A Lost Albanian Alphabet

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Edon Muhaxheri is an Albanian artist from Prishtina, Republic of Kosovo. He has a BS in applied arts and sciences from the Rochester Institute of Technology and, having received a Fulbright scholarship, an MFA in illustration practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Continuing his Fulbright experience, he currently teaches at MICA. His latest project involves an incredible discovery—a unique Albanian alphabet from the country’s first ABC book. Below he talks about the intricacies of this flowing set of characters.

Edon Muhaxheri, Vithkuqi Alphabet, 2017

Edon Muhaxheri, Vithkuqi Alphabet, 2017

How did this discovery come about?I focused my MFA in illustration practice studies at MICA in narrating stories through mechanical devices. For my thesis project I accepted the challenge of designing and making a writing automaton. These humanoid mechanisms were the peak of European automata artistry in the 1800s. I wanted my automaton to write something from that period of time, in Albanian. Coincidentally, Naum Bredhi designed the first Albanian ABC book in 1844.

This historical event was calling me to illustrate it with a writing automaton—so I rolled up my sleeves. I started research for the primer, the ABC book. There were few—almost no—resources on the topic. There was this vague information that said something about Bredhi writing Ëvetari (the first Albanian ABC book) in his own alphabet!

In Karl Faulmann’s book of scripts and alphabets I found a small scan of what he was saying that was Bredhi’s alphabet. It looked nothing like the latin alphabet Albanians use today.

Then I reached out to the Museum of Education in Albania and asked them if by any chance they had an original copy of Ëvetari (Naum’s ABC book). They responded, “Sure, do you want us to scan it for you?”

I was blown away. The first-ever Albanian ABC book featured a unique alphabet! And no one talks about it. Barely anyone knows about it. I had a precious cultural gem on my hands—and the means to make its story memorable. My writing automaton was going to write in Bredhi’s original Albanian alphabet.

Edon Muhaxheri demonstrates his automatic writing machine.

Why was the alphabet not in use?Bredhi’s alphabet (Vithkuqi) was accepted with enthusiasm among Albanians, but following his sudden death (1854), its application was terminated due to lack of financial support to build unique printing houses.

Albania had been such an insulated country for so long—did the alphabet have precedent or influence from outside the country?Naum Bredhi left Albania (West Rumelia, Ottoman Empire) in 1820 to start a new life in Romania. There he became the architect of the Albanian Nationalism. There is no doubt that his script was influenced from other alphabets, but as a writing system Vithkuqi is unique and it only works with Albanian language.

What is being done with the alphabet today?I keep receiving requests from people who want to make tattoos with these letters. Some are asking for wallpapers. Others just want to learn it and use it as a coded script. Designers want to illustrate symbols/logos with it.

What are the limitations of the alphabet?Bredhi’s original alphabet has 33 letters. I have intervened a little on the existing ones and added the three missing letters using its original typographic elements. I did so in order to revive Vithkuqi. My goal was to make this alphabet usable with modern Albanian grammar.

What are your plans regarding the alphabet?I am working to wrap up my book with all the research and typography work I have done. I plan to expand this font family and release it for the public so that people can use it for recreational purposes. The feedback is overwhelming. I kind of knew that it was going to be a big deal, but people now see me as the person behind this alphabet. They want more from me.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

View all posts by Steven Heller →