Saturday, November 19, 2005

The All India Keyboard

Recently I wrote about the All India Alphabet. This alphabet has been replaced by an all India transliteration scheme called ITRANS.

There is also an all India keyboard called the Inscript keyboard. This keyboard works well for Devanagari, with its 34 consonants and 12 vowels. The vowels are encoded as both initials and diacritics so that makes 58 letters altogether and a few more symbols. No upper and lower case so all is well.

Tamil, on the other hand, has only 18 consonants and 12 vowels. These vowels have two forms, as in Devanagari. Because these forms are context dependent there is an argument that the two forms could both be input with the same keystroke. That would make 30 letters altogether. In that case, the basic Tamil writing system could be represented on the keyboard in the unshifted state.

Using the Inscript keyboard for Tamil means using a keyboard with 4 blank spaces in the unshifted state, while 3 more keys in the unshifted state have Grantha letters on them. These are letters for writing Sanskrit and are not part of the basic Tamil alphabet. Likewise 7 of the basic Tamil consonants are in the shift state.

You really should be able to type Tamil without using the shift key at all. It may be hard to see but here in the Tamil99 keyboard all the basic letters are in the unshifted state.

In actual fact most Tamil probably use a transliteration IME since that means the shift key is never needed. Who can imagine anything better than that? However, direct input keyboards and typewriter keyboards (IME's) are necessary to provide input for those unfamiliar with the English alphabet or a transliteration scheme.

So why bother mentioning this oddity, the Tamil inscript keyboard? First, because when I started learning to type in Tamil, I was told that this Inscript keyboard was the 'ordinary Tamil keyboard'. And second, because the Inscript keyboard for Tamil is the only Tamil keyboard packaged in Windows.

So there I was 2 years ago trying to learn this strange keyboard and getting more frustrated by the moment. People thought that I was a whiner for complaining about it at all. Now I know better and use an IME of some kind. I actually know how to use this keyboard but when I want to work with someone who is Tamil I generally give it the go-by.

More recently plenty of Tamil transliteration programs and other keyboards have become available as free downloads. My favourite is the online syllabic editor, of course, which was adapted by Richard Wordingham from a Hindi online keyboard, for me to use with Tamil children.

However, the Inscript keyboard remains as the only Tamil keyboard in Windows. If anyone knows what it is doing there, drop me a line.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe it or not I am formulating a response. It is long enough that it will likely be a post or multiple posts. Within the next week or two....

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Mike,
Great! Don't rush. Enjoy your holiday - it can wait.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes & yes.. inscript even with wide support in OSes trails tamilnet99/typewriter keyboards in most commerical (& publishing) installations for native users. transliteration is also widely used. but i should also mention that singapore schools use tamilnet99 to teach kids and they are happy with its intutiveness. in windows, i use the commercial murasu software but freeware ekalappai/keyman has all keyboards.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks for mentioning Singapore. I notice that they have a strong IT training program. Its good to hear what they are using.


3:57 PM  
Blogger myindia said...

Angelina Julie Blogspot

All India Blogspot

All India Blogspot

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


if you are interested take a look at tool which i came across recently on net
you actually need not take any pain in getting accusomed with the keyboard ayout, it will help in direct translations and mailing
hae fun!!!!

4:50 AM  

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