A Windows Keyboard Map for Use with Diacritics

Some spelling systems, such as DRE and SRS, are based on the use of letters marked with diacritics or accents.  One of the problems with such systems, for their developers as well as their users, is how to type these letters using an ordinary computer keyboard.  The method supported by Windows is to enter an obscure 3-digit code (144 means É) while pressing the Alt key.  A less friendly method is hard to imagine.

A better approach, on versions of Windows that support it such as Windows XP, is use of the USA International keyboard map.  This keyboard mapping, described in some detail on this page, allows one to easily enter all the accented characters included in the Latin-1 character set.  I don't care for it, for two reasons:

As it happens, Microsoft has made a very nice tool available for designing keyboard maps, the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MSKLC).  This utility essentially lets you create your own keyboard maps to taste, subject to the limitation that the software and the maps run only on Windows 2000 and Windows XP.  Using this utility, I've designed my own keyboard mapping, the Wyrdplay Internotional (WI) map, supporting the entire Windows-1252 character set.  There is no way to assign symbols to a keyboard map that will be completely logical, but at least the WI map is somewhat systematic, and I find it considerably better organized for my purposes than the USA International mapping.  It is hard to know whether anyone else might find it useful, but it is available for download here, if anyone wants to try it.  Using the Keyboard Layout Creator, you can modify the WI map to taste, and, if you dislike only a few things about it, fixing those will be an easier task than starting from scratch.

(To install the WI keyboard map, do the following:  Unzip wyrdo2.zip, and extract wyrdo2.msi and i386\wyrdo2.dll.  Click on wyrdo2.msi, which will ask you to confirm you wish to install it.  After installation is complete, go to the "Regional and Language" Control Panel category, and select Language/Details.  This will allow you to add WI to the language bar and/or to make it your default key mapping.  Note that if you decide you have no use for the WI keyboard map, you can uninstall it using "Add or Remove Programs" in the Control Panel.)

Keyboard maps generated by MSKLC have two techniques for entry of additional characters (assuming you don't want to change the meaning of any of the regular keys).  One is the use of the right-Alt key as a modifier, with or without the Shift key, and the other is the use of "dead keys".  A dead key is a key which, when struck, is not immediately interpreted, and which may combine with the next key to form a different character.  For instance, with the USA International keyboard map, typing the backquote key (`) followed by the letter a generates the character à.  The normal symbol for a dead key is still accessible, if you follow the dead key by a space, or by any character with which it does not combine.  If I wish to type the sequence `Boo!', I can type the characters normally - if I wish to enter `Aha!', I must space after the ` to avoid generating Àha!' instead.

The Wyrdplay Internotional keymap uses only one dead key on the regular, unshifted, un-Alted keyboard, which is the backquote key.  This is a character which is not used by sensible programming languages.  The combinations defined for this key are as follows:

`a => à
`A => À
`e => è
`E => È
`i => ì
`I => Ì
`o => ò
`O => Ò
`u => ù
`U => Ù

When the right-Alt modifier key is used, the characters generated by the WI keyboard mappping are as follows:

Similarly, the characters generated when right-Alt is used together with Shift are as follows:

The shaded keys are dead keys.  The dead key most likely to be of use is the right-Alt-backslash (\) key, used mostly for entry of circumflexed vowels.  The other dead keys have been defined for logical completeness, and also to allow for entry of some of the really obscure Windows-1252 characters, like the dagger (†) and the script f (ƒ).

A few notes about the right-alt-keys assignments:

The keys associated with the right-Alt-backslash key are as follows.  When it does not combine with the following character, it generates the ¬ symbol.  The combinations are as follows:

¬a => â
¬A => Â
¬e => ê
¬E => Ê
¬i => î
¬I => Î
¬o => ô
¬O => Ô
¬s => š
¬S => Š
¬u => û
¬U => Û
¬y => ÿ
¬Y => Ÿ
¬z => ž
¬Z => Ž
¬á => â
¬Á => Â
¬é => ê
¬É => Ê
¬í => î
¬Í => Î
¬ó => ô
¬Ó => Ô
¬ß => š ¬§ => Š
¬ú => û
¬Ú => Û
¬ý => ÿ
¬Ý => Ÿ
¬ž => ž ¬Ž => Ž

The combinations with the acute-accented letters are a convenience, allowing you to type both keys of â while pressing the right Alt key.

The dead key for right-Alt-bar (a shifted right-Alt-backslash) is provided as a convenience for entry of the upper-cased circumflexed letters, keeping the right-Alt and shift keys pressed for both letters.  When it does not combine with the following character, it generates the ¦ symbol.  The combinations are as follows:

¦Á => Â
¦É => Ê
¦Í => Î
¦Ó => Ô
¦§ => Š
¦Ú => Û
¦Ý => Ÿ
¦Ž => Ž

The other dead keys are not so useful, but are described here for completeness.

The right-Alt-apostrophe key, which generates an acute accent (´) when it fails to combine, is used to generate acutely accented vowels.  This is more conveniently achieved by pressing the right-Alt key simultaneously with the vowel, but I have defined this alternative for completeness.  The combinations are as follows:

´a => á
´A => Á
´e => é
´E => É
´i => í
´I => Í
´o => ó
´O => Ó
´u => ú
´U => Ú
´y => ý
´Y => Ý

The right-Alt-2 key, which generates a cents sign (¢) when it fails to combine, is used to generate a hodge-podge of characters, most of which are unique to the Windows-1252 character set, and none of which is normally very useful.
  The combinations are as follows:

¢a => ª
¢o => º
¢f => ƒ
¢- => †
¢= => ‡

The right-Alt-backquote key, which generates a tilde accent (˜) when it fails to combine, is used to generate characters with this diacritic.  All of them are available more easily using the right-Alt modifier, although right-Alt-7 for ã and right-Alt-8 for õ may prove difficult to recall unless these characters are used frequently.

˜a => ã
˜A => Ã
˜n => ñ
˜N => Ñ
˜o => õ
˜O => Õ

The right-Alt-equals key, which generates an plus-or-minus (±) when it fails to combine, is a dead key producing ligatures. 
All of them are available more easily using the right-Alt modifier, although the assignments may prove difficult to recall unless these characters are used frequently.  The combinations are as follows:

±a => æ
±A => Æ
±o => œ
±O => Œ

The right-Alt-double-quote (shifted apostrophe) key, which generates a dieresis (¨) when it fails to combine, can be used to generate umlauted vowels.  These symbols can be generated more easily using the right-Alt modifier key.
  The combinations are as follows:

¨a => ä
¨A => Ä
¨e => ë
¨E => Ë
¨i => ï
¨I => Ï
¨o => ö
¨O => Ö
¨u => ü
¨U => Ü
¨y => ÿ
¨Y => Ÿ

The above has described the basic Wyrdplay Internotional keyboard, which limits itself to the Windows-1252 character set.  I have developed two further keyboards along the same lines, including additional Latin characters from Unicode of potential use to spelling reformers.  I will not describe these keyboards in detail here, as I know that most people who find their way to this page have no interest in spelling reform.  One is the WI reform keyboard, which adds the six characters č, ğ, ħ, ǐ, ŭ and ű (plus their uppercase equivalents), and is useful for writing in my Arbdash spelling system.  The other is the WI deluxe keyboard, which adds a number of additional accented characters (such as ā, ŏ, ũ, ŵ and ỳ), as well as a subset of the IPA applicable to English.  Use the links above to download; the zip files include documentation on how the additional characters are mapped.

To comment on this page, e-mail Alan at wyrdplay.org

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