In my first post, I talked about some of the flaws of the Thaana script. One of them was that Thaana is written on three lines. Just as a quick reminder, here is what I wrote in that first post:
The final flaw has to do with the structure of the script itself. Thaana is written on three lines as opposed to the one line of most other scripts. The middle line is used for consonants and the top and bottom lines are used for vowels. The problem here is that all lines are given equal weighting and are equally prominent whereas in other scripts that make use of two or more lines, there is usually one line that is dominant. This means that the consonants can sometimes be difficult to read if the size of the font is too small. In addition the three lines creates some problems when it comes to word processing.
Here is a picture to show you exactly what I mean. It is a recent headline from Sun.mv.
I wasn’t exactly clear when I said that most other scripts have one line and that most scripts also have a dominant line. Allow me to explain. Scrips like Latin and Cyrillic have all their letters on one line, but some letters have tails and hooks which extend beyond that line, giving rise to multiple layers. So it would be better to say that Thaana has many lines, while other scripts have many layers.
Really, the only difference between a line and a layer is whether or not the things inside it, whether it is a diacritic or a part of letter, are attached to the main line. Hopefully the following images will make that statement clearer.
Latin – English
Unlike Thaana, the main line/layer is dominant, meaning that the font is easier to read at small sizes. The hooks and tails of some letters extend into the outer layers.
Cyrillic is very much like Latin, except the lower case letters do not extend into the outer layers as often, which is why I’ve always thought of it as very “flat”. The little curve above the letter that looks an N could be thought of as being on a separate line inside an existing layer.
Latin – Vietnamese
The concept of “lines within layers” makes more sense when you look at Vietnamese, which uses more diacritics than any other Latin-based script.
This particular font actually uses many more layers than indicated. It almost varies by letter. This is why Arabic fonts are often hard to read at small sizes.
Even though the script is very ornate, the font has appropriate proportions for each layer, making it very legible.
What to do with Thaana?
Thaana would be easier to read if everything was on one line. I have tried experimenting with this for a while – even before I started making fonts. I recently found out that other people have had similar ideas. Jawish Hameed has experimented with removing the bottom diacritics so that only two lines remain. This is what he came up with:And with the lines shown:The އިބިފިލި and އީބީފިލި are at the top along with all the other diacritics, except they are at a different angle.
There are mixed opinions on this two-line Thaana. Many have said it looks interesting, some have said it’s hard to read, and one even said it’s “plain ugly”. Jawish himself doesn’t like the way the new diacritics look, but thinks that readability is improved. I agree with him.
Before I get to my versions of 2- and 1-line Thaana, I’m going to go off on another tangent and try to explain why I think the new diacritics in Jawish’s version don’t look all that great.
It’s to do with symmetry, or more specifically, the lack of symmetry which arises from the fact that Thaana is typically written at an angle. Let me demonstrate this by using the example of a script which is not written that way – Latin.
Latin letters can pretty much all be broken down into circles or curves, and lines, like in the following image:The grain of these circles and lines runs vertically, while the writing itself runs horizontally. This, coupled with the fact that the line for diacritics is not as prominent as the main line, means that diacritics which run in any direction can be added without causing any incongruity.
Thaana is a bit different – the grain of its letters is diagonal while the writing is horizontal (it’s basically always italicised) and it has multiple lines of almost equal prominence.
If something goes against the grain, like Jawish’s dicritics, it creates visual disharmony. This even occurs with some Thaana letters like ޓ and ޑ, but I feel that the rarity of those letters makes the disharmony aesthetically pleasing. This is not the case with modern Anglicised Dhivehi, where those letters frequently occur – even within the same word. That’s one of the reasons why I’m against the excessive use of loanwords, but I digress. Let’s move on to my versions of fewer-than-3-line Thaana.
Most of the fonts I have published so far have solved the italicisation problem. So now it’s only a matter of changing the sizes and positions of the diacritics.
Prathama Tin – Thaana on Three lines
This was the first font I published. In my opinion, making the grain vertical already makes it much more readable. However, this version of the font still has more or less equal prominence for each of the three lines, which isn’t absolutely necessary. Here is the text that Jawish used:
Prathama Dva – Thaana on Two Lines
The line for diacritics is smaller than the line for letters. I made ަ and ާ point upwards because they represent open sounds. Similarly, ި and ީ point down because they represent closed sounds. Note how they do not conflict with the overall grain.
Prathama Ek – Thaana on One Line
While the words take up more horizontal space, I think this the “cleanest” type of Thaana possible even though it may take a while to get used to it. It makes use of layers rather than lines to differentiate between އަބަ/އާބާފިލި and އިބި/އީބީފިލި, while the letters, for the most part, remain in the middle. ސުކުން becomes more redundant when it is written this way. I say “more” because there is no inherent vowel to mute. The only time it is really necessary is to differentiate between ން and ނ. The problem with this specific font (not the one-line style) is the spacing between the letters and words, but I would say it is an overall success.
Using One-line and Two-line Thaana
It would be good to see Maldivians welcoming this new way of writing. The fact that there are others who thought about this is a good start. I think one-line Thaana in particular has several advantages, the main one being that it will be easier to create fonts because there will be no need to worry about things going above and below other things. This will increase the use of Dhivehi in the digital world which will hopefully have some positive impacts on the language and the country where it is spoken.