Colophon: Mark Jamra’s Phoreus Cherokee


This site is set in Phoreus Cherokee (the gorgeous serif used throughout, particularly in the body of each piece) and Brandon Grotesque (the sans-serif used in the titles, headings, and tags). While this is perhaps an overdue colophon — which we’ll be adding to the About section of this site soon — the typeface’s designer, Mark Jamra, deserves particular acknowledgement for his work. Phoreus Cherokee, originally released in 2014, is the only typeface in the world that accurately represents the Cherokee language. The background:

In the summer of 2011, Roy Boney Jr. and Joseph Erb from the Language Technology Office of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, spoke at a type conference about their efforts to integrate the Cherokee language into current communications technology. They finished with an earnest request to type designers to create Cherokee typefaces, since new digital types are required to build the resources they need to preserve their language and culture.

I heeded the call and began by choosing a Latin design already in progress as the proportional basis for the 85 glyphs of the Cherokee syllabary. The first phase of development involved reading most of the available research into the historical aspects of the syllabary, an analysis of the existing types, and making form studies from manuscript images provided by the Cherokee Nation and the James Mooney manuscript collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Since there were no useable multi-weight Cherokee type families at the time of their presentation, my initial strategy was to create a family of upright fonts in various weights. But when the light and bold were nearing completion, I asked what they thought of my creating an italic – not just an oblique, but a real cursive italic inspired by Cherokee handwriting. With their encouragement, I researched and culled the forms I needed from almost 180 years of manuscripts. The result – the first Cherokee cursive italic typeface design – was given a very positive evaluation by the Language Technology Office.

Phoreus Cherokee was produced primarily for use in the Cherokee language with the occasional insertion of words and phrases in the Latin script. Phoreus’ distinct and uncomplicated forms are particularly suited to very young readers – a primary target audience in language preservation. There is also a “small cap” version of each glyph, so that bilingual texts can be set in which a Cherokee text attains the same color as an English text set in upper and lower case.

The name Phoreus is the ancient Greek word for bearer or carrier and could refer to type (and the Cherokee syllabary) as a vehicle of language and visual culture.

I have no interest in creating dead forms…I prefer living forms, something that shows the human spirit, however subtly.
— Mark Jamra1

In a recent piece for the Portland Press Herald, Bob Keyes writes that, “Jamra’s efforts are a part of the Cherokee’s push to make the language available across digital applications, including Apple devices and Android phones. There are Cherokee interfaces for Microsoft Windows and Google, as well.”

We’re proud to be using Phoreus Cherokee throughout The Chart and we’ll be making updates to the site to optimize its appearance — for example, using small caps instead of regular caps above and adding in ligatures — to really display the type as it should be seen. For more information on the development of Phoreus Cherokee, check out Dean Merrill’s video above as well as Jamra’s site TypeCulture.

  1. Keyes, Bob. “Portland graphic designer helps the Cherokee Nation update its language for the digital age”, Portland Press Herald. November 29, 2015.