# Xenotypography 101

### Studying the writing of fictional alien civilizations

If aliens exist, what fonts do they use? To be fair, I don’t really care. But, asking the question allows me to call myself a xenotypographer (a term which has satisfyingly few Google results). That’s historic. It’s courageous, really.

Seriously, though. I’ve done some work on this. First, here is a mug.

Click it to see for yourself, but that mug - and Mars - rest on the desk of Elon Musk. The red symbols are from a fictional language called Marain (*not* Martian) in Iain Banks’s Culture novels. I think they look cool. Elon Musk thinks they look cool. You think they look cool. We all agree. They’re cool. But I actually did something about it! Again, I’m *brave*.

What to do? Why not generate *all possible symbols *in this language? But how?

Well, the mug’s symbols all fall within a template: a plus sign and an X, all wrapped in a square (see below, left). Incidentally, *The* *Skyward Lament*, as I like to call it, can also be created from this template (see below, right).

It's amazing how many images, and how many emotions, one can conjure from this template. Take a look.

Anyway, how many possible symbols are there? Well, again, the template is a plus sign, an X, and a square. The plus sign has four line segments, the X has four, and the square has eight (two on top, two on bottom, etc.) So, that’s a total of 4 + 4 + 8 = 16 line segments. Each one can be present or absent. That’s two possibilities each. So, every character could be represented by 16 bits of information, with each bit specifying whether a particular line segment is present or absent. That leaves us with 2^16 = 65,536 possible characters. About 30% of these are either easy to confuse with each other or can't be written without lifting your pen. That leaves us with around 46,000 characters. Here are 328 of them:

They all consist of two polygons. In fact, this is an exhaustive list of *all *characters made up of two polygons. Here are a bunch of characters with arrows pointing to the top-right:

There are all sorts of interesting groups of characters.

But, to count as xeno*typography, *we’ve got to turn our attention not only to the symbols, but to the fonts! Here’s an elegant, thin-lined one:

And a bold one:

Starting only as Musk’s mug’s markings, Marain’s managed to maintain a miraculous, multi-year magnetism over my mind, and I’ve only shown you the half of it here.