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This page currently has no official status within the W3C or the W3C Internationalization Activity. It is being used to sketch out a set of ideas by a participants in the MultilingualWeb project.

The language symbol Ϣ

It is the letter:


The scope is all human language related activities: language technology, natural language processing, translation, multilingualism linguistics, etc.

Business case

There is no language symbol with the desirable characteristics. It is hard to represent graphically the concept language in a clean way: lots for little flags is messy. Two examples of usage:

  • Promotional: a poster with Ϣ will identify immediately that the activity is language related
  • Technical: language selector in web pages

The glyph

Desirable characteristics

  • Unique and unambiguous for languge; i.e., avoid glyphs used for other purposes, such as the globe/map
  • Visually distinctive
  • Glyph suited for small and large representations; e.g., USB logo, poster
  • Unicode character with a glyph widely available

Rationale for using a Unicode character

  • Ready to use immediately
  • No need to create a new glyph
  • Usable in text: during the discussion this have become even more apparent
  • Easy reference; e.g., U+03E2

Rationale for Ϣ

  • Visually distinctive
  • Widely available as it is in the Greek Unicode block
  • Neutral; i.e., old Egyptian is old enough
  • Little used outside the writing in Coptic; i.e., not loaded with other meanings
  • Region associated with the origin of writing
  • A flavor of language as the letter comes hieroglyph -> demotic -> coptic

Preferred glyph

There will be a preferred glyph in a certain color, though all fonts of Ϣ are valid as the language symbol. These should facilitate the dissemination.

The preferred glyph will be designed later and it will be available in graphic formats such as PNG and SVG.

The glyph should be similar to the one in Unicode

MultilingualWeb Project

  • Outcome: the language symbol could be considered an outcome.
  • Activity: the promotion of the language symbol should be an activity: the partners have enough weight to make it a success.

Logo for the MultilingualWeb Project

The language symbol should not be confused with the development of the logo for the MultilingualWeb Project, though this logo would probably include Ϣ. For example:

ϢultilingualϢeb (the first Ϣ inverted to look like a M)


Jörg Schütz

  • Do ordinary people understand the symbol and its intention?

No. It is a new meaning for Ϣ and neither ordinary people or experts understand the symbol and its intention. Indeed, the MultilingualWeb Project should propagate this new meaning for Ϣ. It will take a few years.

  • The Coptic language is still alive and used by the Coptic christian community. Using symbols from this language might open certain interpretations, and question the reach of the project's approach.

It is very much a valid concern. Indeed, one does not want a similar situation to the Red Cross that is the Red Crescent is some countries.

The situation of Coptic is similar to Latin: Coptic is the liturgical language of the Coptic Church, and Latin is the liturgical language of the Catholic Church; but these churches do not own these languages. Their roots are far deeper.

Coptic is simply the old Egyptian language.

Egypt, a muslin country, very much revindicate this cultural heritage. Also, it is a Middle East language with connections to the deep roots of writing, others non-Egyptian languages and conveniently non-European centric.

The ethnologue states: Coptic. An extinct language of Egypt

Jan Nelson checked:

I ran the question of use of the SHEI past folks internally here to assess the risk. The feedback is that the probably risk is low enough that we (Microsoft)are happy to participate in a group that uses this character in the way intended.

John Yunker

  • A globe/map is sometimes used

It is not unique to multilingualism as it has other usages such as network. Similar to the Rosetta Stone, it is also over-used.

  • Firms will have to change

Little (or nothing) of the existing will be broken. For example, most web sites just have the word English in a drop-down menu to indicate more languages; also, if a webmaster continuous with the globe/map, his website will continue to function.

Andrzej Zydron and Jirka Kosek

  • I vote against. I consider it a reasonably good symbol for our activity within the Multilingual Web project but a very poor and ill considered multilingual symbol.

From the beginning is was clear that Ϣ was a for a multilingual symbol and not for the logo of the MultilingualWeb Project.


  • ϢϢϢ : Multilingual web (not this project, the general concept)
  • ϢWS  : Multilingual web sites
  • ϢCMS : Multilingual content management