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Indic and InDesign

InDesign Magazine Issue 128 coverThis article appeared in Issue 128 of InDesign Magazine.

Anil Ahuja describes the fundamentals of setting type in Indic scripts.

India is home to more than 1.3 billion people. Almost 18% of all people on Earth live in India. So it might not surprise you to learn that hundreds of languages and dialects are spoken there. The two official languages of the national government are Hindi and English.

Each state also chooses a scheduled language, of which there are 22 in all, including Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, and Urdu (each of which boasts more than 50 million speakers). In written form, these languages use a diverse set of scripts. The base script used for the North Indian languages is called Devanagari, literally meaning the “city of the gods.” The act of committing knowledge to writing is believed to be a revelation in itself, and thus wisdom is glimpsed by this act.

Indic scripts are constructed around a method (such as a line in Hindi and Gurumukhi) that holds the syllables of a word together. Consonants (characters) and vowel sounds (called swaras) are combined to form syllables, which are then combined to form words. Complex-sounding syllables can be formed by joining multiple consonants together. These aspects make Indic scripts different from their Roman (or Latin) counterparts, which follow a simpler, linear model that is easier to type and compose.

Composing text with Indic scripts is itself a challenge, and this is the crux of the problem for creating editorial workflows in InDesign. Whether or not you are familiar with the languages themselves, the knowledge and techniques of using these language scripts in the design environment is essential as a first step to creating quality layouts. In this article, I will present some basic tips and techniques as well as foundational understanding of these scripts to help you create stunning design compositions with confidence.

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