The Eskaya writing system has over 1000 individual characters, and these are all recorded by Eskaya scribes in handwritten reference books called Simplits. Most of these letters are syllabic — like ‹ba›, ‹tik›, and ‹ʔuy› – but a few are can be alphabetic or syllabic — like ‹b(i)› and ‹k(a)› – depending on a judgment made by the reader. A full description of the Eskaya writing system is available here. A demonstration set of 220 letters has been developed and will soon be archived in PARADISEC. We are looking for volunteer graphic designers to help create 246 more letters so that the Eskaya writing system can be made into a useful font.
The Eskaya people of Bohol say that their writing system was recuperated in the 1920s or 1930s by Mariano Datahan. The invention of the script is attributed to the ancestor Pinay, describes as the first ‘pope’ in the Philippines. More detail on the history of the script can be found here.
The ultimate aim of the the Eskaya Font Project is to create vector designs for all Eskaya letters, but this is a lengthy and difficult undertaking. The Eskaya writing system is highly unsystematic and it requires years of study to become a proficient scribe. Unlike other systems — like Roman, Chinese or Arabic — there is very little consistency in the relationship between letter-shapes and their sounds. This non-systematicity makes the Eskaya script both hard to learn and challenging to design. The sheer number of characters also contributes directly to the size and expense of the project.
Before doing any work on creating a font, we photographed several Simplits and isolated all the letters and their sound values. Then we read through many thousands of pages of contemporary Eskaya writings to identify which letters are still used today. This planning has allowed to divide the system into four parts that correspond to four stages of the font-making process:: Stereotypes, Demonstration Set, Contemporary Set and Historical Set.
In order to make the design work a little bit easier we started by identifying the most common underlying shapes of Eskaya letters, disregarding their sound values. Those letters that we consider to have the most ‘average’ shape are termed stereotypes.
The pilot project to set up the stereotypes has been completed, thanks to the expertise of Cre8ive graphic design studios in Canberra, Australia.
The next stage was to identify the most useful letters for demonstrating the form and function of the Eskaya writing system and thus the feasibility of producing a font. These 224 letters, incorporating the Stereotypes, are referred to as the Demonstration Set. This set has now been completed and will soon be archived in PARADISEC.
The next stage is to complete the Contemporary Set. These 446 letters incorporate the Demonstration Set and represent all letters that are currently attested in Eskaya manuscripts. When this set has been completed it will be possible to program a font and keyboard input system.
The final Historical Set incorporating all known Eskaya letters past and present will not be completed within this project but may be taken on in the future by others.
If you know how to use Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape and have an interest in helping out, please join us. Or perhaps you just want a chance to develop your emerging vector design skills. To design a new Eskaya letter you will mostly take one of these stereotypes and simply add new components. For instance, you might create a letter like ‹da› by simply modifing the letter ‹ʔa›.
You may also use other non-stereotype letters as the basis of new letters, or you may copy minor elements from finished letters to combine them into new arrangements. Copying is always good thing because it ensures consistency.
The Eskaya letters that still need to be drawn have been arranged in three categories: easy, medium and hard, and step-by-step documentation is available.
What do you get for your voluntary contribution?
- A massively dorky T-shirt that says ‘Monolingualism is curable’
- Your name included for all time in the font documentation
- The chance to associate yourself with the pioneering design work of Cre8ive
- The warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping a small community establish literacy infrastructure
Honour roll of those who have contributed to the Eskaya Font Project
Marsiana Galambao (expert Eskaya consult)
Siva Kalyan (Programming consultant)
Mark Eastwood (Cre8ve Studios, stereotypes)
Joe Elvis de los Reyes