So Many Languages, So Many Alphabets

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Last week we learned about Albanian type, and today we look at Armenian type. Mariya Stepanyan’s father, Ashot Stepanyan, was an artist and industrial designer in Yerevan, Armenia, from the early to late ’70s. At the time there was a scarcity of good art and design books in local stores. “Luckily, one of his good friends was working at a book shop in the city center and would call my father if there was a new shipment of fine art or design books,” she says. “This particular font book, titled The Art of Letter-Type, was printed in 1984 in Yerevan, three years after we had immigrated to the United States. This was shipped to my father from his good friend back in the old country.”

A little history: According to the Fifth Century Armenian Historian Movses of Khoren, Bardesanes (154-222 CE) of Edessa, who founded the Gnostic current of the Bardaisanites, went to the Armenian castle of Ani and there read the work of a pre-Christian, Armenian priest by the name of Voghyump, written in the Mithraic (Mehean or Mihrean lit. of Mihr or of Mithra – the Armenian national God of Light, Truth and the Sun) script of the Armenian temples in which, amongst other histories, an episode was noted of the Armenian King Tigranes VII (reigned from 144-161, and again 164-186 CE) erecting a monument on the tomb of his brother, the Mithraic High Priest of the Kingdom of Greater Armenia, Mazhan. Movses of Khoren notes that the renowned scholar Bardesanes, translated this Armenian book into Syriac (Aramaic), and later also into Greek. Another important evidence for the existence of a pre-Mashtotsian alphabet is the fact that the Armenian heathen pantheon included Tir, who was the Patron God of Writing and Science.

“My father loved typography, especially the aesthetics of the beautifully lyrical Armenian alphabet.,” notes Stepanyan. “The book is well worn out because of constant use. He would say to me, ‘I want you to always remember how ancient and beautiful the Armenian language is—we have some of the oldest letterforms in human history.’ I have never forgotten and now will pass on this beautiful language and this little book to my 4 year old daughter, Sofia.”

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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 →