Marchen v1

by Arakun

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Marchen is a Brahmic script used in the Tibetan Bon tradition to write the extinct Zhang-zhung language. It can also be used to write Tibetan. It supposedly originated in the Zhang-zhung kingdom prior to the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism in the 7th century, but no texts from that time using the script are known.

Marchen was added to the Unicode standard in version 9 released in June 2016. This font is modelled very closely on the example characters in the Unicode chart which were designed (I think) by Andrew West. Like my other fonts it's not a Unicode font though but uses an ad-hoc ASCII mapping. Marchen, like the Tibetan script, relies heavily on vertically stacked consonants. I could in theory create precomposed compound characters for the most common stacks, but managing that with an ad-hoc encoding would be a nightmare. This makes the font rather useless. :P

My second biggest problem was that I wanted the vowel diacritics to be the same width as the base letters. These come in four widths. Add the medial 'y' which attaches to the right side of a letter and it turns into a huge mess. I solved this by creating extra "bars" that can be used to extend the diacritics.


The text sample starts with the sentence "May You Enjoy Prosperity" in Tibetan, the same I used for my 'Phags-pa font. The rest is just a list of all the letters, ending with the four vowel diacritics.

Comment by Arakun 2nd october 2016

Can you please share the keyboard layout? Thank you!

Comment by abzang 8th september 2021

Sorry about the slow response. I usually write down the character mappings for the fonts I make. Apparently I didn't in this case. It could be because it's a bit of a mess and I was thinking of rearranging parts of it. Anyway, here are some hastily put together tables of the current character maps.

The consonants are fairly straightforward. Lowercase are what you'd expect for the most part with the exception of q for tsa. Uppercase are used for aspirated (kha, tha…), post-alveolar (sha, zha) and other variations (N for ṅa, J for ña, D for dza). Uppercase W, Y and R are used for medial forms.

Consonants come in four different widths. There's also the medial y which attaches to the right side of a letter. The width of the vowel diacritics for u, e and o should change to match the width of the consonant, but this is not possible to implement. As a workaround, the digits 1–8 add bars beneath and above that can be used to extend the vowel diacritic. Likewise 9 0 M and - : ; are used for the anusvara and candrabindu (though some would need to be nudged half a square to be perfectly centered).

My second design works differently. It uses fewer consonant widths and I was able to add separate glyphs for the vowels for each consonants width. This is why an error snuck into the sample I uploaded for this font which I didn't spot until now. The second design has a glyph assigned to I (uppercase i) – this font does not.

Note that there's a lot that is not supported by this font. The most notable limitation is that it does not support stacked consonants.

If you want a Marchen font that's actually functional and uses the correct Unicode code points, then go grab either Babelstone Marchen or Noto Sans Marchen.

Comment by Arakun 12th september 2021

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