Nastaliq is not just another script...

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/03/25 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

It was a while back when Emkay wrote in the Suggestion Box:

Making a case for a new topic - you are probably aware of this issue, but just in case, I explain it below.

You may want to explore how the "Nastaliq club" with mostly Urdu - but probably other langues too - avoids the use of Text world - (Unicode or any darn code!) for serious work -   despite all the inconveniences (not sure if you are aware of it or not). Surely, there is the "textual" web in Urdu, but for any serious work, people exchange image files in Nastaliq. If you want evidence, just go to your favorite search engine link for images (e.g. OR and type "Urdu Poetry" as your search string. Facebook is full of people exchanging images.

This world uses specialized word processors like InPage. An urdu newspaper like the Urdu version of Daily Express from Lahore is published with images - you click on the story image in the epaper and out pops an image with text - in Nastaliq.

(Off topic: I only recently discovered your blog - despite being interested in issues you cover - and I love the blog so far! Its great to hear from people involved!)

Let me say that there is a lot of truth in Emkay's words here.

There are many different calligraphic writing styles for the Arabic script, such as:

and so on. There are many others.

For the Arabic language,  Naskh is probably the most common today. But although so many of these various script forms can be used interchangably to represent the same text, users of the so called Perso-Arabic form of the Arabicscript is specifically distinguished and most commonly it is usage of the old Taliq or the Nastaliq script.

Originally developed in Iran, it is probably much more seriously associated with Urdu, a language which many of its speakers really tend to dislike using Naskh for its appearances. For computers, the most common program is InPage (as Emkay mentioned), but InPage is not using Unicode for the content, and thus the most common way to pass the poetry along is indeed to pass image files.

As I imagine you can all imagine, this is a really non-optimal way to store text -- I mean copy/paste and search are pretty much out of the mix entirely. But it has been many years and despite a lot of different attempts we have yet to see any widely used Unicode conformant Nastaliq font....

In theory it is doable, but in practice the attem,pts so far have all fallen short in approaching the beautiful complexity that is Nastaliq.....

I'll be honest and say that the feelings here are very much outside of my experience. For Latin script I feel none of the same attachments to various calligraphic forms. I don't know what that feels like, to feel that strongly about a font style.

Well, except for Comic Fixed, I mean.... :-)

Nastaliq as a tradition though is fascinating. I eagerly eagerly await the day that the company Unicodizes its font being used in InPage or some other company steps up to solve this problem.

carlos on 25 Mar 2011 7:50 AM:

"For Latin script I feel none of the same attachments to various calligraphic forms. I don't know what that feels like, to feel that strongly about a font style."

Imagine if every computer you could buy displayed text in Gothic script.  You can read it, but it's a painful chore.

Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Mar 2011 9:03 AM:

That's just it -- I don't feel nearly as wed to Gothic as they are to Nastaliq -- even to my untrained eye it is good looking....

Tom Gewecke on 25 Mar 2011 9:25 AM:

I thought DecoType Nastaliq in InDesign had perhaps solved the Unicode issue, but it's kind of expensive.

Otaku on 25 Mar 2011 9:34 AM:

Oh man, I thought for a sec you were you going to tell us that real Unicode Nastaliq script had been developed and we would forever get to draw prose in pentagrams and filled with abjad.

I guess instead of thinking about this folks being attached to a font style, it's more about the total experience of layout, proximities of letters, the font face, etc. If you look at the Declaration of Independence, nobody things "that particular font is really nice" - they think about the total experience of looking at the layout, the form, etc.

Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Mar 2011 11:01 AM:

@Tom -- yeah, I am only counting fonts that are high quality *and* widely available on a platform (or many platforms) you could use them in an app or website and assume they are there. For now, Urdu poetry means bitmaps!

Miguel Sousa on 26 Mar 2011 4:04 PM:

"I eagerly eagerly await the day that Adobe Unicodizes its font being used in InPage"

Huh?!?! InPage ( is not Adobe software. You must be confusing it with InDesign or PageMaker.

Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Mar 2011 4:52 PM:

InPage is the product, I just confused the company!

Random832 on 28 Mar 2011 7:04 AM:

"That's just it -- I don't feel nearly as wed to Gothic as they are to Nastaliq -- even to my untrained eye it is good looking...."

His point was that _he_ is (and, to his assumption, most people are) attached to the current dominant form of the latin script - and that seeing computers using a "Gothic"/blackletter form for English would therefore be as negative an experience as seeing Naskh is for Urdu.

Great observation on 29 Jan 2012 8:45 AM:

Yes, Nastaleeq occupies a special place in Urdu, and decades of attempts -- from press typesetting to moder-day Web -- have tried to squeeze Urdu into Naskh, but not with the same success as they have had with Farsi.  Urdu people have managed to have a way to print Nastaleeq using technology bridges - discarding character typesetting for stencil-based presses, and in the modern day, using images instead of text.  That hurts search and other text-oriented pursuits.

Why is it?  It is just not emotional.  I have done a bit of research into it and I believe it has to do with the Indian subcontinent being at the junction of the Arabian and Chinese traditions.  While reading Urdu in Nastaleeq script, we don't actually read the letters, we are reading beautiful groups of letters that allow us to read very fast and recognizing the combination of characters (glyph in OTF) is similar to the recognition of a character in Chinese that expresses a thought and not a letter.

When those well-recognized Nastaleeq combinations do not appear to the reader, he/she is disoriented and does not like the printing of it.  Maybe this theory is wrong, but yes, there is a strong attachment of the language for the script.  And if I may venture, that extends to the culture as well - excessively 'pur-takalluf' - an excess of fine social points and manners and sometimes illogical but 'packaged' decisions.

Thanks to Linux, Microsoft, Unicode and others, Urdu would never need to let go of Nastaleeq!

Michael S. Kaplan on 29 Jan 2012 2:16 PM:

Thus it was our pleasure to do it, for Windows 8! (ref)

Emkay on 20 Sep 2012 2:46 PM:

I am the person who originally posed the question but was away from this blog for a long time. And I see the discussion survived the InDesign vs InPage confusion. But "Random832" and "Great Observation" above have done a great job of clarifying the relationship of Urdu to Nastaliq. Its great to see the dream come true and thanks but more when I comment on that other blog. Many hugs from the Urdu community. Tell us where to send the awards and kudos. Nastaliq does not need to be an epitome of perfection and as good as Thomas Milo's solutions, but what I see is good! I will be doing my best to make sure many Urdu fans are in line to upgrade to Windows 8 - and finally mere mortals can tackle using Urdu on Windows. And I hope Urdu keybaord and IME improvements are coming too :-)

Matt on 16 Dec 2012 9:27 PM:

Actually, I have used Alvi Nastaleeq which is pretty nice for Urdu, and free. You can find that and others <a href=">.

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referenced by

2013/10/09 It feels good to be the hero of the story, but...

2011/11/16 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 9: Nastaleeq vs. Nastaliq? Either way, Windows 8 has got it!

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