Sunday, June 05, 2005

Keyboard Input for Complex Scripts

Last week Michael Kaplan made this comment in his blog.

Being able to have words even look like they belong
together in
languages like Thai and Hindi and Tamil
really requires either
knowing the language or
memorizing keystrokes."

And Michael should know - he developed an amazing multilingual website.

This was in response to Raymond Chen who said,

First of all, keyboard input is a more complicated
matter than those who imprinted on the English
keyboard realize. Languages with accent marks
have dead keys, Far East languages have a variety
of Input Method Editors, and I have no idea how
complex script languages handle input. There's
more to typing a character than just pressing a

Yes, indeed, keyboard input is a more complicated matter in languages other than English (and maybe a few others) But the question is should it be? and does it have to be? Do we just accept this aspect of the Digital Divide without doing anything about it?

I have watched children who do not read, write or speak English google their favourite game or image on the English keyboard. Can't we make that happen for other languages.? Call me crazy but I think we can.

I have tried out a few javascript online applications and I think there are a couple here and there that really are usable, not just cute little toys, as I was once told. I have seen children use them to google in Chinese and Tamil, and even teach me in a matter of minutes how to do the same.

Here is what we use for Tamil and on this page is a button to open the trial input application for Q9 Chinese input. The claim is that it takes 5 minutes to learn how to use it and I personally observed a child do it. Okay, so it doesn't feel like keyboarding, it feels like mousing around - but it works.

These keyboards work on the principle that one should be able to input a visual glyph for other scripts just as one does in the English alphabet. Forget about the abstract encoded phonetic codepoint. The program presents to the user the visual glyphs and this is used for keyboard input.


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