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Mapping Your Keyboard

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on March 30, 2008 at 3:31:16 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 one keystroke or a shifted keystroke away.


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


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!!)


(Side comment: If the IPA above does not appear properly in your browser, that is, if there are empty spaces, empty boxes, or trash, then you need to go to your operating system with one of the icons in the sidebar, then click on your browser to find out how to fix it.)


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


We are big proponents of custom keyboards because they are part of your operating system. This means that your keyboard functions for any application you run in 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.


You can go to our Install Keyboards-XP page for help on installing and switching between keyboards in Windows XP. The how-to demonstrates the process by taking you through the process to install the Summer Institute of Linguistics IPA keyboard.


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 - the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator. Get it here: MSKLC


Mac users can use the Ukelele Keyboard Layout Creator from Summer Institute of Linguistics. You can get it here: Ukelele. But don't tell SIL that the instrument on their page is a guitar, not a ukelele. They'd be so disappointed.


Linux users - sorry we haven't figured it out yet. If you do, please let us know so we can share it with others.



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