Alphabets of world at fingertip

With perhaps the world's largest array of international type at their fingertips, the Church's typesetting section workers are responding to the scriptural mandate "that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language. . . ." (D&C 90:11.)

An incredible supply of such alphabet characters - that now include all but five of the world's written alphabets - are stowed in computers at Church headquarters. They will be used to print the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, manuals, and missionary pamphlets.With these characters, Church materials, when translated, can readily be printed in virtually all of the world's 5,000 or so languages, said Harold E. "Gene" Smuin, typesetting manager. Few, if any other entities in the world have such a collection of type, it is believed. Only five alphabets remain to complete the worldwide collection.

And, typically, the process from when a language is submitted to typesetting to when the first proof pages are ready is about six weeks.

The workers in this frontier project have faith that their work is fulfilling a promise made by President Spencer W. Kimball who said: "When we are ready. . . . When we have done all in our power. . . the Lord will find a way to open doors. . . ." And, "I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse." (Regional Representative seminar, April 4, 1974.)

"We believe we have seen a lot of that happening; we are trying to be ready," said Brother Smuin. "We are not dependent on any outside vendor. We are totally independent from the world in terms of doing the typesetting for the scriptures.

"For years we've been hoping for a major breakthrough in being able to provide typeset pages for all of the scriptures that have been approved by the Brethren," he continued. "We believe that the breakthrough has come to us. I have some very close spiritual experiences with what has happened.

"At one time we were discouraged by industry experts with even getting into this kind of program - it was unheard of. It was basically beyond the scope of our ability. But we prevailed with the idea that we could learn how and the Lord would make it possible. That has happened, and it warms our whole soul."

Rex Harris, director of Printing Services, has been a strong advocate of this effort, said Brother Smuin.

Evidence of this breakthrough - today's computers, in a word - are the 18 alphabets or "writing systems," with many variations of each, on hand and ready for use, said Michael L. McOmber, linguistics analyst for the section.

Among the writing systems are: Arabic, Armenian, Cyrillic (for such languages as Russian and Ukranian), Devanagari (for a few of India's 15 official language scripts), Georgian, Greek, Hebrew and Roman. Each system may accommodate dozens of languages. These may range from little-written dialects of the highlands of Guatemala to languages of ancient tribes of the Near East, to the swirly scripts of India.

The five alphabets whose characters remain uncaptured are obscure and distant. Four of these are well-established: Mongolian (Mongolia); Oriya (Orissa state of India); Gujarati (Gujarat State in India); and Burmese (Burma). However, the fifth - Divehi, an Arabic-based language from the Maldive Islands, is presently being acquired from mimeographed newspapers and linguists. These five alphabets will be completed in about two years.

Most of the languages are from developing countries and are unknown to the average person: Banda (Central African Republic); Baule (Ivory Coast), Bemba, (Zaire and Zambia) Bengali (Bangladesh); Bikolano (Philippines); and Bislama (Vanuatu) to name a few of the 168 in a current translating project.

To gain an idea of how rapidly the completed type is set, consider the example of when the latest editions of the LDS King James version of the Bible and triple combination were set in English type beginning in 1978.

The renowned Cambridge Press in England basically followed principles developed five and a half centuries ago by inventor Johannes Gutenberg. Their painstaking setting of type - leaden letter by leaden letter - was accomplished in a then-amazingly short period of about 13 months, said Wm. James Mortimer, former vice president and general manager of Deseret Book and now publisher of the Deseret News.

In 1978, the Cambridge Press set words letter by letter to give the scriptures a more even spacing - a more refined look, which wasn't possible through the automation then used by most newspaper and book printers.

Today, 15 years later, the 550-year-old method of setting lead type letter by letter is as obsolete as flintlock muskets and quill pens.

In the place of lead ingots melting in a pot on a massive linotype machine are diminutive laser printers. In the place of ranks of lines of type are computer discs. In the place of metallurgists designing, carving, and casting characters are computer artists who curl and snip characters right there on the screen. In many languages, computer characters were not available, so the Church's type designers and linguists just made their own sets. Characters thus designed are later typed at 40 words a minute.

And in place of yesteryear's months and years of setting pages of type, a special computer program accomplishes this overnight while the operator is elsewhere, perhaps at home mowing the lawn or reading the evening newspaper.

Now, in typesetting a page, computers flow scripture verses from the top down. At the same time, footnotes flow from the bottom up. When the two meet, the computer draws a separating line, then goes to the next page.

The computer also runs a program to ensure that every chapter heading, every verse, and every footnote is there before the page-making, or pagination program is started. Creating these pagination programs took nearly four years.

"In the five years that we have used these programs, the computer has never dropped a line of type," said programmer Kim D. Fenstermaker, supervisor of typesetting and production. "It doesn't care what language it sets. However, like any type shop, we have had some human errors on rare occasions."

He said that with faster computers on the market, a standard Book of Mormon with an index will be fully typeset in four to six hours.

Another complication in typesetting is that scriptures are usually set in narrow columns. This means words must often be broken and hyphenated. Many languages don't even have hyphenation rules. So linguists in the department developed a hyphenation logic and programmed that into the computer. They have already developed programs for 108 languages, and are continuing work on additional languages as they are approved in a project supervised by George A. Simper, manager of language development.

After pages are typeset in one room of the Church Office Building, negatives of the pages are made and sent to presses at the Church's Salt Lake Printing Center or overseas.

And, as the presses begin to roar in South America, Europe, Asia or Africa, words of the scripture, "in his own tongue, and in his own language" are closer to being fulfilled.


How type is acquired

Generally, these steps are followed in obtaining international alphabets:

Step 1. An alphabet and grammar print samples are obtained from consultants or from published books, or from an international linguist trade show. Then additional characters are obtained from the country. Some alphabets are taken from lead type or newspapers. In some remote areas, alphabet characters are mimeographed.

Step 2. Native translators review the collected characters, purge any contaminations and suggest refinements.

Step 3. At Church headquarters, font designers, such as Michelle Timothy and Shauna Gilbert, scan the characters into a computer, then refine them into a stately, classical face more fitting of scripture.

Step 4. Native translators make a final review. Characters are assigned to a key, and the language is computerized.

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