Mehr-e-Nastaliq; Pakistanis Developed Urdu Web Font for the Internet

Urdu, the lingua franca of Pakistan, has always been associated with the Muslims of the northern Indian subcontinent. Written from right to left, the language with the Perso-Arabic script, now has a beautiful font of its own named “Mehr-e-Nastaliq.”  Developed by a father-son duo, Mehr-e-Nastaliq brings Urdu Calligraphy to the mainstream digital world.

Nasrullah Mehr, a renowned Pakistani calligrapher, has showcased his art for various books, magazines, and newspapers. He has been in this business for 30 years and received the Yousaf Sadidi award from the Governor of Punjab in 1998. His son Zeeshan Mehr, who chose to join the family trade, taught himself computer programming when the business slowed down. His main focus was to develop a more refined Urdu font for the internet.

Though the two had a great idea and vision, they lacked knowledge of how to carry scientific rigor of evaluation of their font, and also in finances and resources. But, with the support of Dr. Umar Saif, Vice-Chancellor of Information Technology University (ITU), and the technical assistance of linguistic technology expert, Dr. Agha Ali Raza, from ITU’s Center for Speech and Language Technologies (CSaLT) laboratory, Mehr-e-Nastaliq is now a reality.

Mehr-e-Nastaliq web font is compatible with more advanced OpenType Font (OTF) technology. It is licensed with the Creative Commons, a United States-based non-profit organization with the view of making it easy for popular operating system manufacturers like Microsoft to use it with their word processors.

This new font is different from the previous ones as apart from looking beautifully Mehr-e-Nastaliq has very small footprint so that it can be quickly rendered by Internet browsers. It contains approximately 450 glyphs, including symbols, and contains support for the English language.

The font follows the Nastaliq rules while maintaining line-height and it also includes support for numerous diacritics, including araab (pointing).  It contains all the possible shapes of characters in ligatures and can change the form of an alphabet depending on the particular context. It also allows basic support for kashida (elongating characters at certain specific points) and kerning (spacing between characters).

Recently, Punjab government declared Urdu as an official language to be used in all government departments and in such times where extensive measures are being taken to promote Urdu, Mehr-e-Nastaliq is an amazing development.

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