• Steven Heller

A Balkan Typeface Brings Two Cultures Together

“Balkanization” means to divide a region or nation into smaller parts that are often violently hostile. The term derived from the persistent carving up of the Balkan peninsula once ruled by the Ottomans. Later it was used to describe the dismembering of nation-states that had been under the rule of the vanquished Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. The Balkans were (and recent history shows, still are) a geopolitical time-bomb with their share of ethnic and religious hostilities—which have yet to be entirely resolved.

Marija Juza and Nikola Djurek, a Ph.D. in type design and proprietor of the Croatian foundry Typonine (more here), are doing their part to reunify the Balkans—at least its two dueling alphabet systems. Balkan is a new typeface system that consists of Latin and Cyrillic scripts together.

“It is based on the study of a phenomenon known as Balkan sprachbund, a term used to describe neighboring languages whose sound and grammatical features have merged because of their proximity. The typeface system also represents an attempt to identify the features shared by some South Slavic languages and alphabets like Bosnian, Montenegrin, Croatian and Serbian,” Juza writes in the handsome catalog Djurek designed to showcase the new system.

Juza and Djurek’s Balkan is rooted in the dual literacy that characterizes Slavic peoples, “many of whom use and transliterate both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets,” Juza writes. The face, which enables the reader to see both alphabets at once, is a history lesson in itself. Once there were three scripts in this region: Cyrillic, Latin and Glagolitic. The later disappeared (maybe because it could not be pronounced), leaving Latin and Cyrillic to carry the weight of cultural, ethnic, religious and political identity, which, Juza notes, “typifies the former Yugoslavian countries, today’s Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina as well as Montenegro.”

Juza adds that the scripts’ communicative and symbolic functions “were often out of step just for the sake of multi-ethnicity. On the other hand, close development of languages and scripts throughout history resulted in shared properties.” The Balkan typeface system remedies the the gap between alphabets. “It is a series of fonts that decodes Latin and Cyrillic; it demystifies, depoliticizes and reconciles them for the sake of education, tolerance and, above all, communication.” Balkan can be used to translate Croatian Latin into Serbian Cyrillic. The fonts, asserts Juza, should be viewed as “educational software capable of reconciling discrete scripts.” It can also teach us Latin users what the equivalent letters are, which comes in handy if you are trying to decipher designs from Russia and other Cyrillic using nations. It is an OpenType font, that can be expanded to include the Russian, Macedonian and Bulgarian alphabets.

For more information or to ask for the catalog (excerpts shown here), visit Typonine.

Page from the catalog for the Balkan typeface

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