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Name: Phoreus Cherokee
Designer: Mark Jamra
Foundry: Type Culture
Release Date: 2014; version 2.0 in October 2015
Back story: In the summer of 2011, two representatives from the Language Technology Office of the Cherokee Nation attended a type conference to issue a plea for new digital Cherokee typefaces. The few existing Cherokee fonts at the time were of poor quality, lacking bold or italics. With 316,000 members, the Cherokee are the largest tribal nation in the United States, but only 22,000 native speakers remain.
Designer Mark Jamra was moved by the need for a typeface that would help preserve a nation’s language and culture, and began by adapting a Latin typeface he already had in the works. To develop the letterforms (including a cursive italic inspired by handwriting), Jamra studied the Cherokee syllabary developed between 1809–1824, along with 180 years of manuscripts provided by the Cherokee Nation and the Smithsonian Institute.
Why’s it called Phoreus Cherokee? Phoreus is the ancient Greek word for bearer or carrier and refers to type (and the Cherokee syllabary) as a vehicle of language and visual culture.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? This serif face is a harmonious mix of closed and open shapes, straight strokes, and playful curves. The ornate historic Cherokee glyphs have been opened up and simplified for legibility. The current 2.0 update features a new lowercase in different weights and styles—the first addition to the syllabary in its 195-year history. There’s also a small-caps version, so that bilingual documents can be set in Cherokee text (which looks like small caps to a Latin reader, with sentences beginning with a large syllable and then continuing with smaller glyphs) that maintains the same visual density as English upper- and lower-case text.
What should I use it for? This typeface was designed for use in the Cherokee language with a Latin word or phrase added here and there. Phoreus’ clear, simple shapes are well suited to the very young readers needed to keep the language alive. It works nicely on English language websites, and its open letterforms are an unexpected option to swap in for editorial or advertising text you might have otherwise set in Archer.