Devanagari is a South Asian writing system used by many languages, including Hindi, Konkani, Marathi, Nepali, Sanskrit, Sherpa, and Sindhi. Hindi is India’s most-common first language. Along with English, Hindi is the official language of the national government. The Devanagari script descends from Brahmi, making it a relative of all other Indian writing systems, except the Perso-Arabic Nasta’liq script used to write Urdu. Devanagari texts read from left to right, like those in the Latin script. Unlike Latin, Devanagari hangs from a headline instead of standing on a baseline. A dominant visual characteristic of the script, the headline usually extends across the length of a word.

An alphasyllabic writing system, the most elemental unit in Devanagari is the syllable, not the letter.* Devanagari consonants contain inherent vowel sounds. A consonant’s inherent vowel sound may be modified by marks that occur above, below, to the left, or to the right of it. Some of these marks are referred to as matras. Consonants may also join with one another to form consonantal clusters – these are represented by conjuncts. A bit like Latin ligatures, conjuncts join multiple consonantal sounds; only the vowel sound of the final consonant in the cluster remains intact.

Indic half forms are ‘half consonants’. One method of forming conjuncts is for a half form – or several half forms – to precede a full form. Visually, a half form looks like a full form without a necessary element. Half forms for characters with a vertical stroke on their right-hand side are made by removing this ‘central’ feature. Half forms for characters with a vertical stroke in the centre of their design are made by changing the stroke to the right of this feature. Creating half forms for rounded characters – which do not have vertical strokes in their design – is more difficult. Additionally, any consonant may be made into a half form simply by writing a halant – or vowel killing mark – underneath it.

On the left is the Devanagari consonant “Ka,” followed by four instances in which its inherent vowel is changed to another sound by a vowel mark occurring above, below, to the left, or to the right of the glyph. The new syllables are then “Ke,” “Ku,” “Ki,” and “Kii.”

The numeral system used in the West originated in India, coming to Europe by way of the Middle East. Although Devanagari has its own forms for the same numerals, many fonts contain both variants. Similarly, Devanagari has its own traditional system of punctuation, yet Western convention is often used in lieu of this, especially in contemporary Hindi documents and most Marathi prose text.

Top, the Devanagari forms of the digits zero to nine, as found in the Saral Roman typeface. The line beneath shows the default Latin script digits in the same point size from the same typeface.

All samples on this page were created using Linotype’s Saral™ family, a multi-script typeface containing support for both Latin and Devanagari.

Please note that due to current operating system and application limitations the OpenType features in complex scripts such as Davanagari are not universally supported. Saral is designed to be rendered correctly in Microsoft® Word on Windows® XP or Vista, running the latest version of Uniscribe. If you are using any application on Mac OS® X, or Adobe® applications for either platform prior to the CS4 series (i.e., Adobe InDesign CS3), many features may not function as expected. This includes glyph reordering, substitutions, and mark positioning. In the case of small passages of text, alternate input methods can be employed. Apple‘s character palette and Adobe‘s glyph palettes are two readily available options that can be used to manually insert glyphs as needed.

Adobe InDesign CS4 can be configured to support complex scripts. Instructions may be found here.

Hudson, John, ‘Unicode, from text to type,’ John D. Berry (ed.), Language Culture Type. New York: ATypI and Graphis (2002) p 38

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