The Armenian alphabet: research into historical types and the development of new digital typefaces

Lead Research Organisation: University of Lincoln
Department Name: Lincoln School of Art & Design


The context of the research:

The long history of Armenia has been one of persecution, oppression and war.
Regularly subjected to invasion and genocide from neighbouring countries, the Armenians have relied throughout history on their ancient language and culture to ensure the survival of their identity. Now, more Armenian people live in other parts of the world than live in 21st century Armenia. However, the Armenians attempt to keep their culture and language alive in their international communities and their unique alphabet is key in this.

The Armenian alphabet is a phonetic alphabet (ie. each character represents a sound, both vowels and consonants) which was originally devised in the 5th century by a monk, Mesrob Mashtots (St. Mesrob, c.361/440) who is said to have seen the letters in a vision from God. This alphabet was adopted in 406 AD by an edict of the Armenian King, and most letters have remained fundamentally unchanged since then. So, due to this, the Armenian alphabet is fundamental to Armenian religion, language, literature and culture.

Type design
Type design is a highly specialised area of graphic design which requires considerable skill and knowledge, particularly in the revival of traditional 'classic' typefaces. The applicant has already conducted a survey, with case studies of some of the most highly acclaimed type designers in the world, in order to ascertain the best practice in design methodology for this subject.

Originally, when printing was invented by Gutenberg in 1450s Europe, and for hundreds of years afterwards, type existed as metal objects, for relief printing, manufactured by craftsmen in an arcane tradition. The twentieth century technological developments changed this, originally through the introduction of a range of photographic methods requiring drawn originals, many of which revived typefaces from the earlier technology. Now, type is generated digitally and exists as software programs to be installed on computers. There are many tens of thousands of typefaces for the Latin alphabet available for keyboarded setting on computers and some of the most popular and highly readable 'classics', used daily, are based on designs originating in the sixteenth century.

Methodology for the project
It is proposed that Carolyn Puzzovio, the applicant, will visit Yerevan for one week, in order to consult with Professor Edik Ghabuzian on the developmental stages (sketches, drawings, photographs) of the project and to consult the books in the Matenadaran Library. She will continue the project in the UK and via 'virtual' exchanges of files via email with digital file attachments of the work-in-progress with Edik Ghabuzian in Armenia. The applicant has already been funded by the University of Lincoln to purchase a laptop computer and software ('Fontlab Studio 5') for the project and so files can be exchanged in '.vfb' format.

The in-depth knowledge of the Armenian font's legibility, together with technical expertise (as a mathematician) is to be the contribution of Professor Ghabuzian. The creative input and in-depth knowledge of the Latin alphabet and of graphic design will be the contribution from Carolyn Puzzovio though both parties will agree design decisions and create the digitised work using 'Fontlab Studio 5' software.

Following this will be the production of highly refined and tested typeface designs, to be made available as a series of cross-platform (Unicode) digital fonts on CD-ROM, accompanied by an information/sample broadsheet or booklet, publicised on the internet; through professional organisations and possibly through a commercial font distributor.


10 25 50