The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 6: Behind the Cherokee Phonetic layout in Windows 8

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/11/09 07:01 -05:00, original URI:

Previous blogs from this series:

Now part 5 of this series put a slightly more direct take on new locales, by providing an explicit list of them.

But I wanted to talk about one locale in particular.

And one keyboard in particular.

The locale is Cherokee.

And the keyboard is the Cherokee Phonetic layout.

I remember talking with some folks from the Cherokee Nation (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ) from Oklahoma, as well as someone at Microsoft from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI, or ᏣᎳᎩᏱ ᏕᏣᏓᏂᎸᎩ). They were telling us of lots of the things they were doing to help increase the usage of technology in their homes and their headquarters in Oklahoma. It's one of the biggest reasons that I enjoy this work, being able to help such endeavors.

As a part of that, Cherokee Nation's Roy Bonny and Joseph Erb mentioned the Phonetic layout and how much easier people found it to use, though with a few problems:

1) The one built via MSKLC, which was dead key based, was forced to use the wrong letters in a few cases to make up fo the fact that there was no solution to having three key strokes make one Unicode character -- e.g.

T + L + A to get Ꮭ (U+13dd, a.k.a. CHEROKEE LETTER TLA)

2) The IME-based solutions didn't work in all applications and the typing feel was not quite as natural as they would have liked.

3) The Cherokee-QWERTY keyboard that is pre-installed on Mac OS X forced people to have to remember many memorized shortcuts (not unlike to the MSKLC layout -- same problem!), such as:

Roy and Joseph both expressed the frustration their adults and elders expressed to them at such shortcuts, and the need to incorrectly type in order to correctly type things.

Honor is a big deal here, and this problem leaves a bad taste....

There is another layout, the "Cherokee Nation" layout. But that one fails on the "intuitive" metric. So if they learn it they can use it.

I really felt like more should be done here -- enabling language should be better than this; we should be better than this.

I should be better than this.

So I asked them for the list of keys and pronunciations:

I took the info, and I told them I couldn't promise them anything.

While nevertheless promising myself that I would solve this problem.

So, armed with the MSKLC layout that fell short of their expectations, the graphic above, and links to sites like this one which had some info on not just the Cherokee Nation desired phonetic layout but the alternate phonetic choices for the Eastern Band vs. Cherokee Nation, I decided to see if I could create a layout that would feel delightful to a Cherokee user.

Then of course, since this is me we're talking about, I had to blog about the methods I ended up using!

We had not yet announced that we were adding a Cherokee keyboard, or even a Cherokee locale, so I just talked about the technology, in Chain Chain Chain, Chain of Dead Keys and The Dead Keys Conundrum: An Encyclopedia Brown Mystery and both the Solution the mystery and the The Sally Kimball Addition to the solution.

This is the single most complicated layout we have, by a factor of two or more -- the most complicated layout ever hoping to be put in a Microsoft product.

If it succeeds, at least, in swaying the users.

The completed layout, I nervously sent to Roy and Joseph and Tracy and Jeff Edwards - four users uniquely qualified to judge what ought to work, even if because of how often others have fallen short.

I gave minimal instructions (basically how to install it), I wanted to see how effective I was in "translating" all of this source material into an intuitive phonetic Cherokee keyboard.

I almost trembled at the presumption, believing myself able to accomplish this. Surely I must have missed something. Who can beat Apple at delighting users? That never hapens, right?

So I held my breath, and waited.

And fretted.

Turns out, I shouldn't have worried so much. Because the results were beyond my wildest hopes.

In their own words:

From Joseph:

Siyo Michael, 

Thanks for all your help on this.  We are really excited here on this keyboard.  As for language experts for typing Cherokee , jeff is one of the best we have. He has perhaps typed up more Cherokee documents then anyone alive today. We rely a lot on Jeffs skill on typing fast and accurately.  We will share the key board with many other Cherokees as we get closer. But jeff should be able to answer any question you might have. 

Again thanks so much on this , it will change many lives here on our end 



From Tracy (who noticed I got rid of one of the most notorious of the "bogus shortcuts" other layouts were forced to use):

Wow, you killed the ‘j’…there is a metal for that alone. Early glance is that is fantastic work. I’ll dig in more tomorrow.

From Jeff:

Well man we truly appreciate what you are doing for us.  I wish I had made it out on initial visit to put a face with a name but my grandson was being born so I sort of had to stay behind! 

But your work will be appreciated and used by not only oklahoma but also north Carolina Cherokees as well.

I like your way of thinking on the space after the s character.  Unfortunately I have typed up more Cherokee documents than anyone on the planet combined!  Not boasting by any means but I can type Cherokee faster than most can type English (Joseph words not mine).  I actually got my Cherokee name, skasdi, from my mad Cherokee typing skills, which means in today's terms awesome, powerful or nasty, all apply.  But if it's been typed chances are my fingers had a part in it.  Over 6000 pages of curriculum, 5000+ word dictionary and everything in between.  So to me that would be way easier grabbing the space instead of the x.  I by no means consider myself a fluent speaker because I am not but when it comes to typing, reading or writing I can blow the doors off! 

But using your keyboard would be best described as fluid non stop motion in my opinion which is awesome.  You never have to look up, the leading is perfect and it just looks really nice when you look at the end product.  Others I have used had quarks and tricks which was constantly interrupting your work but so far this one had been a home run.

But again thanks for your time and dedication to the cause.  I can speak for everyone when saying this was needed years ago and it will truly help our language efforts.  I will have to sneak off one day and thank you in person.

I think I may have successfully met the bar that I set for myself to delight the target users. :-)

I did finally get to meet Jeff (at the IUC last month), and the first impressions were backed up by the continuing delight. I stand ready to tweak the layout as they continue to use it for any problems they see, but so far so good. 

I'll admit I'm pretty pleased about all this.

Especially the fact that no one else -- including Apple -- has ever solved this problem well enough for whatever percentage of the over 300,000 Cherokee who want to use the script, the language phonetically.

I want to visit Oklahoma next year some time, to help people and watch them be helped.

And then the next thing to work on: since even if you are on Windows 8 you can't use MSKLC to load the full layout and be able to use on other platforms, I'd like to see at some point about releasing the layout fow download, for everyone who wants to type Cherokee text using this cool keyboard.

But for now, if you pick up the Developer Preview of Windows 8, you can try it out, too.

If the code I write for tools like MSLU or MSKLC is my prose, then the Cherokee Phonetic keyboard layout is my poetry. Enjoy!

r on 9 Nov 2011 8:42 AM:

Well, I was surprised to see no reference to the song "Cherokee Nation" in this blog.

Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Nov 2011 8:51 AM:


America M. on 9 Nov 2011 9:31 AM:

ᏩᏙ for your work! I'm not fluent but I end up using the Cherokee syllabary online a few times every day. I love how it's not just the immersion school kids using Cherokee online and texting, but elders as well!

Tom Gewecke on 9 Nov 2011 9:46 AM:

Very interesting!  I'm wondering if it's possible to create an OS X layout that works just like yours.  Is there a full chart I can get somewhere?  tom at bluesky dot org

Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Nov 2011 1:39 PM:

Elders were seduced into it by seeing the kids involved -- they love that. :-)

Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Nov 2011 1:41 PM:

My understanding of what OS X can do here is incomplete. I have it on my plate to add a chart of what the keyboard does, and I'll get to it eventually....

Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Nov 2011 2:29 PM:

I am assuming OS X doesn't support this though -- if it were easy, they would have done it, right?

cheong00 on 9 Nov 2011 5:40 PM:

Congratulations for one more great feature addition be done to delight users.

Van on 9 Nov 2011 11:06 PM:

I have a strange question, but I think it's worth asking. Could this be implemented as a "double" dead key, where you have, for example, the old z + a defined as tsa, then make a dead key combination where t + s = z, and simply put an @ after that definition in the deadkey list? The same could be done with t + l = r@, d + l = f@ (I assume that was a typo, above), etc. I guess this is both a dual-function keyboard, as well as a shortcut to making the chained dead key layout. Just a thought, but I was wondering about your thoughts.

referenced by

2015/07/03 If we won't update MSKLC, at least we could put up a keyboard for them to install....

2015/01/26 There's nothing small about Cherokee -- yet....

2012/12/20 The Cherokee LIP on Windows 8, part 2: Let's talk about the keyboards!

2012/10/26 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 28: We finally fixed that 'Install New Languages' thing!

2012/10/02 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 27: No, the T and the H aren't silent...

2012/09/20 Those keys that are so hot -- which ones should they be?

2012/08/29 And they seem to have thus shipped what rightfully should have been exiled from the product

2012/08/20 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 26: Hey Windows 8, there's someone on the phone for you.

2012/07/11 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 25: Something old, something new, something repurposed, and something...

2012/06/07 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 24: I Adar you! Hell, I Double Adar you! (Windows 8 ed.)

2012/06/05 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 23: Tamazight? Outta sight!

2012/05/03 The missing blog Part #10b?

2012/04/12 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 22: Digit Substitution 2.0

2012/04/04 Can't Touch This! (unless you have the hardware, I mean)

2012/03/29 The On-Screen Keyboard vs the Touch Keyboard: 2 very different Windows 8 things…

2012/03/08 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 21: The Windows 8 Hijripalooza extraordinaire!

2012/03/02 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 20: Yes, it's Bangla. Not Bengali!

2012/02/29 What's the difference between Tiếng Việt, Tiếng Việt, and Tiếng Việt? (other than the obvious, I mean)

2012/02/21 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 19: In honor of International Mother Language Day...

2012/02/15 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 18: Two scripts that share ten digits can be trouble

2012/02/02 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 17: Today I feel like translating you more than before

2012/01/24 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 16: We can't scale to a Xishuangbanna Dai locale, but…

2012/01/17 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 15: Fixing our listings up in Windows 8!

2011/12/22 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 14: Tifinagh, Tamazight, and Berber? Oh my!

2011/12/21 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 13: Divvying up locales, yet again!

2011/12/20 On limitations your design that you may have failed to take into account

2011/12/09 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 12: Logic dictates that we keep a sense of proportion about the RATIO

2011/11/23 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 11: What language is that keyboard for?

2011/11/22 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 10: Perhaps it is best to think of it as unintelligent design?

2011/11/16 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 9: Nastaleeq vs. Nastaliq? Either way, Windows 8 has got it!

2011/11/15 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 8: [Finally] taking care of some [more] languages in Pakistan

2011/11/11 The evolving Story of Locale Support, part 7: That would be a "call and a raise" for Hawaiian

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