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Mapping Your Keyboard

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on March 19, 2008 at 10:26:31 pm


Custom keyboards


Why Bother with a Custom Keyboard?


Typing standard English really isnʼt a chore, right?  Yes, we owe much to Mavis Beacon, but we owe even more to the fact that 99.9% of the computers we sit down at, will have the good old "US" keyboard configured and ready to go (unless of course you live in another country).  Blather, blather, blather, our wisdom comes out in tomes.  When you want a symbol, it's either 1 keystroke or a shifted keystroke away.


But letʼs say you need to include some high-brow 19th Century German poetry:


Ach, wie oft muβ man von bösen
Kindern hören oder lesen
wie zum Beispiel hier von diesen
welche Max und Moritz hieβen
A couple of different symbols, a diacritic... nothing to get your hair in knots.  If this is all you're doing, a character map or the alt-x method would probably suffice to extend the functionality of the "US" keyboard.
But, if you find yourself in grad school, and you need to do a narrow transcription of an interview with an informant, say Dave Berry, you will definitely wish you could invoke all sorts of symbols with minimal keystrokes:


wʌt ˈɪz ənd ˈent ɡɹəˈmætəkəl

dev ˈbɛɹi

aj kæˈnɑt ˌovəɹˈɛmfəˌsajz ði ɪmˈpɔɹtəns əv ɡʊd ˈɡɹæməɹ .

wʌt ə kɹɑk . aj kʊd ˈizəli ˌovəɹˈɛmfəˌsajz ðə ɪmˈpɔɹtəns əv ɡʊd ˈɡɹæməɹ . fɔɹ əɡˈzæmpəl , aj kʊd se : " bæd ˈɡɹæməɹ ɪz ðə ˈlidɪŋ kɑz əv slo , ˈpenfəl dɛθ ɪn nɔɹθ əˈmɛɹɪkə ," ɔɹ " wɪˈθawt ɡʊd ˈɡɹæməɹ , ðə juˈnajtəd stets wʊd hæv lɑst wəɹld wɔɹ tu ." (this could go on for pages!!)


For this task you really need to have a different keyboard layout.  Don't worry, the solution is likely free and easy to install.


I am a big proponent of custom keyboards because they are part of your operating system.  This means that your keyboard functions for any application you run and the operating system itself.  Typing an email, all of the IPA is 2-3 keystrokes away.  If you're working on an obscure language and would like to label your files and folders in the vernacular rather than some English approximant, no problem.


Here's a little how-to for installing and switching between keyboards in Windows XP.


Making Your Own


Of course an IPA keyboard layout (KL) is ideal for linguists because it theoretically covers the description of all languages, but specific languages have limited character sets and are not necessarily based on IPA.  A KL that is specifically designed for a language is much more graceful to use. 


If you're dealing with a language that neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates have deemed market-ready, you likely will have to create your own.


Microsoft has released software (free to authenticated Windows users) that lets you create a custom keyboard with minimal effort.  Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator MSKLC


Ukelele is a Mac Keyboard Layout Creator.



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