by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/02/06 03:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/02/06/525466.aspx
Leave it to me to have professional blog post titles!
It all started yesterday when I posted Keyboards: Monolingual or Multilingual?
Now in that post, I focused on a few of the challenges that the champions of a multilingual keyboard face when they aim for acceptance of their keyboard.
(and let me stop for a moment to point out that when I say multilingual keyboard I mean a single layout that supports multiple languages, as opposed to using multiple layouts with language switching)
But I did skip over talking about what makes up a good keyboard layout for a single language, and the consequences for multilingual keyboards that fall out of that omission.
I thought that today (and probably later this week as well!) I would dig into these issues a bit more deeply. :-)
To better understand the issues, we will go down into the asylum. The asylum for the linguistically insane, to talk to Hannibal Chomsky (the linguist who served failing grad students to his post-doctoral fellows) and get his thoughts on the issue:
Michael: You were telling me the truth about keyboards before, sir. Please continue now.
Hannibal: I've read your blog. Have you? Everything you need to create a good keyboard is right there in those blog pages.
Michel: Then tell me how!
Hannibal: First principles, Michael. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what it is in itself? What is its nature? What does it do, this keyboard you seek?
Michael: It lets you type the documents you want to...
Hannibal: (Hannibal interupts) No, that is incidental. What is the first thing it does? What need does it serve by letting you type the documents you want to?
Michael: I don't know, acceptance? Keeping me from throwing the monitor at the wall?
Hannibal: No. It expresses language. That is its nature. And how do we begin to express language, Michael? Do we seek out the letters to type? (pause) Make an effort to answer now, Michael.
Michael: No, we just...
Hannibal: No, precisely. We begin by using the letters we use every day. Don't you see the fingers of other people moving over their keyboards to express language? I hardly see how you couldn't. And don't you feel your fingers typing quickly over the keys to express what is on you mind?
You will tell me if those keys stop screaming, won't you Michael?
Ah, we begin to see the issue (though at the cost of letting a madman into our heads? Luckily for us he is fictional!)
A good keyboard must be set up so that the letters that you will most frequently use are placed so that they are easy to hit, with less common letters/numbers/symbols further away.
And since every language is likely to have different usage frequencies of different letters, even the simplest of monolingual keyboard layouts will (if designed well) be different from the simple layouts of other languages.
And if you do want to add additional letters to cover other languages, those letters must be placed in a way that is harmonious with the simple design of support for your primary language -- the key assignments would ideally be placed in such a way that they are accessible enolugh to type them when you want to while far enough out of the way that they do not make typos more destructive and more of a pain to fix.
So why do I say in the title of the post that in my estimation, most keyboard layouts suck? Well, mainly because most are not designed with these principles in mind, instead often being based on other principles, and other agendas.
Those principles and agendas may serve needs, and those needs may even be valid ones. But they do not always serve ideal use of a keyboard layout to be able to express through one's typing the words, the language that one's brain is producing.
To give an example, the mere fact that there is no one rule for how often every person in Canada may use English, French, and other languages is a problem that makes the Canadian Multilingaul Keyboard Layout less usable for many of the people for whom it was created.
Some can find it ideal, most will not; this turns out to be true even before you add the poor interoperability with applications like Microsoft Word due to its use of the RIGHT and LEFT 'Control' shift states.
It also turns out to be true before people realize that applications like Microsoft Word cannot tag language appropriately, causing the spellcheck experience to be so not the ideal one....
Now I would not expect either this post or the one from yesterday to sway the people who truly believe that a multilingual keyboard layout is the best thing for a particular community of users.
But I hope it will maybe at least start to convince people who are not actively trying to add such a layout why it may be in the best interests of people to not have only multilingual keyboard layouts as their default options for their locales!
This post brought to you by "ೠ" (U+0ce0, a.k.a. KANNADA LETTER VOCALIC RR)
# Pavanaja U B on 6 Feb 2006 5:52 AM:
# Nick Lamb on 6 Feb 2006 6:15 AM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 6 Feb 2006 10:15 AM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 6 Feb 2006 10:24 AM:
# Michiel on 7 Feb 2006 9:16 AM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 7 Feb 2006 10:32 AM:
# Harsha on 3 May 2006 9:51 PM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 May 2006 11:11 PM:
2006/03/15 Multilingual keyboards and Microsoft Word
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