Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Vai Keyboard

I recently had a discussion with Michael Everson about the Vai keyboard.

It seems only equitable, however, that the Vai should be able, as the English are, to sit down and keyboard their own set of visual glyphs, transferring a visual image from mind to screen.

I will develop a QWERTY-based keyboard layout, because that is what they will have on their hardware, and as they are all familiar with the Latin alphabet (English being the official language of Liberia).

So the Vai are to have alphabet input for their syllabary. No glyph-based input method has been seriously considered. Michael felt that they would be happy to use the Latin alphabet to input their syllabary but I wasn't so sure. I thought it would be interesting to see what the Vai actually think so I emailed Tombekai Sherman, a Liberian who was consulted for the Vai Unicode Proposal.

This is the response from Tombekai Sherman:

"The indigenous Vai does not want to deal with English alphabets. They have rejected it up till now. The finding that those who learn to read first in a syllabic script, find it difficult to accept phonetic processing of the syllable is also true for Vai. It takes the average Vai about three months to become literate using the script. Using the English alphabet could take years."

And this is why I wonder if alternate input could not be developed for Vai. Of course, the focus of my blog is to talk about how glyph-based, or visual input can be made available for all scripts that are used as first scripts by any literate person.

I don't mean anything too complicated by "alternate input." A customized character palette or character picker that presented the characters in a familiar and traditional layout would be a good start. I am trying to imagine a 30 by 7 grid across the bottom of the screen where characters could be selected by the mouse and clicked in.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the aim of user-oriented computing should always be to make things as natural as possible. If someone has to use a script from another language, his computer has failed him.

A software character-picker would be fine for individual words but terribly inconvenient for lengthy input. It's just too hard to make quick, accurate mouse movements.

If the typerwriter-derived keyboard is unsuitable for Vai, maybe someone should design a better Vai keyboard. Perhaps a sensor pad with a writing stylus would work, either by itself or occupying the right side of a normal keyboard where the number pad usually is. Vai could input their characters just by writing them on the pad.

Heck, I wish someone would invent that for Japanese. :)


11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't handwriting input harder than picking with a mouse? I'm not sure.

Doesn't Japanese have handwriting input yet? It is a pretty common type of input for Chinese. However, I asked some Chinese children and they said that Q9, even used as a picker was easier than handwriting.


5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see tests on the subject. I think I'd rather write English with a stylus than tediously click letters on a software keyboard myself.

I've never seen Japanese handwriting input for computers (I live in Japan at the moment), although some handheld devices might have it.

Anyway, I fully agree that making Vai use a Latin keyboard is not a good solution. There must be some way of designing a keyboard or other device that will let them do rapid input.


9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll have to head down to the local computer shop and try out stylus input.


11:00 PM  

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