Re: Dead keys

From: Jukka K. Korpela (
Date: Sat Sep 24 2005 - 00:30:32 CDT

  • Next message: Philippe Verdy: "Re: Dead keys"

    On Sat, 24 Sep 2005, Wulfy wrote:

    > Why do we have to put up with a limitation of
    > mechanical typewriters on computer keyboards?

    Computer keyboards as physical devices evolved from mechanical
    typewriters, and there are many remains of the original design.
    On the other hand, any change, no matter how rational, would upset
    many people. We learn to use our keyboards without looking much at the
    individual keys, or the keyboard as a whole. (Even _I_ learned that, and I
    never attended a course in typing.) Therefore, changing the position
    of just one key, or removing an unnecessary key, would disturb a lot
    and cause resistance.

    Different composition methods, using Alt, Alt Gr, Ctrl, and other special
    keys, are a different issue, but related. I'm afraid many people,
    including people who would really need to use nice composition methods,
    are unaware of the functionality they can use on their keyboard.
    There might be no indication of the dead keys being somehow special,
    so intuitively they look like unnecessary odd symbols (comparable to "").

    It might be useful to show dead keys as somehow different - perhaps
    with a dotted ring symbolizing a generic base character, as in one
    presentation of combining diacritic marks, or in a different color.
    But this might confuse, especially if the same key acts as a normal
    key as such but as a dead key when used e.g. with Alt Gr. Moreover,
    dead keys might be scattered around the keyboard. For example, it
    would be relatively natural to make key with the comma "," act as
    a dead key when used with Alt Gr. But having dead keys all around
    is confusing before you learn to use each of them. Such allocations
    might be the least of evils if the keyboard is fixed to what it is now.

    Ideally, dead keys should appear in a row separate from the main set
    of keys. The problem is that we already have several separate sets
    (which might be useful to some people, unused by some) and a fairly
    large number of keys.

    > On my UK keyboard, I can only produce the acute accents easily, they are
    > <AltGr>vowel combinations. I have to resort to <Alt>xxxx on the numeric
    > keypad, use a character map or change keyboard map (which changes all the
    > positions for my punctuation and sometimes other keys) to get any other
    > accented character or ligature. As I write essays which contain Old English
    > or Old Norse words, getting "", "", and "" and their capitals is quite
    > difficult.
    > Surely there is a better solution? Perhaps a <compose> key?

    It's hard to tell what should be done with keyboards and keyboard
    settings in general, but in practical terms, the best solution is often
    to handle things in a word processor. Of course this limits the solution
    to a particular writing environment. But you can do quite a many things
    rather easily be defining macros, or perhaps "automatic corrections",
    so that you can write, say, "" by typing Ctrl-& a, or by typing "ae".
    You could then select, within some limits, methods that you find natural
    in a particular environment, perhaps even using different settings for
    different types of documents.

    Jukka "Yucca" Korpela,

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