Hebrew punctuation on the keyboard layout?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/05/23 05:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/05/23/604580.aspx

Ilya Konstantinov asked the following question (or perhaps it would more accurate to say made the following suggestion!) in the Suggestion Box:

Hi Michael,

This time, I'm contacting you not with a question per-se but rather with a request (which may just turn into an explanation why it's impossible :). I'm wondering whether it's still not too late to add a few characters to the Hebrew keyboard of Vista, characters which were discriminated for far too long.


The Maqaf is the Hebrew hyphen, and has pretty much the same functionality (connecting two words together) as its English counterpart. It differs from the Hyphen in its drawing style (a dash in the character ascent height, not in the middle height) and has a biblical origin (unlike many other modern Hebrew punctuation symbols, which simply migrated from European languages). It is well-used in Hebrew typography – just pick up any decent book and notice how the hyphens are a tad higher than usual.  In online writing, though, it's seldom used simply due to the fact it's not available on the Windows keyboard (Mac Hebrew keyboard actually has it – Alt-Z, I was told). This situation is very similar to users preferring HYPHEN-MINUS over HYPHEN, EN DASH and EM DASH.

The next pet-peeves are the Geresh (Hebrew equivalent of a period in abbreviations – e.g. abbrev.) and the Gershayim (Hebrew symbol symbolizing a sequence of characters is an acronym, placed before the last character in the acronym). Both those characters are usually replaced online with APOSTROPHE and QUOTATION MARK accordingly, simply due to the visual similarity.

Adding those characters to the Windows Hebrew keyboard has the potential of resurrecting them back into the Hebrew online typography. Is it still not too late?

P.S. I've created a custom layout containing them in MSKLC – e.g. [Ctrl]-[Shift]-[VK_OEM_MINUS] for HEBREW PUNCTUATION MAQAF, but Microsoft adding them into the official layout would be so much better.

P.P.S. Another improvement might be adding AutoCorrect rules to Word, just like it has for changing "--" into EN DASHes, but that's a different thing altogether.

This is actually a suggestion that has been made before on occasion, both to colleagues of mine in Redmond like Yaniv and to folks in the MS subsidiary in Israel.

And the fact is that these three Unicode code points:




are useful in many contexts in Hebrew text, and their replacement by other similar Unicode code points:

-   U+002d   HYPHEN-MINUS

'   U+0027   APOSTROPHE


is not entirely satisyfing to everyone, but the fact remains that it is a common substitution. And there is really no mechanism to fold them together (which is kind of a problem in search operations. This has led to some real resistance to adding these Hebrew punctuation marks to keyboards shipped to date.

Of course there are other potential solutions that have been kicked around....

For example, there are some who would like to see the problem via Word AutoCorrect style mechanisms that replace the punctuation symbols with their Hebrew counterparts when appropriate.

And there are others who imagine a "digit substitution" style solution that would cause the backing store to always be the standard punctuation but in Hebrew contexts would look more like the Hebrew punctuation.

Of course these alternate ideas have their own problems, too. If this was an easy problem, it would have been solved already!

So the question about whether it is too late for the change in Vista? I'd have to say YES right now, since there has really been no consensus reached on expected behavior....


This post brought to you by "־" (U+05be, a.k.a. HEBREW PUNCTUATION MAQAF)

# Centaur on 23 May 2006 11:56 AM:

I suggest that « » “ ” … — – also be available on the keyboard, for the same reasons. After all, Word is not an input method. It’s not even in the box.

Of course, making proper punctuation characters available does not mean everybody will use them. Half the Russian users refuse to type the letter YO (Ё) despite it being there.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 23 May 2006 12:12 PM:

Well, in languages that use those punctuation symbols, they ARE on the keyboard. The question of using Hebrew punctuation is a lot less clear....

# Mar on 25 May 2006 3:46 PM:

Discounting software autoconversion, as far as I know the correct quotation marks aren't present in any Cyrillic keyboard layout except Macedonian, and are missing from many Latin layouts like the Italian, Spanish, Serbian, French, Danish, Norwegian, Albanian, Icelandic, German, Swiss etc etc. Perhaps this has changed for Vista?

By the way there are punctuation problems with Armenian that are similar to those with Hebrew. For example the Windows XP Armenian layouts use the colon rather than the Armenian full stop. Similarily the WinXP Georgian layout lacks the U+10FB Georgian Paragraph Separator.

# Haber on 29 May 2006 3:00 PM:

To Ilya-- hear, hear! It's about time someone brought up this issue.

In response to Michael, though, I don't think that technical issues are really what's preventing these characters from being integrated into the Vista keyboard. More likely, it's just uneasiness on the part of whoever's responsible for the layout to make such a significant break from the keyboard people are already used to. If there were a real push to go through with this kind of change, technical problems could be overcome: as you brought up, there are already some suggestions that could be developed.

And in my opinion, adding a few punctuation marks to the Hebrew keyboard layout shouldn't a problem, especially considering that Hebrew has 22 letters vs. the European 26. For example, if there were a decision to move all the sofiyot letters to shift keys, we will have already cleared up 5 extra keys!

Finally, might I also point out (in addition to what Ilya has said) that it appears the lack of "smart quotes" in Hebrew computing has caused our low opening quote marks to disappear? If you take a look at almost any old printed Hebrew text from the early 70's and back, you will notice that opening quotes are low (as in German), and closing ones are high, often going above the letters themselves (as opposed to the gershayim, which should be level with the letters). Here is an example:


It seems to me that since the advent of the Hebrew keyboard layout, where this is not accounted for (and unlike many other languages-- it is not corrected automatically in programs like Word), the distinction in Hebrew between opening and closing quotation marks has completely disappeared, in addition to being lumped together with the gershayim. And since we're discussing desired improvements to the layout, I guess I would add this point as well.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 29 May 2006 3:24 PM:

Hello Haber,

As I have posted previously, Microsoft has to be a follower in this area whenever it can, rather than a leader -- following the standards provided by governments, by keyboard hardware, by de facto standards provided by the marketplace, by customer requests, and so on.

With that said, this blog is an area where feedback can be and *is* gathered, so information given here by customers is something that people notice (lots of the folks from my group read here regularly, even though they never comment themselves -- they must not like me! <self-deprecating grin>).

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