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Dene Orthography Tools and Font Support

The resources and tools collected in the tabs below are intended to assist the composition of text in the official languages of the Northwest Territories through correct orthography. Developed primarily for internal use, they can hopefully improve accuracy, speed adoption, and refresh typography through the vetting of web and system fonts.

Background

The Northwest Territories recognizes 11 official languages. Other than Inuktitut and Western Cree that use Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, Inuvialuktun, Dene, and European languages use Roman orthography. However, Dene languages require additional diacritical marks (e.g., ogoneks) and phonetic symbols (e.g., glottal stops and barred ls) for correct transcription. These marks and unique symbols are often lacking in various font sets, although are supported through the international Unicode standard that encodes all the world's languages and scripts.

Due to these challenges, various solutions have been sought as noted in the following excerpt from Zoe et al:

Many indigenous peoples have struggled to find Unicode-compliant fonts for use in computer environments in order to represent their languages in accordance with standardized orthographies. For the five Dene languages in the NWT (which include Tłı̨chǫ), the first dedicated font package, called Vowel First Dene, was created in the 1980s by Doug Hitch, a linguist then working for the Language Bureau of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). Designed for use in a Macintosh environment, Vowel First Dene became obsolete in the mid-1990s when the GNWT adopted a Windows operating platform, requiring all of their interpreter and translator contractors and educational staff to comply. To fill the gap that this transition created, Jim Stauffer developed a cross-platform font package called WinMac Dene Font. Widely adopted throughout the Dene language communities, the font package allowed Dene words to be shared between Macintosh or Windows computers that had installed WinMac Dene Fonts. However, because most of the characters with diacritical marks were not Unicode compliant, problems arose when Dene words were sent to computers that did not have WinMac Dene Fonts installed. When this happens, the word processing software generates substitutions for the non-compliant characters and, in this way, Tłı̨chǫ becomes Tåîchô.

Source: Zoe, J.B., Jerome, S., Andrews, T.D., and Saxon, L. (2012). Letter to the Editor. Arctic 65(3).

Fortunately, support from standard Unicode-compliant font sets has improved remarkably over the years. Currently, Microsoft Office fonts such as Cambria, Calibri, Arial, and Times New Roman offer solid support, with partial support found in other fonts. It has thus become possible to move away from the non-standard WinMac font, a process that is currently underway in the NWT.

The full array of specialized diacritical marks and symbols necessary for transcribing Dene languages (Gwich'in, North Slavey, South Slavey, Tłı̨chǫ, Chipewyan). Note that not all character variants are used in every language.

Fonts

The following fonts have been evaluated and found to satisfactorily implement the full Latin Extended Unicode character set that encodes for Dene characters and diacritical marks. While the placement of diacritics continues to present challenges (e.g., cramped positioning above capitals, misplaced location of accents, failure to double stack on top of characters, etc.), these fonts will do a reasonable job for most text in Microsoft Word and Outlook (results vary for other applications). They are free to download and use. Instructions have also been provided on how to use these fonts on websites.

Note that appearance of the fonts may vary from computer to computer, with the more modern browsers and operating systems displaying the diacritical mark placements with the most fidelity.

Name Source Web Usage
DejaVu Sans DejaVu preview
DejaVu Sans Condensed DejaVu preview
DejaVu Serif DejaVu preview
DejaVu Serif Condensed DejaVu preview
Aboriginal Sans Language Geek preview
Aboriginal Serif Language Geek preview
Omnes Language Geek preview
Gentium Plus SIL preview
Andika SIL preview
Charis SIL SIL preview
Doulos SIL SIL preview
Noto Sans Google preview
Noto Serif Google preview
Arimo Google preview
Calibri Microsoft preview
Cambria Microsoft preview
Arial Microsoft preview
Times New Roman Microsoft preview

Note that larger file sizes impact page load time for websites. As such, it is suggested that only required font styles are used in the stylesheet of each page.

Fonts developed by Language Geek

Language Geek (Chris Harvey of the Indigenous Languages Institute) offers font sets that contain full support for Canadian Aboriginal languages including Syllabics. Other fonts, as well as keyboarding and orthography tips, have been made available. Recently, Chris has prepared a lightweight multipurpose Roman font called Omnes which is small enough to pack with websites through a CSS @font-face call.

Fonts developed by SIL International

The SIL group, a pioneer in multilingual font and keyboard development for literacy, has recently released two attractive multilingual fonts, Gentium Plus and Andika, which reliably represent Dene diacritics. SIL also revised their popular Charis and Doulos typefaces for Unicode compliance. These sets are perhaps the most reliable in terms of phonetic symbols and the correct placement of diacritical marks.

Fonts available through Google

For the last few years, Google has offered websites the ability to use their collection of beautiful Unicode fonts for general site typography. While most have limited character sets, some fonts include the necessary characters from the Latin Extended Sets A and B to transcribe Dene text. However, combining diacritic forms give varying results leading to the need to tweak character representations. Recently, two new fonts, Noto and Arimo, have been developed to accommodate multiple languages, with compatible character heights and diacritic positioning. They can also be downloaded for personal computer use.

Legacy Text to Unicode Converter

The following tool will allow you to convert legacy text composed in Vowel First Dene or in the WinMac series of Dene fonts to the international standard Unicode. Simply paste your text into the top text area, click the appropriate converter button, and obtain the updated text in the bottom area, with or without the removal of the dot over the 'i' as preferred in some regions. You can also convert the output text to HTML-ready code or try out the new text in different fonts that are known to fully represent the requisite characters on most systems.

Input Legacy Text

Output Unicode Text

Select Font:

Macros

WinMac to Unicode Macro

Two Microsoft Word macros have been developed by Jim Stauffer and Rajiv Rawat to facilitate the conversion of legacy text composed in the popular WinMac series of Dene fonts to the international standard Unicode.

The zipped package contains instructions on how to install the Macros, their source code, and a conversion reference table to verify characters and their diacritical marks.

AutoCorrect Macro

A simple script has been developed to install commonly used Dene place names in the AutoCorrect tables of the Microsoft Office Suite. This allows for the automatic placement of correct diacritical marks over characters without needing to type them in manually.

The VB script can be run "as is" from a Windows system or installed as a Macro through Microsoft Word on a Mac. Suggestions for the inclusion of other commonly used words is greatly appreciated.

Keyboards

In addition to the keyboards you can find at denefont.com and languagegeek.com tailored for each specific language, general purpose integrated keyboards have been developed for the entry of pan-NWT diacritics and glyphs. Please refer to the Readme files included in each of the packages below:

Please note that both the macros and keyboards listed on this page are being provided freely "as is" for public trial without warranty of any kind. Feedback on their utility is most welcome, but they should be considered purely experimental.

Acknowledgements

The information aggregated here has benefited from the input of many community experts . A big thanks goes to Jim Stauffer, a Whatı̀ based veteran community educator, and Chris Harvey of the Indigenous Languages Institute, both of whom pioneered and supported font development for Dene languages. The advice of the ECE Official Languages bureau, Deb Simmons, Betty Harnum, and Kristi Benson was also key to bringing this compilation to fruition.

Links

Bibliography

  • Dëne Dédlıné Yatıé Ɂerehtł’ı́scho Denı́nu Kuę́ Yatıé – Chipewyan Dictionary. Fort Smith, N.W.T.: South Slave Divisional Education Council, 2012.
  • Dene Yatié K’éé Ahsíi Yats’uuzi Gha Edįhtatł’éh Kátł’odehche – South Slavey Topical Dictionary: Kátł’odehche Dialect. Fort Smith, N.W.T.: South Slave Divisional Education Council, 2009.
  • Tłı̨chǫ K’ę̀ę̀ Ets’eetł’èe xè Enı̨htł’è K’e Yats’ehtıı – Reading and Writing in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀. Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T.: Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency, 2007.
  • Gwichyah ts’at Teetl’it Gwich’in Ginjik Gwi’dinehtl’ee’ – Gwich’in Language Dictionary. Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, 2003.
  • Tłįchǫ Yatiì Enįhtł’è – Dogrib Dictionary. Rae-Edzo, N.W.T.: Dogrib Divisional Board of Education, 1996.
  • English-Chipewyan Dictionary. Prince Albert, Sask: Northern Canada Evangelical Mission, 1981.
  • Species at Risk (NWT) Terminology Translation Workshop – Report and glossary of translations in Inuvialuktun. Yellowknife, N.W.T.: Species at Risk Secretariat, 2011.
  • Protected Areas and Science terminology. Yellowknife, N.W.T.: Protected Areas Strategy, 2006.