Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SBL Fonts Presentation at SBL

SBL Fonts Presentation at SBL 2011
Christopher Hooker provided a helpful background on electronic fonts tracing back to ASCII, the older SP fonts, and to the new SBL fonts. He noted such issues as:
  • Limitations with ASCII, especially that could only handle 256 characters
  • The difficulties with keyboard input, especially with non-standardized inputs in the old True Typefonts
  • The difficulties with keyboard input for right-to-left languages
Christopher Hooker
The solution was Unicode that provides standardization for glyph mapping and explicitly included classical and historical texts. The beauty of Unicode is that it is fully cross-platform and has an expanded character range that allows for 1,048,576 characters. Hence, even scripts like Ugaritic or Eygptian Cunieform have standardized locations.
With the pre-Unicode fonts, switching to type in another language really meant switching to another font. With Unicode, what you primarily are doing is switching to a different keyboard. (Note this means a virtual keyboard accessed by the software, not a physical keyboard.) You really don't want to have a font that has all million plus characters, because it really is overkill that may slow things down if you embed the font. (If you do, try Lucida Sans Unicode.)
Here is where the SBL Fonts--SBL Greek and SBL Hebrew-- come in to play as specialized, Unicode fonts with character sets intended for biblical scholars. Hooker was particularly proud of the sophistication and comprehensiveness of the SBL Hebrew font.

What's next? They are working on the SBL BibLit font which will be the comprehensive font set incorporating Greek, Hebrew, and Latin characters. Further, it will also have the full set of transliteration characters (IPA extensions). Unfortunately... there is no release date BUT Hooker did his whole presentation using SBL BibLit. He assured us we are close to a release date.

Beyond SBL BibLit, they are looking into figuring out the best ways to make such fonts available for mobile devices. They are also working on the development of other ancient language fonts. (No particular priority list has been established yet for additional character sets, but SBL would welcome input on scholarly needs.)
Hooker then ran through the process of installing and using the SBL fonts on both Windows and Mac. You can download the fonts and get other installation info at the SBL Fonts page.

As we are waiting for SBL BibLit, I recommend using Cardo (free) which includes full sets of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and transliteration characters. (BTW, if you haven't updated Cardo since April 2011, there is an updated version now available along with additional bold and italic sets.) If you aren't entirely comfortable trying to install the keyboards (especially setting up the right to left scripts) I recommend that you use the Tyndale Unicode Font Kit. It's available for a variety of platforms--Mac, Win, Linux--and provides additional instruction on its use. 

If you only type in Greek or Hebrew occasionally, I have previously suggested using Logos' free Shibboleth program with its graphical interface. (Rather than working within any program, Shibboleth runs separately, and you type/copy/paste into any other application.) Additionally:
  • Tavultesoft Keyman (a wonderful program for $19) integrates into your system so that you can type in brilliant Greek and Hebrew right in the program. No need to copy/paste...
  • Tavultesoft also has a free online notepad for typing in any language you want. If you want to use Greek, you have four different keyboards to choose from. (Where is that psi?) I find "Greek Classical" to be the most usable.
  • The free online composer at TypeGreek.com is very nice, and note that it is even smart enough that if you type a sigma followed by a space or punctuation, it will convert it into a final sigma. One problem with TypeGreek: if you are typing and don't know what character you need, you hit the "Alphabet Key." This provides the layouts, but when you go back to the previous page where you were typing, it will be all gone.
  • The free online composer at GreekInputter2. The keyboard is a bit less intuitive, but you can display the layouts so that they are visible while you type in the box.

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