Sunday, September 18, 2005


On the Unicode Mail Archive today there was a post on dead keys.

From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Sun Sep 18 2005 - 01:58:43 CDT

"Dead keys are an important practical problem. People have difficulties in learning to use them. People may have used computers for many, many years without ever realizing how they can use dead keys to type letters with diacritic marks. They have just wondered why typing "~" or "^" behaves somewhat oddly, in a delayed manner. "

There was a very interesting and informative thread on dead keys on the A12n-collaboration list last July which I passed on at the time but definitely worth reading the pros and cons presented there. Actually this is a post that has been sitting on the back burner since July and I am just getting around to it.

Subject: [A12n-Collab] Key order in combining diacritics (Re: Font companies serving academia/linguists)
From: Don Osborn
Date: Mon, 4 Jul 2005 18:54:18 -0500

"Interesting how things have changed - in handwriting the accent always is added last and even on typewriters you have to backspace to overstrike something. Actually when dealing with new computer users in languages that use accents and tone marks, it would be more intuitive to have either a single keystroke or the diacritic added after. And in fact perhaps simpler for the user, at least at first, to have the latter approach."

Subject: [A12n-Collab] Re: Key order in combining diacritics (Re: Font companies serving academia/linguists)
From: Chris Harvey
Date: Tue, 05 Jul 2005 09:57:09 -0400

"I'm not sure I'm happy about Microsoft's (or anyone else's) Technology dictating how languages ought to be typed. The technology should be developed to implement what people want, not the other way around. Other key layout developers (Keyman on PC, XML keylayouts on Macs) give much much more flexibility. Furthermore, MSKLC is often not very useful for non-alphabetic scripts.

Dead key arrangements "are" an option, just not with MSKLC. As to which key-order is the most intuitive, that depends on the user. I've heard arguments/preferences both ways. If you think of accented capitals in Greek, the accents go to the left of the capital, so perhaps typing the accent key first makes sense. Personally, I agree with all of you, I prefer to type the accent after the base letter, especially for languages like Vietnamese, Kaska, Han, Tutchone which stack accents. "

I have some sympathy with Chris Harvey, a very experienced keyboard designer, but, on the other hand, dead keys! I can't say little enough about them myself. There is an interesting array of perspectives in these threads in any case.

For further discussion on dead keys see Mike's post Dead keys are not intuitive , Friday, December 17, 2004.

Addendum: If Chris Harvey says he needs deadkeys to create keyboards for his clients, then I believe him. Take a look at this page of keyboards.


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