The Autonym Font for Language Names

When an article on Wikipedia is available in multiple languages, we see the list of those languages in a column on the side of the page. The language names in the list are written in the script that the language uses (also known as language autonym).

This also means that all the appropriate fonts are needed for the autonyms to be correctly displayed. For instance, an article like the one about the Nobel Prize is available in more than 125 languages and requires approximately 35 different fonts to display the names of all the languages in the sidebar.

Language Autonyms

Initially, this was handled by the native fonts available on the reader’s device. If a font was not present, the user would see square boxes (commonly referred to as tofu) instead of the name of a language. To work around this problem, not just for the language list, but for other sections in the content area as well, the Universal Language Selector (ULS) started to provide a set of webfonts that were loaded with the page.

While this ensured that more language names would be correctly displayed, the presence of so many fonts dramatically increased the weight of the pages, which therefore loaded much more slowly for users than before. To improve client-side performance, webfonts were set not to be used for the Interlanguage links in the sidebar anymore.

Removing webfonts from the Interlanguage links was the easy and immediate solution, but it also took us back to the sup-optimal multilingual experience that we were trying to solve in the first place. Articles may be perfectly displayed thanks to web fonts, but if a link is not displayed in the language list, many users will not be able to discover that there is a version of the article in their language.

Autonyms were not needed just for Interlanguage links. They were also required for the Language Search and Selection window of the Universal Language Selector, which allows users to find their language if they are on a wiki displaying content in a script unfamiliar to them.

Missing font or “tofu”

As a solution, the Language Engineers came up with a trimmed-down font that only contains the characters required to display the names of the languages supported in MediaWiki. It has been named the Autonym font and will be used when only the autonyms are to be displayed on the page. At just over 50KB in size, it currently provides support for nearly 95% of the 400+ supported languages. The pending issues list identifies the problems with rendering and missing glyphs for some languages. If your language misses glyphs and you know of an openly-licensed font that can fill that void, please let us know so we can add it.

The autonym font addresses a very specific use case. There have been requests to explore the possibility of extending the use of this font to similar language lists, like the ones found on Wikimedia Commons. Within MediaWiki, the font can be used easily through a CSS class named autonym.

The Autonym font has been released for free use with the SIL Open Font License, Version 1.1.

Runa Bhattacharjee, Outreach and QA coordinator, Language Engineering, Wikimedia Foundation

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9 Comments on The Autonym Font for Language Names

Mikhail Ryazanov 11 months

OK, there is already some discussion at Bugzilla:
Bug 56346 – Language names blurred and legible with difficulty (using the hardcoded “Autonym” font)

kinokijuf 11 months

The font is badly hinted. This causes problems in browsers that use GDI rendering (GDI uses hinting extensively).

Citynoise 11 months

Yes, I agree that this will be helpful for many people, but the font is not very attractive and advanced users should be able to use their own fonts. It looks like there is little to no hinting (this is the cause of the crunchy letters mentioned by 32X), and many of the scripts do not harmonize with the visual weight of the Helvetica-clone used for the Latin letters. (Bengali, for example, is too light, and Ge’ez is too heavy.) I have my own fonts specified in my user CSS — how can I replace or disable Autonym?

32X 11 months

The feature is now live. The renderin in monobook needs some additional polish, as the latin characters are crippled in that font-size. F.e. small latin character E looks like a crippled c, “Česky” looks like “Čcsky” and “Deutsch” looks like “Doutsch” with some dirt on the screen hiding parts of the o.

With a larger font-size the font looks pretty fine, but that’s not a solution of the problem. Anyway, I like the general idea of that font.

Mikhail Ryazanov 11 months

I’m sorry, but is there something in the user interface to disable this feature? I don’t care about seeing “boxes” for languages that I cannot read anyway (and thus have no fonts for them), but the problem now is that the languages that I do care about started looking quite ugly in this list. I would prefer to use my usual system font for them instead of this downloadable one…
(If this is not possible, where should I file a bug report?)

Nemo 11 months

Runa, is there a patch for that already? WebFonts are still disabled for interwikis in the current master:

138:$wgULSNoWebfontsSelectors = array( ‘#p-lang li > a’ );

Runa Bhattacharjee 11 months

Not yet. It will be made available as part of the 1.23wmf1 deployment thats scheduled for through October and November. (

jesus h 11 months


gidoca 11 months

Is this already enabled on Wikipedia? I still see the tofu both in the links in the language sidebar and in the articles themselves when clicking on such a link.

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