Monday, June 18, 2007

Unicode fonts for biblical studies

A post over on Tim Bulkeley's SansBlogue focuses on the advantages of Unicode. I want to add a few comments. (BTW, my comments are based on using WinXP. I'm not certain what differences are involved with Vista.)

  • What font should I use? Personally, I most use and have required my students to use David J. Perry's Cardo font. I like it because it is attractive, is weighted enough to be easily viewed when using PowerPoint or in print, is free, and contains all the characters needed for biblical scholars using Greek or Hebrew or doing textual criticism. That said, John Hudson working on behalf of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) has been creating Unicode fonts, and these are likely to become publishing standards. (Here is the SBL page. Note that keyboard drivers and the SBL legacy fonts are also available here.) For now, only the SBLHebrew has been released, though SBLGreek has been released in beta. When both are done, there will also be a SBLBibLit released that combines the two. There are quite a few other nice fonts out there, and the best place to see picture samples of almost all the Greek Unicode fonts is here. Links are provided to download sites. The beauty of Unicode, of course, is that you can any of these fonts for now, and it will be easy to change them to any other Unicode font later on.
  • How do I install the font? This may seem like a simple question for many people who have been working with fonts and know to download, unzip, install. My experience has taught me that this is a confusing and frustrating process for many. For this reason, I set up a page of instructions for my students, but the bottom line is that the easiest way to install fonts is to go to: "Fonts for Biblical Studies" (Tyndale House). Use the "Tyndale Unicode Font Kit" available for either PCs or Macs. This will automatically install the Cardo font and setup keyboards (see below). If you just want to install Cardo on its own or the SBL Hebrew among some other fonts, try the's Font Installation Wizard. BTW, on my page of instructions, I also provide some guidance on making sure the fonts work in your internet browser. I also strongly encourage and give directions on enabling ClearType. It almost always makes a drastic improvement in font legibility.
  • How do I type in Greek/Hebrew? If you use the Tyndale Unicode Font Kit I just mentioned, it provides very clear, step-by-step instructions for enabling typing in polytonic Greek and Hebrew. I am not, however, particularly fond of their keyboard, especially with its treatment of accents and breathing marks. (They have to be typed before you type the vowel.) I prefer the keyboards that Logos provides on this page. (A couple notes: I personally like having the Greek chi mapped to "x" and xi mapped to "z" as with the old SPIonic or SGreek font. I modified the Logos keyboard and you can follow steps to use it here. There appear to be a few quirks with how accents are rendered, and I have been having some troubles as I have been experimenting with the new Word 2007.)
Let me know if you have better solutions, or if you have experience with how Vista is dealing with fonts and such. Thanks.

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