Discussion of Tamil Fonts
In this section,
the reader is exposed to the variations seen in the fonts available for
the Tamil Script. The desire to display text in Tamil on a web page had
already set some pioneers on the job as early as 1992. For a variety of
reasons, the developers of fonts for Tamil did not envisage a need for
some minimal standardization, which resulted in totally different approaches
to using the fonts on a computer, each approach based on the specific aspect
of each font.
The purpose of this
page is to illustrate the variations and also explain why most of them
including the standard proposed at Tamilnet-99 have serious limitations
for computing with Tamil. Viewers may want to review the section on Desirable
set of characters for Printing and Display of Tamil texts to better
appreciate the points made in this section. It must be kept in mind that
these fonts have been designed primarily for display and printing of text
using special font dependent applications for data entry. Consequently
none of them can be used meaningfully for linguistic text processing in
a straight forward manner.
used for illustration
Links to hundreds of other
fonts for Tamil are provided by Dr. Luc Devroye
Adhawin is one of the very
first fonts designed for Tamil. A special application written for DOS and
subsequently Windows enabled people perform data entry using a transliteration
scheme. The glyphs in the font occupy the upper ASCII region. Specific
remarks about the font may be seen on the right.
primarily in the Windows environment. The typeface name is Adhawin-Tamil.
The hyphen makes it difficult to retain this name under Unix. There is
support for some of the letters from Sanskrit but this support is not complete.
Special symbols in Tamil as well as Tamil Numerals are not included. This
font is bilingual allowing data entry and display in Roman as well as Tamil.
This is one of the popular
fonts. Created by Dr. Srinivasan of Canada.
Note: This font is obsolete
today but it has the distinction of having been the very first Truetype
font for Tamil.
This is also an early font
but designed with no specific glyph positioning scheme. Some of the Glyphs
are seen in the phonetically equivalent positions with respect to Roman.
The Glyphs shown here correspond to recent versions of the font.
font was originally designed by Dr. Kalyana Sundaram, an active member
of the Tamil Computing movement. This is a mono lingual font with all its
glyphs in the standard ASCII positions. This makes data entry fairly straight
forward and you can quickly prepare text using almost any word processor
on any system that can render this font. This font is available for other
platforms as well. However this fonts lacks many symbols which are required
in practice for printing Tamil text.
This is also a popular font
with many web sites serving documents encoded to comply with the font.
This font was specifically
designed to cater to web based applications supporting data entry and display
of text in Tamil. It is one of the most widely used fonts on the web, having
been provided free from the very beginning. This font is supplied along
with a specific application called Anjal and to use the font you must run
the application as well. The application is given free. The glyphs in this
font are as shown below.
font is also bilingual but as can be seen, there are many glyphs in the
font which cannot be rendered uniformly across systems. The typeface goes
by the name Inaimathi (other names also given). A version for use under
X-Windows is available but in bit mapped format and so scaling is not possible.
The font is popular in many
web applications like email, chat and text displays. many Tamil Magazines
use this font. Created by Thiru. Nedumaran, an active member of the Tamil
The Glyph positioning in
this font does not relate to any specific scheme. The Anjal application
will be required to be run on the system for data entry and display, thus
restricting use to primarily Windows systems.
The large number of glyphs
in this font makes it difficult to render it uniformly across systems.
There have been independent
efforts at encoding Tamil aksharas for general use as well as use on the
web. TSCII is a parallel proposal to the original implementation of ISCII-92,
a standard which had some problems for the South Indian scripts. TSCII
compatible fonts are usable for Tamil. Given below is the Glyph placement
for a TSCII compatible font.
fonts are rich in glyphs as can be seen from the chart. The font supports
bilingual text in Tamil as well as Roman. The utilization of almost all
the upper ASCII glyph locations renders this a difficult font for uniform
handling across systems. The font is most useful only under a Win9x environment.
The TSCII coding is an attempt
at coding the Tamil Aksharas as well. There are many TSCII compatible fonts
conforming to Tamilnet99 recommendations
During the Tamilnet99
conference held at Chennai (Feb., 1999), there was some effort at standardizing
Glyph positions for Tamil fonts. Towards the end of the conference, some
sort of consensus was reached and schemes for both monolingual and Bilingual
glyph placements were drawn up. Given below is the chart for monolingual
Tamilnet99 font follows the Windows/9X ANSI encoding and so avoids locating
glyphs in those positions reserved by Microsoft. Most Windows9x compatible
fonts follow this scheme. While many special symbols have been accommodated,
Numerals have been excluded. There are many typefaces which have been made
available which conform to this coding. The typeface shown at left is known
as Tamil-Kalaignar. This font is unlikely to render properly across platforms.
The Unicode standard has gained wide acceptance as the base for text representation,
specifically where multilingual text is involved. Unicode assignments have
also been made for Tamil (as well as other Indian languages) but the assignment
corresponds to multibyte representation of syllables. This requires that
the font used for rendering Tamil Unicode have the features of an open
type font, consistent with the specifications for the rendering engine
(typically Uniscribe). Most open type fonts for Indian languages are simplified
by including a large number of composite glyphs thus reducing the complexity
of mapping variable length codes to glyph strings.
The Tamil font used in MSWindows applications is known as Latha. The font
accommodates about 120 glyphs. The simplicity of the Tamil writing system
allows Unicode for Tamil to be handled without many complications. It is
interesting to observe that there are no overlapping shapes which have
to be combined for displaying a syllable. The consonant-dot combination,
is perhaps the only case of overlapped shapes but as can be seen from the
image below, individual glyphs have been defined for each consonant with
There are varied opinions even among Tamil Computing enthusiasts about
the adequacy of the Unicode standard for Tamil. Changes to the standard
have been proposed but in the absence of general consensus as to what is
desirable in Tamil Computing, no point will be served in suggesting changes
to a standard. A discussion
on this topic has been included at this site.