Letters of Light: Arabic Script in Calligraphy, Print, and Digital Design

Letters of Light: Arabic Script in Calligraphy, Print, and Digital Design

by J.R. Osborn


View All Available Formats & Editions


Arabic script remains one of the most widely employed writing systems in the world, for Arabic and non-Arabic languages alike. Focusing on naskh—the style most commonly used across the Middle East—Letters of Light traces the evolution of Arabic script from its earliest inscriptions to digital fonts, from calligraphy to print and beyond. J. R. Osborn narrates this storied past for historians of the Islamic and Arab worlds, for students of communication and technology, and for contemporary practitioners.

The partnership of reed pen and paper during the tenth century inaugurated a golden age of Arabic writing. The shape and proportions of classical calligraphy known as al-khatt al-mansub were formalized, and variations emerged to suit different types of content. The rise of movable type quickly led to European experiments in printing Arabic texts. Ottoman Turkish printers, more sensitive than their European counterparts to the script’s nuances, adopted movable type more cautiously. Debates about “reforming” Arabic script for print technology persisted into the twentieth century.

Arabic script continues to evolve in the digital age. Programmers have adapted it to the international Unicode standard, greatly facilitating Arabic presence online and in word processing. Technology companies are investing considerable resources to facilitate support of Arabic in their products. Professional designers around the world are bringing about a renaissance in the Arabic script community as they reinterpret classical aesthetics and push new boundaries in digital form.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674971127
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/22/2017
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

J. R. Osborn is Assistant Professor of Communication, Culture & Technology and Co-Director of the Technology Design Studio at Georgetown University.

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration ix

Introduction: Past Scripts and Future Visions 1

1 The Layers of Proportional Naskh 15

2 Ottoman Script Design 42

3 European Printing and Arabic 75

4 Print in Ottoman Lands 102

5 Questions of Script Reform 131

6 Arabic Script on Computers 164

Coda: Beyond Arabic 195

Notes 203

Bibliography 229

Acknowledgments 255

Index 257

Customer Reviews