The Daily Heller: “Multilingüe” Brings Indigenous South American Languages to the Fore

Posted inThe Daily Heller

I recently asked Sandra Garcia, partner at Tipastype in Ciudad de México, who with Manuel López Rocha, a typographer, teacher and researcher based in Veracruz, the co-curators of the 2023 TDC’s “Multilingüe” conference to talk about the genesis of this type, writing and linguistic educational event.

Multilingüe’s inception is the convergence of two significant events, she told me: The first was Ezhishin, the North American Indigenous Languages Congress in 2022. Several months later, ChaCheChi was organized at the start of 2023. These two initiatives paved the way for Multilingüe, the online multi-language type and design confab. Garcia shares a complete overview of this November’s highlights:

Vanessa Zuinga

Who is involved in Multilingüe’s organization?
The organization involves the collaborative efforts of several key players. The TDC team and The One Club have played a crucial role in providing the essential support and infrastructure needed for the successful execution of Multilingüe. I serve as the event coordinator and also hold a position on the TDC Board. Additionally, I am grateful for the support of Manuel López Rocha. Together, we have curated the individuals who will be joining us.

It is necessary to mention the great branding work for the Multilingüe event, created by the Ecuadorian designer Vanesa Zúñiga who has been inspired by the concept of the serpent as an animal that runs through the mythology and graphics of the communities originating from throughout Latin America. In general, Vanessa’s work has been a constant rescue of the Latin American graphic identity with a contemporary vision. We are delighted to have had her in the development of the event’s branding. She is one of our guests and will talk to us about this concept and the challenges in developing graphics.

Vanessa Zuinga

How did you decide to focus on this multilingual theme? And what do you hope the outcome will be for designers everywhere?
For several years, my interest in indigenous languages has been a driving force. I’ve actively engaged with this topic in various capacities, including participation in projects aimed at revitalizing and developing writing tools for languages like Wounaan. I’ve also written articles on this subject, with one of the most recent ones featured on the Alphabettes blog, where I covered the Ezhishin congress in 2022. These experiences have consistently fueled my passion for this cause.

With Multilingüe, our primary objective is to showcase the rich and multidisciplinary work that surrounds the development and preservation of indigenous languages. We aim to ensure that all stakeholders involved in creating or using tools for indigenous languages appreciate the depth of these endeavors. Furthermore, we hope that participants in our talks gain insights, understanding, and an eagerness to engage in these processes, particularly when it comes to designing typography for native languages.

It’s crucial to emphasize that Multilingüe is not exclusively for typographers. We aspire to broaden the perspective of all users and designers, enabling them to comprehend the unique needs and challenges inherent in working with languages other than their own. Our ultimate vision is that, armed with this knowledge, they can anticipate and seek innovative solutions to potential issues that may arise in their projects.

Sandra Garcia
Marina Garone

Why is Multilingüe only a virtual experience? 
The decision to make Multilingüe a virtual event is rooted in several practical considerations. While in-person events certainly offer the advantage of intimate interaction and contact with participants, they also come with logistical challenges, such as travel and associated cost.

The virtual format, on the other hand, has several advantages. It often garners a larger reception and participation as it eliminates the geographical barriers and expenses associated with in-person attendance. In doing so, it brings the event closer to a wider and more diverse audience, decentralizing the calls and making the content easily accessible to everyone. This approach aligns with our goal of ensuring that Multilingüe reaches as many interested individuals as possible.

Gabriela Badillo

Your promotion notes that “Multilingüe” will focus on the conservation, conversation, design, and use of native languages in the contemporary context.  What does this entail? 
Today, indigenous languages in Latin America using the Latin writing system, which is the script I’m using to communicate with you in English or Spanish. However, the use of this writing system is not without its challenges. “Multilingual” aims to explore and address these challenges. One pressing question is: if native people have access to the letters of the Latin alphabet, what remaining obstacles do they face in preserving and revitalizing their languages?

One significant issue lies in the availability of hardware and software tools for writing. Major languages like English, French, or Spanish, for example, have standardized keyboards tailored to their specific needs. This facilitates rapid expression and knowledge transmission across digital and printed media. In contrast, many native languages lack standardized or readily available keyboards, posing a significant hurdle.

The conference seeks to delve into these issues and provide answers. Who is actively engaged in initiatives to bridge these technological gaps? How many alternative keyboards are currently available? What efforts are being made to ensure that native languages can be expressed and communicated efficiently in the digital age? These are just a few of the questions that “Multilingual” aims to address, shedding light on the work being done to support the vitality and relevance of indigenous languages in today’s world.

Yolmar Campos
Marina Garone

 “Multilingüe” will promote dialogue between North, Central and South American Native speakers, researchers, designers, and typographers. What is the scope of practice and study in the development of fonts and typefaces for native languages?
The scope of this initiative encompasses language inclusion, promotion, and maintenance, serving as a vital tool for ensuring that indigenous languages are as accessible and frequently used as majority languages. Typeface development contributes to the preservation of indigenous cultures by enabling the representation of cultural symbols, traditions, and knowledge. Moreover, it underscores the importance of broader societal dialogues, emphasizing the significance of indigenous languages and recognizing that there are political and social factors that intensify language loss. In essence, it’s a collective effort to confront and address these complex challenges, placing them at the forefront of our society’s concerns.

What languages will be spoken?
Multilingüe has guests who will speak in English, Spanish and Portuguese, with simultaneous translation to the other languages spoken at the conference.

Carolina Giovagnoli
Manuel Lopez

Tell me a little about the native researchers and linguists, as well as non-native designers working in partnership with native communities.
“Multilingüe” will feature various remarkable cases, such as the ‘Ayuujk’ project, a collaborative effort between designers and linguists aimed at preserving the Mixe language in Oaxaca, Mexico. This comprehensive project involves the creation of writing tools, including a typographic font with features informed by the phonological and grammatical structure of the language. The font also incorporates alternative glyphs that capture the nuances of the oral language through typographic forms. Notably, this project is a product of the joint efforts of typographer Manuel López Rocha and the Ayüük community.

From Brazil, Rafael Dietzsch will share insights into his research on the Orthographic Cataloging of the Indigenous Languages of Brazil, a multi-year endeavor. Furthermore, linguist and writer Yásnaya Aguilar will discuss the significant challenges faced by indigenous languages in their journey toward written use. Her perspective as a linguist, language speaker, and active participant in the development of fonts for indigenous languages offers a unique insight.

These cases exemplify the exciting intersections between communities and professionals in letter design, linguistic research, and language preservation. While these are just a few examples, we have a diverse array of guest speakers with equally compelling projects and experiences. For an in-depth exploration of the projects, achievements, and publications of our speakers, you can refer to the Multilingüe schedule.

Vanessa Zuniga

You’ve written: “For us, this is the first conference experience that seeks to establish a space for communication between the different actors involved in the process of designing and developing typography for native languages”. What will the next step be? 
Multilingüe marks the beginning of our journey, and our vision is to use this congress as a platform to establish connections between participants and communities. We recognize that the next steps won’t be solely determined by us, the organizers. Instead, we aim for Multilingüe to serve as a launchpad for new initiatives and as an opportunity to expand upon the projects presented during the congress. Our ultimate goal is to foster collaborative networks throughout Latin America, linking people and resources to further the preservation, promotion, and revitalization of indigenous languages.

Cyn Marquez

How should multilingual typographic linguistics be taught in colleges and art schools today?
We are excited to welcome Marcela Romero, the current director of the Master’s Degree in Typography at the University of Buenos Aires, and Professor Pablo Cosgaya, who will provide insights on their involvement in the design and development of fonts for native languages within the program. Their participation will shed light on the motivations behind this initiative, the challenges they have encountered, and the innovative solutions that their students have devised.

Their vision regarding the teaching and research of this topic in the master’s degree program will be of great interest. We hope to explore questions such as why they have chosen to integrate this theme, how it aligns with broader educational goals, and what impact it has had on students’ perspectives and capabilities.

In engaging with these professionals, we aspire to gain a deeper understanding of the role of higher education in nurturing and advancing the field of typography, particularly in the context of indigenous language preservation and revitalization.

Posted inThe Daily Heller Typography