Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Insert in Plain English"

Romanized keyboards are not always unwelcome. View this Tamil search engine which instructs the user to "Please insert/type your phrase in plain English. "

I tried 'Microsoft' since it is a word I can easily recognize. மைக்ரோசாப்ட் Now how shall I write this in 'plain English'?



So why is roman or Latin alphabet input so popular? I was thinking about it and said to myself "I bet I can think of a dozen reasons offhand." Well, I am now going to respond to my own challenge.

You would rather use English QWERTY input on the keyboard for your own non-roman script if:

1. You learned to keyboard first in English.
2. You learned to keyboard before your script was encoded on the computer, so you used a transliteration instead of your own script.
3. There is no standard keyboard layout for your script.
4. It is cheaper and easier to buy a QWERTY keyboard.
5. The keyboard layout for your own script has changed with the new encoding.
6. You don't like using the shift key.
7. You can keyboard many different scripts with one keyboard layout, if you keyboard all the scripts by their romanization.
8. You find that there is more content to google in English.
9. You need English anyway for your job.
10. All other keyboard layouts for your own script are really awkward.
11. You travel a lot and use internet cafés.
12. You need to actually see the letters on the keys to type and you don't have a customized keyboard.

Um, not all completely different, but - how am I doing?

I have no problem with QWERTY input for any script. However, I don't think it is safe to assume that QWERTY should be considered universal input and acceptable as the only form of input for a non-alphabetic writing system.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further confusing the issue is that people usually mean "Latin" and not English in this context. English speakers make a similar error when they refer to Cyrillic as "Russian", even if the text happens to be (for example) Ukrainian or Bulgarian.

Back to the use of Latin keyboards, I think there's a socio-economic issue as well. In many developing countries, the use of a foreign language (English, French, whatever) can be a tool for the upper classes to control access to education, employment opportunities, health care, and more. I suspect the elites in many countries want to keep computers hard to use for the uneducated masses.

Anyway, it's such a trifling matter to print alternate characters on a qwerty keyboard. The real onus is on the software side, to make inputing non-Latin scripts easy. If it's possible for Japanese, it's possible for any language. Qwerty input for non-Latin languages is a crutch we should be able to dispense with.


12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tell me more about Japanese input. I know there is both syllabic input and Romanji. I have heard that Romanji input is the most popular. Why do you think that is?


5:01 PM  

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