Sunday, November 18, 2012

SBL 2012 Session: Using SBL Fonts

Using the SBL Fonts 

This session was led by Chris Hooker who is the font person for SBL. He has been doing this for about five years for SBL, both providing support and serving as an advocate for the implementation and improvement of the SBL fonts. His work can largely be accessed at SBL fonts page. (The SBL fonts themselves are designed by John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks.)

I blogged about Hooker's presentation last year, and some of what he did was repeated. Hooker provided a quick history of ASCII, the disadvantages of the old TrueType 'hack' fonts, and the advantage of Unicode fonts. I also have been a long-time advocate of Unicode and have blogged about it and its implementation regularly.

The new SBL fonts are fully Unicode compliant, downloadable and free for personal use. He indicated that they are hoping to release the SBL BibLit soon. (However, this is the same thing he said a year ago...) This is the font set I've been waiting for. It does exist, and Hooker actually used it in his presentation. Basically it's a combination of SBL Hebrew, SBL Greek, and a comprehensive Latin set of characters that might be used by biblical scholars.

He then walked through downloading and installing fonts and keyboards. For Windows, he recommends using the built-in Greek Polytonic keyboard. For Hebrew, he recommends using the SIL Hebrew keyboard. One issue with typing in Greek using that standard Greek Polytonic keyboard is that you need to enter the vowels and diacritics in a specific order in order to get the correct character. Personally, I still recommend using Tavultesoft Keyman (but it does have a minimal cost). (Do note my suggestions here . Hooker noted that there have been some possible problems occasionally with Hebrew.)

Issues with Windows8: Apart from the overall interface, the main difference involves the installation of the Unicode keyboards. Using the Regional settings, you need to add a new input method (and remove the default Hebrew=Israeli keyboard). It looks like in Win8 that keyboard switching uses a "WinKey + space" instead of the "Left-Alt + space" used in Win7 and earlier. With Unicode, he showed how it knows how to work with right-to-left input, final forms, vowel placements, etc. Using WinVista, Win7, or Win8, it also helps to use the onscreen keyboards built-in to the operating system. (Note that in Win7, to get the onscreen keyboard, use Start, and search for "onscreen keyboard." In Win8, you use the Charm bar and search for it.) Also note that if you are looking for a specific character (e.g., a dead key character or some special editing mark), the free BabelMap program is very useful.

From a question that arose, if you have trouble in MS Word when typing with Hebrew and your line spacing changes, go in to the Word paragraph options and set line spacing to "exactly" instead of "multiple."

Hooker pointed to this website in response to another question. If you are trying to update files using the older fonts, I've accumulated a list of converters of which I am aware.
Hooker also went through the process for working with Mac OS10. Go to the SBL fonts page to download the fonts, and install the keyboards. Again, he recommends using the SIL keyboards. Adding diacritics to Greek is more flexible on a Mac. Using Word for Mac poses problems because it does not support right-to-left languages. This has been a problem for years. It's possible that you can copy/paste in Hebrew, but results are not predictable. Some people use Pages, but Hooker recommends using Mellel. ($35 for an academic license.) Unfortunately, few publishers can directly use Mellel's file format. (The workaround solution is to export the file as RTF, but it might break footnoting formatting. Accompany the RTF with a PDF file is the solution. Or, someone suggested exporting to a Word DOC file BUT never open that file in Mac Word!) Hooker did indicate that Outlook in the newest Microsoft Office Suite does work correctly, so perhaps there is hope for Microsoft Word for Mac in the future.


  1. Did I understand you correctly? The latest Office suite for Mac will do Right-To-Left? That would be long-awaited good news.

    I use Mellel, which is a good product but much more basic than Word. You can't even do line drawings (a simple arrow to indicate flow between boxes in a diagram would be helpful). It also requires a considerable amount of new learning to use it effectively. Making Mac Word RTL compatible really would help enormously.

  2. Hi, Nick. Your question made me re-read what I wrote, and you will see that I have now clarified what Hooker actually said, namely: Outlook in the new Mac Microsoft Office Suite uses a new approach that does handle RTL correctly. His hope, then, is that they will implement it in the rest of the suite (specifically Word), since they clearly know how to do it in Outlook. Interestingly, he said that it is Arabic users that will be driving Microsoft to fix the issue. Getting RTL to work correctly in Arabic will also apply to Hebrew.