Apostrophes for Krauts

From: Markus Kuhn (Markus.Kuhn@cl.cam.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Feb 25 2000 - 06:04:07 EST

I think it is time to mention a rather annoying problem with German
keyboard drivers that misleads users significantly. If your company
produces keyboard drivers, *please* forward this message to the engineer
in charge for serious consideration.

I estimate that more than half of all Germans who type English texts on
German keyboards enter


instead of



  U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK (preferred apostrophe)

when they write English texts. This error is difficult to spot on
low-resolution screens, but the result looks horrible if printed out on
a high-resolution device (at least to anyone with a typographer's eye).

This problem shows up not only in casual emails but also in professional
print publications, CD cover texts, poster's, and many other places.
Many Germans write "itīs" and "doesnīt" instead of "it's" and "doesn't".

The reasons for this common user error are easy to spot:

If you look at the attached photo of a German keyboard, you will find an
acute/grave (ī/`) key left of backspace and a number-sign/apostrophe key
(#/') below it. The German language doesn't use apostrophes or acute/
grave accents, therefore non-programmers are not very familiar with the
difference between these keys. Since the acute accent is reachable
without pressing shift and looks on low-res screens almost like an
English apostrophe, it is misused for that purpose frequently.

This happens today very frequently both with MS-Windows and X Window
System users.

What can be done to solve this problem?

a) Make sure that your spell checkers do flag and handle conveniently
   the case where accidentally the U+00B4 ACUTE ACCENT instead of
   the U+0027 APOSTROPHE key has been pressed.

b) The key left of backspace used to be a non-spacing key on German
   typewriters that allowed to put grave, acute, and circumflex (= grave
   + acute) onto other letters for writing French. This accent key should
   again always be configured as a non-spacing key, because this will make
   intuitively clear that U+0060 and U+00B4 should not be used for
   anything but entering French accents on to of other base letters.
   If the key becomes a non-spacing one, entering an apostrophe via
   Shift-# will become the more convenient and more frequently used
   way, and then all the usual smart-quoting algorithms in editors that
   automagically substitute U+0027 with U+2018/U+2019 will be fully
   operational again.


Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at acm.org,  WWW: <http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/>

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