Re: Mixed up priorities

From: G. Adam Stanislav (
Date: Tue Oct 26 1999 - 21:42:40 EDT

At 10:45 22-10-1999 -0700, wrote:
> Yeah, really. Back when typewriters were being developed, the
> people of Czechoslovakia were a pretty clever lot. If they were
> so concerned about the character "ch", why didn't they build
> typewriter with a "ch" key?

Very simple: There weren't enough keys. The typewriters for either Slovak
or Czech certainly do not contain all characters (or what some have called
letters here) used by the two languages.

There are just too many characters/letters/whatevers in the two languages
to fit on a typewriter keyboard. So, we Slovaks are no strangers to
precomposed characters. We use four different diacritics, generally
referred to as acute, caron, circumflex, and diaeresis. Czechs also use the
ring. Plus, many Slovak typewriters have the "scharfes S" because many
Slovaks (and Czechs) used German as the second language at the time the
typewriter was invented (we were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

It would not be pragmatic to place a CH on the typewriter keyboard when
there is not even enough room for all characters using diacritics: It is
easier to type a C followed by an H than to type a diacritic dead key
followed by a character (mostly because the diacritics use shifted keys, so
you need more effort to precompose an "accented" character than a ch).

Unicode, with its 31 bits, has more space than ever needed for all the
world's alphabets. So, a comparison between a typewriter and a computer
encoding is unfair, to say the least.

This discussion, by the way, is getting way out of hand. The way I see it,
it does not matter what any government says, what typewriter keyboards do,
what pre-existing standards there exist. Linguistically, ch is a character
is Slovak. It seems logical to me that it should have its encoding in
Unicode. It also should have had its encoding in the Central European 8859.

By the way, I created the Slovak keymap for FreeBSD keyboards, and had
enough room for everything but the ch thanks to the Alt key. I did not
include a key for the ch because the FreeBSD system just won't type two
glyphs per key (or, if it does, I have not figured it out).

As for the distinction between letters and characters, well, in Slovak
there is no such distinction. We have the same word for both. The only
difference I can see is that letter is from Latin, character from Greek.

At any rate, this is not an earth shaking matter to me. All I said was I
found it funny that we are worrying about Klingon while we do not have all
of human languages covered.

I have not checked my email for several days. I am amazed how much traffic
my simple remark has produced! I wonder if all the energy spent and
controversy created for such simple a thing is worth it.

Personally, all I can say is to repeat that linguistically ch is a separate
character in Slovak. It does not matter to me whether Unicode chooses to
respect linguistics of some languages but not of others. Living in the US,
I am used to people having the weirdest ideas about my home, such as that
we are at war (no, we're not in Yugoslavia), that we are in South America
(sic!), or that I should talk to a teacher before her trip to Siberia since
I'm "from there" (yes, I've heard all of these!). So, I just add Unicode to
the list of oddities. Life goes on.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Tue Jul 10 2001 - 17:20:54 EDT