Monday, July 04, 2005

Cree Keyboards

Cree Typewriter. Courtesy of the Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada(Andru McCracken photographer)

Another unique feature of the Cree syllabarium is that it fits on the QWERTY keyboard very neatly. The original inventory of symbols was 36 syllabics, 9 finals, h, w and the overdot; with only one case. A Cree typewriter had the standard number of keys: likewise all the symbols fit on a standard computer keyboard. The placement of syllabics on this Cree typewriter follows the syllabics chart (Tiro Typeworks). The vowels start on on the far left, then the p-series, the t-series, and so on.

There are two basic ways to keyboard Cree. There is a typewriter style programme with one keystroke for one syllable and there is a transliteration keyboard where each consonant and vowel is typed in and the programme transforms it into syllabics.

The first method is called glyph-based keyboarding, since the character is chosen by its visual shape and keyed in; the other method is called phonetic keyboarding since the alphabetic letters for the sound of the character are keyed in sequence, two keystrokes for each syllabic.

When I was working in Northern Ontario in the early 90's I saw Cree and Oji-Cree speakers using the syllabic writing system for many purposes and in different media - handwriting, typing and typesetting in newsletters, newspapers, etc. For these people there was a continuity from handwriting to keyboarding and they would naturally use one keystroke for one syllabic as they would on a typewriter.

However, now I often read that phonetic keyboarding, using the alphabet to key in the syllabics. is very popular for those who did not have the opportunity to become literate in Cree but are, of course, literate in English.

Both kinds of keyboards for Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics are available at Chris Harvey's website.

Description of a Glyph-based Keyboard

"One-key, one-character. With one keystroke, one syllabic character appears, be it a full syllabic: like ᒧ,ᔦ, and ᒐ, or a final: like ᐤ, ᐨ, or ᐦ. Combining symbols, e.g. the mid-dot ᐧ, are typed separately."

Keyboard Map (All syllabics are represented on a key of their own.)

Description of Phonetic Keyboards

"Syllabic keyboards are quite different, as the nature of the writing is not alphabetic. Previously on some computer and typewriter fonts, each unique syllabic has given its own key, so that '∩' (ti) might be the 'e' key, and '∟' (ma) would be the 'n' key. Typists would either have to memorise this new key mapping, or they would resort to cutting and pasting little papers onto their keyboard. The keyboards take a quite different approach. They keyboard contains only vowels and finals, e.g. ∆ (i) and ′ (t). To create a syllabic character like '∩' (ti), the typist would key in ′ + ∆ ('t' + 'i'). This frees up people from learning a new set of key mappings, and allows touch typists already proficient in English, French, etc. to type quickly and error free."

Keyboard Map (Remember that this keyboard map will look half-empty as there are only 12 consonants, represented by the finals, and 4 vowels.)

Scroll down this webpage for detailed explanation of Cree keyboards.


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