13 November 2006
Ruben Fontana
Ruben Fontana

One of the great promoters of communication, typography invites us to meditate on, not only the form of letters but also, albeit with a 500 year delay, on the vicissitudes of the cultural memory of the peoples of America. The opening provided by the rapidly extending design of digital fonts is forcing us to pay attention to the sounds that characterize our individual languages.

Identity is a cultural reality that, in essence, implies among many other factors the valuation and consideration of the individual history, culture and geography of each group of people. Communication could not conceivably be analysed without the inclusion of these variables. In the specific case of Latin America, the same mother tongue is articulated in dozens of different sonorous and expressive nuances, that talk to us and that enable us to identify their origins. It would not be right to take Spanish, or more broadly, European culture, as the only parameter of fusion. Among other things, colonization imposed a belief in a destiny tied by language and customs to the culture of Spain, the mother country. However long before the arrival of the Spaniards to the American continent, the ethnic and idiomatic diversities in these lands were already fusing and influencing each other. The languages borrowed from each other, the great pre-Colombian empires underwent their own metamorphoses and, in a unique form of cultural learning, absorbed the neighbouring languages best adapted to the ever growing need to transmit ideas throughout such vast territories.

In this process of natural selection, abruptly interrupted by the Spanish conquest, some sounds were lost forever while others prevailed over time, enriching our speech with words, accents and idiomatic expressions. Today this phenomenon could cross the barrier of sound and enter the realm of everyday reading and writing, as another way of legitimising its particular existence.

This explosion of design and research of Latin American typography contains an inherent as yet unexpressed power, which must perforce be understood. The fact is that letters, besides reconstructing the cultural codes that make them timeless, also follow roads that are intrinsically specific. The study of this complex subject, which though it has the same basic codes is materialized in different forms, and the discovery of the applicable methods, are the most demanding challenges of the times.

It would seem that the road to follow must necessarily look beyond historical reiteration. Latin America has the potential to study the incorporation of different fields of knowledge; the formal fields of course, but also those that lead to them, and it is here that education and culture once again share the same road.

About this article
This article was originally published in
tipoGrafica 60: year XVIII, April-May, 2004, p. 02

It was translated into English by Peggy Jones and Martin Schmoller.

About Ruben Fontana
Ruben Fontana is a designer and typographer. He has chaired the subject of Typography at the University of Buenos Aires. He has also lectured and taught Master's degree programmes at a number of universities in both America and Europe. He is the representative of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATyPI) in Argentina, and has designed the Fontana ND font, among others.

About tipoGrafica Magazine
tipoGrafica is a Design and Typography Magazine made in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for designers and visual communicators around the world. Since 1987, tipoGrafica magazine has provided a forum for debate, communication and exchange of ideas and knowledge. Its staff of advisors and contributors comprises top international specialists.