by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/12/30 15:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2005/12/30/508233.aspx
Last month, Suzanne was talking about The All-India Keyboard and she made several good points related to it usability when compared to some other layouts.
She specifically talked about the INSCRIPT keyboards:
This keyboard works well for Devanagari, with its 34 consonants and 12 vowels. The vowels are encoded as both initials and diacritics so that makes 58 letters altogether and a few more symbols. No upper and lower case so all is well.
I should interupt to point out that although the INSCRIPT keyboard may "work well" for Devangari, in the Windows 2000 timeframe Microsoft got a lot of feedback from native speakers that it was not the one that they preferred. This led to the inclusion of the Hindi Traditional keyboard layout, a layout that is generally considered to be more intuitive (it does has a lot in common with the INSCRIPT layout, but is not identical to it -- and little things can mean a lot).
(for illustrative purposes, here is the Devanagari INSCRIPT layout followed by the Hindi Traditional one so you can see what I mean:
(Every shift state has differences for the two keyboards -- in many cases due to what looks like additional characters being added that are not used for Hindi. That makes me wonder about the use of the Devanagari INSCRIPT keyboard for Devanagari script languages other than Hindi)
In any case, she then went on to talk about a place where the INSCRIPT layout did not even really seem to meet that minimum bar of "working well" for a language:
Tamil, on the other hand, has only 18 consonants and 12 vowels. These vowels have two forms, as in Devanagari. Because these forms are context dependent there is an argument that the two forms could both be input with the same keystroke. That would make 30 letters altogether. In that case, the basic Tamil writing system could be represented on the keyboard in the unshifted state.
Using the Inscript keyboard for Tamil means using a keyboard with 4 blank spaces in the unshifted state, while 3 more keys in the unshifted state have Grantha letters on them. These are letters for writing Sanskrit and are not part of the basic Tamil alphabet. Likewise 7 of the basic Tamil consonants are in the shift state.
Of course I am forced to disagree with the premise that the original keyboard was the right design (based on the customer feedback that led to an alternate layout being preferred!). Of course one of the most common problems that keyboard 'standards' suffer from attempting to capture a perfect technical solution for a language without trying to capture the usability concerns at the same time. :-)
But Suzanne was not referring to user expectations so much as appropriate layout for a language from a technical linguistic viewpoint. And note that if you are not a native speaker of a language you do not have the baggage of those user expectations, so from that point of view one could even claim that the use of a standard like the INSCRIPT layout across multiple Indic scripts has the advantage of making typing across the various languages easier. However, it is worthwhile to point out that the layouts themselves are considered to be non-optimal by native users of the languages in many cases, even if they are a good technical solution for non-native users of a language.
Now there is a special usability problem with trying to describe one language in terms of another -- it is easy if you primarily know the original language, but this ease is to the detriment of the target language in many cases.
(I hinted about similar issues in Korean in this post; I may talk more about that another day.)
This is the situation with the Tamil keyboard layout in Windows.
So although I disagree with Suzanne's chain of logic, in the end we agree about the conclusion that the keyboard is not optimal for Tamil. We just took two very different paths to get to the answer. :-)
All of this does of course lead to some additional questions, which will be topics to post about in the upcoming year....
This post brought to you by "ஔ" (U+0b94, a.k.a. TAMIL LETTER AU)
# Abhinaba Basu [MSFT] on 2 Jan 2006 1:05 AM:
# Suzanne McCarthy on 3 Jan 2006 1:25 AM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Jan 2006 1:49 AM:
# Suzanne McCarthy on 3 Jan 2006 1:59 AM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Jan 2006 2:16 AM:
# Sathish on 4 Jan 2006 2:39 AM:
# N Nirmalananthan on 12 Feb 2006 3:01 PM:
KonstantinMiller on 6 Jul 2009 10:33 PM:
I have been looking looking around for this kind of information. Will you post some more in future? I'll be grateful if you will.
ashish dewang on 29 Jul 2012 11:06 AM:
2006/01/05 A script, by any other name
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