FontLab Valar Ilis! A Song of Conscripts and Conlangs

Some of our users of FontLab VI who live in Westeros have been asking what the “VI” actually stands for. Since the TV tale of Westeros (that is, Game of Thrones) has just ended, we’re here to provide a spoiler‐free answer: “VI” is an abbreviation that in High Valyrian means “Valar Ipradtis” (all men must eat). Or was it “Valar Ilis” (all men must have a registered place of residence*)? One of those, it was.

Peterson at a convention. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Part of what lures viewers into author George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world is the sense of rich history and detailed background in the book series A Song of Ice and Fire that the TV show is based on. Much of this can be credited to Martin, but one thing he didn’t do, beyond a few words and phrases, was create the languages. That is instead the work of a remarkable linguist named David J. Peterson, who has invented dozens of languages, including at least 20 for films and television shows.

For Game of Thrones, Peterson first won a contest to create Dothraki, the language of the barbarian/nomad horse people of the plains, a tribe that key player Danaerys Targaryen marries into and becomes the leader of, after the death of her husband. Peterson followed that up with a rendition of High Valyrian, a dead/scholarly language occupying a role similar to that of Latin in Renaissance Europe; not spoken natively by anyone, but the language of scholars everywhere, particularly written.

These are just two of the couple of dozen languages Peterson has made for various media properties, primarily films and television. He has done so many that it is easy to lose count, but one simple metric is: how many separate shows has he created an Elvish language for? Three to date, and one suspects there will be more. He has at least six films and nine TV shows to his credit so far, including two Marvel movies (Doctor Strange and Thor: The Dark World), The 100, Bright, and more in the works, including the upcoming Denis Villeneuve version of Dune.

Peterson’s Sheli script

Peterson didn’t create writing systems (also called scripts) for the Dothraki and High Valyrian languages for Game of Thrones, since both the books and the TV show spelled the phrases using the Latin alphabet. However, he has invented the scripts for many of his languages, especially the many he has designed for his own entertainment, on his own schedule. He also designed fonts that represent his invented scripts. While the visual representation is not his first focus, he still needs a flexible and powerful tool to make fonts for these fictional languages — and his tool of choice for years has been FontLab. First FontLab Studio 5, and now FontLab VI.

Peterson’s Epiq script

The invented or constructed languages even have a shorthand name: conlangs. There is a whole conlang community around them! While some people are fans of just one particular conlang because of the media associated with it (such as Star Trek fans who get into Klingon, or Tolkien fans who get into his Elvish Sindarin and his Dwarvish Khuzdul), others get into the entire idea of inventing languages and scripts. Constructed scripts are called conscripts. Some are used to write just one conlang (usually of the same name), some are used for multiple conlangs (just like the Latin script is used to write English, German, Polish or Yoruba). Some people even invent conscripts to write existing human languages.

From a font creation perspective, conlang fonts offer a number of challenges, beyond just figuring out what the characters should look like. At least some written languages have characters that combine or alter depending on context, or group in some interesting ways. In our world, the Indic writing systems (such as Devanagari, used to write the Hindi language) are a good example of this. Coding this involves using OpenType layout features — found in the Features panel in FontLab VI.

Peterson’s Sidaan script

Another wrinkle is that these newly‐invented characters have no standard slots in Unicode, so the designer is faced with the less‐than‐exciting choices of either using existing assigned slots “incorrectly,” or making use of Unicode’s Private Use Area (PUA) codepoints which have no standard meaning, and are not easily typed with standard keyboard layouts.

Peterson’s Tan Tils script

If the idea of making your own languages appeals, you are not alone, and making the fonts for them can be great fun. The ConScript Unicode Registry project coordinates the assignment of PUA codepoints for constructed writing systems, including scripts for conlangs, while the ConLang Code Registry provides ISO‐639 – 3‐compatible language codes — so if you’d like to take a shot at making a Ferengi, Ssûraki or Tengwar font, make sure your glyphs are properly encoded!

More on conlangs and conscripts:

*) “Valar ilis” literally means: all men must “be” or “reside”; from High Valyrian “ilagon”: to be there, to be in a certain place, to lie, to reside, to exist. The phrase is used in Westeros by the officials of the Bureau of the Master of Coins to remind everyone that you need to have a registered place of residence when you’re applying for a permit to excavate minerals, to sell minerals, to sell swords or sword‐like objects that are longer than 21.5 inches, to operate an establishment that serves alcohol after 9:35 pm, or when you wish to import live chickens or other birds that resemble chickens from the distance or that produce sounds that resemble those of a chicken, or when you intend to play a musical instrument in public, or for other related purposes, unless you carry a Vagabond Certificate issued by the High Office of Beer, Groceries and Migration.

Thomas Phinney Leaves FontLab

Five years ago, when Fontlab was in the midst of its ambitious goal of creating its next‐generation font editor, I joined the company as Vice President to take over some management duties from co‐founder and President Ted Harrison. Later, I became CEO, and Ted stepped down from most day‐to‐day operations.

Together with Yuri Yarmola (co‐founder and Vice President R&D), Adam Twardoch (Director of Products) and the rest of the FontLab team, we revamped and modernized the way we develop our apps and collaborate across locations. We introduced a new support system and customer‐centric approach, and saw a major increase in customer satisfaction with our tech support. We also updated our online store and most of our website from a 1990s look and feel, to something worthy of our modern apps.

Perhaps most importantly, we gave our users the long‐awaited FontLab VI, a fully‐modern overhaul of the company’s flagship pro font editor, and we have been providing them with regular updates and enhancements. The latest 6.1.4 update just shipped April 20th. We also recently updated three of our classic apps (FontLab Studio 5, Fontographer and TypeTool) to help our customers cope better with recent macOS updates. The FontLab team has really delivered for our users, and it has been deeply gratifying for me to help them do so.

At the same time, for me, what was once just occasional expert witness and forged‐document investigation work has kept growing, and become quite frequent since I launched my “Font Detective” web site, a year ago — and more so in recent months due to publicity around a particularly high‐profile case just this January.

Leaving FontLab allows me to further develop this detective work, which has already become too much to be compatible with my role at FontLab. Plus, I can take on other fun side gigs. (More on my blog.)

Where to find me: Font DetectiveBlogTwitterFacebook

I leave FontLab in good hands: Ted Harrison is rejoining Yuri and Adam in the active management team, to keep operations smooth. The current plan is that I will still be active with FontLab into early June. FontLab has been an incredible experience, and I wish my colleagues nothing but the best!

Adam, Yuri & Thomas at Typo Labs in Berlin. © 2017 Norman Posselt, www​.normanposselt​.com

Welcome Pooja Saxena & Igor Freiberger to FontLab

I am pleased to welcome Pooja Saxena and Igor Freiberger to the FontLab team!

Some weeks ago we advertised for several kinds of work we needed part‐time contractors to help with here at FontLab: testing/QA, documentation and tech support.

We had a small swarm of applicants. There were many plausible candidates, but Igor and Pooja stood out as being both versatile and well qualified. Both will be doing a wide range of tasks here, so you may encounter them in a range of roles. This week we are having Igor focus on reproducing and logging FontLab VI bugs reported by users in our forum, and Pooja working with some of the rest of us on documentation. (The FontLab Studio 5 manual was over 900 pages, and the app is all new, so there is plenty to write about.)

Igor Freiberger is a designer and type designer who has been using FontLab VI since before we even started the public preview, and has been an eager reporter of bugs and issues from very early on. He is a former IT manager and teacher, graphic designer and web designer, and was the first Adobe Certified Expert in Brazil. He is based in Porto Alegre, in the far south of Brazil.

Pooja Saxena is a 2012 graduate of the Reading MA Typeface Design program. Since then, she has been a consultant for large tech companies, including Google, and done type design for Latin and multiple Indic writing systems. Pooja is a regular contributor to the Alphabettes web site. Her work has been featured in several magazines, and covered by the Times of India. She is based in Noida, India (near New Delhi).

Job: FontLab QA tester (p/t)

Do you love font editing apps?
Already trying FontLab VI?

(Note: position was filled)

Work from wherever you want, whenever you want. One weekly (virtual) meeting. Part‐time, paid at an hourly rate.

Apply to: “thomas” at the obvious domain.

QA or Quality Assurance is software industry jargon for “testing software so it doesn’t suck.” This part‐time position will help test, log and reproduce bugs with FontLab VI, currently in Public Preview. The app has been rebuilt from scratch, the interface is new, and there are many new features — hence many possibilities for bugs. This job is ideal for someone who has some experience with FontLab Studio 5 and is learning VI.

There is plenty to be done at FontLab, and an energetic candidate with varied skills and interests will be given other tasks if they want them! Given the right candidate, this position could be combined with one or both of our other part‐time positions: doc writer and tech support.

Requirements:

  • Experience using FontLab VI, currently in Public Preview
  • Ability to work independently, “self‐starter”
  • Communicate well in written English
  • Mac preferred, as we do screen shots on Mac
    • If Mac, 2560×1600 retina screen (or better) recommended.
    • If Windows, 19201080 (or better) screen recommended.

Primary duties:

  • Create plans for rigorous testing of feature areas
  • Test also new features and newly fixed bugs
  • Understand and reproduce bugs reported by users
  • File new bugs in bug tracking system (ZenHub), explaining how to reproduce
  • Verify whether supposedly fixed bugs are actually fixed

Possibilities for Growth

  • Help write and edit FontLab VI documentation
  • Create tutorial/educational videos for FontLab VI
  • Test and write bugs on TransType and other products
  • You tell us what else you can do!

Job: FontLab Doc Writer (p/t)

Are you a type tech geek & writer? Get paid to become a FontLab VI guru!

(Note: position was filled)

Location: wherever you want to work from, remotely!

Hours: part time, whenever you want. Show up for a weekly virtual meeting.

Apply to: “thomas” at the obvious domain.

The Docs Writer will take a major role, with other staff, in documenting FontLab VI. The interface is largely new, and there are many new features.

There is plenty to be done at FontLab, and an energetic candidate with varied skills and interests will be welcome to do other things too! In fact, given the right candidate, this position could be combined with one or both of our other part‐time positions: QA tester and tech support.

Requirements:

  • Good written English skills
  • Some familiarity with a font editing app, such as FontLab Studio 5, Glyphs, RoboFont or FontForge
  • Writing experience (bonus: software documentation or other instructional materials)
  • Works well independently, “self starter” (a cliché, we know!), copes well with ambiguity, can help define problems as well as attacking them afterwards
  • Mac or Windows computer (Mac preferred)
    • If Mac, 25601600 retina screen (or better) recommended.
    • If Windows, 19201080 (or better) screen recommended.

Primary duties:

  • Write, edit and expand FontLab VI documentation (considerable portions already written)
  • Help change the draft docs to be process‐oriented
  • Illustrate docs with screen shots as appropriate

Optional Duties / Opportunities for Development

  • Create tutorial/educational videos for FontLab VI
  • Make product workflow & feature suggestions

Appreciated Bonus Attributes:

  • Experience using FontLab VI, currently in Public Preview
  • Interest in using FontLab VI outside of paid work
  • Experience with other font editing apps
  • Familiarity with Markdown (a lightweight formatting language used in both our bug tracker and our docs authoring system)

Job: FontLab Tech Support Engineer (p/t)

Do you love helping people & teaching?

(Note: position was filled)

Work from wherever you want, whenever you want. One weekly (virtual) meeting. Part‐time, paid at an hourly rate.

Apply to: “thomas” at the obvious domain.

This part‐time position will handle incoming requests for help using FontLab apps, primarily for FontLab VI — possibly others depending on your background and interests. The VI interface is largely new, and there are many new features. Currently support is primarily by email. This job is ideal for someone who has some experience with FontLab Studio 5 and is learning VI.

There is plenty to be done at FontLab, and an energetic candidate with varied skills and interests will be welcome to do other things too! In fact, given the right candidate, this position could be combined with one or both of our other part‐time positions: QA Tester and Documentation Writer.

Requirements:

  • Familiarity with a font editing/creation app, preferably some with FontLab VI
  • Ability to work independently, “self‐starter”
  • Sympathy for end users
  • Communicate well in written English
  • Mac or Windows
    • If Mac, 2560×1600 retina screen (or better) recommended.
    • If Windows, 19201080 (or better) screen recommended.

Appreciated Bonus Attributes:

  • Experience using FontLab VI, currently in Public Preview
  • Interest in using FontLab VI as an end user
  • Have both Mac and Windows computers
    • or have space to install a Windows “virtual machine” on your Mac hard drive

Primary duties:

  • Respond to user inquiries via our support portal and user forums
  • Understand user problems with the application; reproduce problems and determine if bugs exist
  • If there is a user error or misunderstanding, help the user understand how to better use the software, by explaining things, quoting sections of the user guide, whatever is needed
  • Explain features, bugs, and workarounds to users
  • File new bugs in bug tracking system, explaining how to reproduce
  • Verify whether supposedly fixed bugs are actually fixed
  • Point out when existing documentation (or video) is unclear or incomplete

Possibilities for Growth

  • Help write and edit FontLab VI documentation
  • Create tutorial/educational videos for FontLab VI
  • Make product workflow & feature suggestions
  • Test and write bugs on TransType and other products
  • Depending on timing of hire, might help us migrate to new support system
  • You tell us what else you can do!

macOS 10.12 Sierra & FontLab products

Just a quick note to say that we have done spot testing of our current Mac apps with macOS 10.12 Sierra, and we have seen no new issues so far. We have also had no bug reports from users so far that turned out to be Sierra specific, either. So as far as we can tell, there are no such issues!

FontLab Studio 5 update candidates 5714

We last night made available new Release Candidate builds for FontLab Studio 5.1.5 (Mac) and 5.2.2 (Win).

We are quite hopeful that these will be versions that we will ship to all customers next week. This free update fixes many bugs and issues in 5.1.4 (Mac) and 5.2.1 (Win) — details in the forum post. Literally dozens of issues have been addressed since 5.1.4 and 5.2.1.

Ted Harrison retires; Thomas Phinney now FontLab President

FontLab announces today the retirement of co‐founder and corporate business leader Theodore (Ted) Harrison. Harrison will continue as Chairman, but has stepped down from most day‐to‐day operations. Thomas Phinney, who joined FontLab in May 2014, replaces Harrison as FontLab President. The rest of the FontLab team is unchanged, but Adam Twardoch has been promoted to Director of Products, reflecting his increasing focus on the software itself.

Remembering Hermann Zapf

Legendary type designer, calligrapher and gentleman professor Hermann Zapf died on June 4th, 2015. He was 96 years old. He is survived by his wife, Gudrun Zapf‐von Hesse, a noted book binder, calligrapher and also a type designer (Diotima).