Well, thanks to everyone who ticked boxes in yesterday’s poll. I found the results interesting.
First off, if you can read this, you probably also have Greek, Cyrillic, and Hebrew characters installed. Probably also Arabic, but I somehow screwed up the poll between Arabic and Armenian. I ought to have also tested for more exotic Cyrillic characters: the Macedonian/Serbian њ, the Altai ҥ, the Kazakh/Kyrgyz ң, the Siberian ӈ and the Sami ӊ. Next time.
Next in order are a clutch of South Asian scripts. I was surprised that both Thai and Tamil were a nose ahead of Devanāgarī, which is surely used by a lot more people than either of the former two. After Devanāgarī, Gurmukhī and Gujarātī are level pegging (as is, from a slightly different part of the world, the much less widely used Georgian), followed by Kannada and then Telugu (which is level with two scripts related to Arabic – Syriac and Thaana), and then Malayalam.
After that the four big East Asian scripts – the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana, and phonetic and standard Chinese – if you have one of these you probably have all four.
Now we get into the exotica. I’m surprised to see Oriya just below the half-way mark. I don’t know much about it, but it seems to have a similar number of speakers to Kannada and Malayalam which scored much higher, and the script doesn’t appear to present any real peculiarities. Lao rounds out the easier South Asian scripts (with the curious exception, which I’ll come to in a moment, of Burmese).
Three of the next five are recently invented North American scripts. The Canadian Aboriginal syllabic script is surprisingly popular (not just with Canadians); it is followed by Cherokee. Then we leap back to Asia for Sinhala and Mongolian, but the next is the utterly artificial Deseret script of the Mormons. It is rather sad that this alphabet, in which apparently only four books were ever published, is visible to more of you than the N’Ko script used by millions in West Africa, or the Ge’ez/Ethipic script used by tens of millions in East Africa.
Then we get down into the exotic. I’m not surprised to see Khmer, famously difficult to learn, down so low; next is Runic, perhaps the easiest to code of the ancient scripts; then Bernard Shaw’s Shavian script. Next, on level pegging, a whole clutch of scripts: Burmese (which came rather late to the party) and the slightly superseded scripts of Limbu, Tifinagh and Osmanya, plus Linear B, Old Italic, Gothic, Ugaritic and the ancient Cypriot syllabary. Then another clutch of ancients – Old Persian, Phoenician, Kharoṣṭhī and cuneiform. In joint second last place are four Asian scripts – Hanunó’o, Tai Nüa, Buginese, Syloti Nagri – and ancient Coptic and Ogham. And finally five more Asian scripts, only visible to one person – Tagalog, Buhid, Tagbanwa, Balinese and Phagspa.
For the funny n’s, it’s not very surprising that everyone can see ñ, ń, ɲ, ɳ and ŋ. I am slightly surprised that not quite everyone could see the perfectly respectable Czech/Slovak letter ň and the Latvian ņ, and that equally many can see the pretty bogus ṅ, ṇ and ṉ (OK this last is used by two actual languages but one is spoken by only 4000 people and the other apparently by only 20). Likewise, just behind, the perfectly genuine Lakota ƞ is level pegging with the bogus ṋ. Almost 90% of you can see ǹ as well, even though I haven’t found a language that uses it.
It is a shame that the glorious n̈ (as in Spın̈al Tap) has not been more popular among typesetters. But I’m surprised that as many as a third of you could see ᶇ, n with a hook, and that a quarter of you could see ᵰ, n with a niddle tilde. It shows that people who work on fonts find it easier to grapple with the more bizarre and less used Latin-based letters than with real scripts used by millions of people.