going back to more expressive solutions (example) contradicting to what Abulhab is trying to do.

Another interesting approach is that of the project ‘Typographic Matchmaking in the City’ by Khatt Foundation, bringing Dutch and Arab type designers to create bi-lingual fonts for public spaces with the challenge to make them harmonious in both scripts. This allows for interaction and a dialogue between the designers.

The example of Turkish is a good reference, as there’s a break between Ottoman Turkish and Modern Turkish: Ottoman Turkish was written with a version of a Perso-Arabic script, with word loans from Arabic and Persian. After the reform of Kemal Ataturk with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the turkish language was latinised because it was representing better the turkish sounds, it was easier for the mass amount of illiterates of the country to learn turkish but also because the president wanted to bring Turkey closer to the West, as he viewed the Latin alphabet as the modern, secular way to do it (he also dropped all the Perso-Arabic loans and replaced them with turkish words). This is a danger for the continuity of a culture as many artefacts probably have been left intentionally not transliterated to Modern Turkish, for the next generations, as they weren’t presenting views the modernisation wanted to promote, leading to the alteration of the history.

My last example was that of a Cypriot graphic designer making a project which adds new letters to the greek alphabet with the intention to represent the sounds of the cypriot greek dialect, a dialect used for everyday conversation but not for official uses. Although with the rise of the mobile phones and the online communication the cypriot dialect has seen a rise in the written form as of course online communication is mainly informal and of everyday use. There are poems in cypriot written in the greek script although they don’t represent exactly the cypriot sounds (for example the sound ‘sh’ as in ‘shower’ cannot be represented with the greek script, but it exists in the local spoken dialect of cyprus). With the lack of support of the Greek script in the early years of the computer, this actually had some positive element: the Latin script represents better the cypriot sounds, although the conservative views of the cypriot population would never lead into Latinisation if it ever comes to the cypriot dialect to be established as the official language of Cyprus (some additional insights, turkish cypriots before the Turkish invasion in 1974 and the current situation of the country illegally divided in two, were also speaking the cypriot dialect, although the new generations of turkish cypriots do not speak it). Her project finds a solution between Latinisation and the conservative views on language by altering the greek alphabet so that it doesn’t break the continuity and the origin of it.

My conclusion doesn’t say anything spectacular, I’m although stating that we should learn how to control the speed the Internet is so making us seek for, which is reflected in the Latinised scripts as the ‘efficient’ solution. We shouldn’t leave technology and specifically the Internet to homogenise the world, we should use the Internet to question and challenge our scripts in order to find something new by interacting, exchanging knowledge and a dialogue between scripts and languages and allowing coexistence and collaboration, leading to redefinition of our scripts.



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