Indigenous Language Support Added To Tofino: Nuu-chah-nulth

Nuu-chah-nulth/Nuučaan̓uł is spoken by the fourteen First Nations along the West coast of Vancouver Island including within and around Tofino. 

One of my long term goals as a type designer is to continue making my fonts more accessible and inclusive. North American Indigenous languages are not often supported in Latin Language fonts because they either require characters not typically included or have their own script. I would like to work toward adding these characters to my set because these languages deserve to appear just as beautiful and fully supported as the languages they are set next to. I’m in the process of gathering documentation to achieve this and have decided to start with Nuu-chah-nulth.

A display of the Nuu-chah-nulth alphabet

The Nuu-chah-nulth Alphabet from the First Voices website

The Alphabet is phonetic in structure and has forty five letters, each representing a sound from the spoken language. Many of the characters can be found in a base Latin character set but there a few needing special attention. 

A Guide For Adding Nuu-chah-nulth To Your Type Design

Assuming that you have a base Latin alphabet and wish to expand it to cover Nuu-chah-nulth, you’ll need to add: 

ʔ glottalstop [U+0294]
ʕ glottalstop reversed [U+0295]
ƛ lambdastroke [U+019B]
ʷ wmod [U+02B7]
ḥ hdotbelow [U+1E25]
č ccaron [U+010D]
ł lslash [U+0142]
š scaron [U+0161]
̓ commaabove [U+0313]

Upper anchor points on: c, caron, k, lambdastroke, m, n, p, s, t, w, y
Lower anchor point on x

You also may want to add the uppercase versions of these characters. The language is generally set in lowercase but there may be occasions for sentence case or all caps and we want this to look great in all those situations, right!? The uppercase Glottalstop is [U+0241] but note that there are no current unicode values for uppercase Glottalstopreversed or Lambdastroke but you can still include them. You do not need to include an uppercase version of the wmod.

Easy Mode

If you use Glyphs, you can go to Glyph>Add Glyphs and copy and paste the following to add all of the above:

Glottalstop Glottalstopreversed Lambdastroke Lslash Hdotbelow Ccaron Scaron glottalstop glottalstopreversed hdotbelow lambdastroke lslash ccaron scaron wmod commaabovecomb

Design Notes

Glottal Stop

ncn glottal 2x
Glottal stop in lowercase and adjustments needed for uppercase

The shape of the glottal stop can be modelled after the question mark but adjusted to flow with the lowercase. A good place to start is making it the same height as the ascenders, balance the proportions with other ascender characters, and unify the curve tension with other rounded letters. The shape also generally does not flow like a question mark and is two distinct shapes a top curve and a stem that sits in the baseline. 

The bottom stem can be either short or long as far as I can tell but it felt more balanced for me to go with a longer stem that reached about three quarters up to the x-height. 

When making an uppercase version, it’s likely that proportional and height adjustments will have to be made. The uppercase P is a good reference. 

The reverse glottal stop can be the same design but flipped.  


A demonstration of the lambdastroke next to an h, v, and eth character
The lambdastroke and related characters

The lambda can be modelled after the v or y, making sure to match ascender height. The eth can be a good reference for the stroke. The uppercase version have a unicode value but you can create an adjusted version so it doesn’t look too tall in an all caps setting.  

W Mod

A demonstration of the placement, positioning and optical adjustments necessary for the wmod character
Examples on how the wmod was added to Tofino

The small w looks like a superior w but it has its own unicode value [U+02B7] and the design can differ a bit. My best guess here was to land the bottom of the w a quarter of the way down to the baseline and not quite up to the cap height. It was a balance of not letting it get too large and wide but also low enough into the lowercase space that there wasn’t an enormous gap. 

The w also cannot be simply scaled down or it will appear too light. optical adjustments need to be made to have it appear closer to the weight of the rest of the characters. 

Anchor Points

characters with exaggerated points showing where to place anchor points
Anchor points needed to support this alphabet

Some of the accented characters do not have unicode values associated with them but we can compose them with some anchor points and the ccmp Opentype feature. Glyphs seems to build this feature in automatically as long as you have the commaabovecomb added and anchor points in the appropriate place. If you want to read more about how this is functioning check out the Glyphs tutorial here.

Don’t Forget To Kern!

The glottal stops in particular can create some awkward gaps so it is important to kern all these new buddies you added to your character set. Here are some kerning strings :) 







I’m Still Learning

This is my first step into designing for North American Indigenous languages and I am excited to work on more. If you have feedback or want to see your own language supported in my typefaces, please send me an email, I would love to explore it with you. 

Thank you to John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks for pointing me in the right direction on this project. 


First Voices: Nuu-chah-nulth

Toquaht Language Site

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council

Alphabet for Central Nuu-chah-nulth

Language Geek Text Samples