Have you ever wondered how many languages there are in the world? Might you have guessed several hundred? Try several thousand! Now, what about their computer keyboards? How do they integrate their native language to keywboards?
Languages to Communicate and Computer Keyboards
While some languages are being fairly recently invented such as the ‘Klingon language,’ which is the fan-built language based upon a fictitious race of aliens from the Star Trek universe, they are still considered to be valid languages.
Klingon language is spoken and taught, has a written form and a syntax. Despite some irregular grammatical rules, it is neologismistic (new words enter common usage) and thus, it evolves. It truly can be designated as a ‘living language.’
It is also a difficult language with its alveolar consonants (formed in the back of the throat) and retroflex palatals (tongue curled backward and pressed against roof of mouth.)
The only Klingon language phrase I ever learned were several words of greeting and inquiry, and one general insult or affront to the person you are addressing. I doubt if I could spell it or even pronounce it today but it literally means “Your mother has a smooth forehead.”
This is the worst verbal assault upon the honor of the bumpy-headed alien race and is sufficient cause for incitement and physical combat. Despite its wide fan-base and growing usage among the fans of the show, it is a fictitious construct. Still, it is real language, valid, and growing.
Other ‘real languages’ die-out as the last native speaker passes away. Such is the case with many native languages spoken by tribes that have no written alphabet, or have not instructed their youth in the native tongue preferring instead, the institutionalized vernacular language of the land. There are some languages with as few as ten or less native speakers remaining in the entire world. Upon their death, theirs will officially join the ranks as a ‘dead’ language.
We should not be overly worry about the death of a language. It is not nearly as despicable as the extinction of a specie, or an entire race of humankind. Most languages that die do so when the last legacy speaker passes on even though the race itself endures. Most of the time, the race has merely adopted a newer or more widely-spoken language that was instituted by whatever government was in charge of the region. Nations with a history of foreign invasion are notable examples of how languages evolve. The people live on though they have adopted the language of the invaders. Some languages incorporate words from the invader’s native tongue. In France after the Russian Occupation of Paris (1815,) invasions of Cossacks undoubtedly left their mark.
Typically, we think of “bistro” as a French open-air restaurant yes? The word is alleged by some to have come from the Russian “bystra” meaning “hurry up” or “quicker.” Cossacks on raids would enter villages and demand food be brought to them while remaining upon horseback and would burn the village to the ground if the villagers did not comply quickly enough.
“Bystro! Bystro!” they would yell to hasten the villagers to provide them with food and provisions. These villages learned to be prompt with service and thus became known as ‘bistro’ or ‘bistrot.’ Maybe this is the first 'fast food' example. Later, this term was reduced mainly to the food-provider establishments (restaurants, etc.) having a short menu.
Some French scholars dispute this etymology citing that the expression “bistro” for the open-air eatery that typically does not even have a menu (so short are list the offerings that a menu is not required) did not become parlance until near the end of the 19th century, nearly three quarters of a century after the Cossack horsemen made their first appearance in Paris.
Such is what happens when say, Canada (which has English and French as the two ‘official languages’ of the nation) integrates the native First Nations cultures.
Canada boasts in addition to English and French as the two official languages, Chinese, Punjabi, Spanish, Italian and Arabic as ‘minor languages’ based upon demographic use within the nation. Canada also has another 70+ First Nations languages, the languages of the indigenous peoples. If these various tribes incorporate with the two official languages (English and French) might they over time lose their ancestral tongue to attrition of their elders and general lack of use?
Minor languages in the United States are also many and varied. In the case of the Indo-European languages, even more so. There are overlaps of Latin-based, Greek, Cyrillic, Latin & Cyrillic and Greek & Latin throughout Europe.
All of this got me to wondering about what computer keyboards are available to accommodate these languages of the world. While English is the language of the web and by far more predominant, speakers of other languages must have their own keyboards for convenience. I seriously doubted that they all used the familiar English (Latin) alphabet.
Far from all-inclusive, here are some that I found. Note that the foreign character in these examples are not verbatim swappable with the English/Latin equivalent despite sharing the same key in the familiar QWERTY layout.
Russian Computer Keyboard
Cyrillic was first developed in the medieval state founded by the Bulgars circa 680 A.D. Cyrillic (also called “Azbuka") is the alphabet that is the used in the Slavic languages such as Russian, Rusyn, Serbian, Ukrainian, Belorussian and Macedonian and a number of non-Slavic languages as well.
The former Soviet Union had claim to five official alphabets and over 200 different languages spoken contiguously within the borders of its satellite states.
While Polish is considered a Slavic language, its alphabet is based upon a Latin script sharing many words of Old Germanic origin with some notable additional characters in the alphabet not recognizable by English-speakers.
Polish is the second-most spoken Slavic language of the world after Russian (Polish is the native language of my wife,) and it is generally considered that one speaking either Russian to a Polish listener or vice-versa can be understood by the other to some degree.
I am trying to learn Polish but find it very difficult. I say that Russian is far easier. At least, I can pronounce most Russian words (and can read Cyrillic by sounding it out) even if I often do not actually know the meaning of the word.
Arabic Computer Keyboard
As a primary or first language, Arabic is spoken by over 280 million people worldwide, the majority of whom reside in the Middle East and North Africa regions. Another 250 million people speak Arabic as a second language with variants around the globe.
Persian Keyboard (Iran, Persian)
Persian is the official language of the nations of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. This is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. New Persian is also called by the names Farsi, Dari or Parsi-ye-Dari (Dari Persian) and Parsi.
Thai Computer Keyboard
Thai is the mother tongue and official language of Thailand. A member of the Tai group belonging to the Kradai language, it is believed to have originated in what today is southern China although linguists have been unable to properly associate Kradai to any other language family. Many words in Thai are borrowed from Sanskrit, Pali and Old Khmer languages.
Hungarian Computer Keyboard
This is a Uralic language with related similar languages Mansi and Khanty, dispersed in western Siberia. Hungarian language (“Magyar” in the Hungarian tongue) is unrelated to the majority of languages used in Europe and is spoken officially only in Hungary, and by minority populations in some seven neighboring countries.
Hebrew Computer Keyboard
Along with Arabic, Hebrew is one of the official languages of Israel. The modern form of Hebrew is used by over 7-million people worldwide. The archaic form called Biblical or Classical Hebrew is used for study and prayer around the world and has been in existence for over two millennium. Hebrew is generally considered to be the language of the Jewish people.
Greek Computer Keyboard
Another from the Indo-European family, Greek is the language of Greece and Cyprus, and historically is divided into six categories. These are Proto-Greek, Mycenaean Greek, Ancient Greek, Koine Greek, Medieval Greek and Modern Greek. Greek has the distinction of having the longest history of written usage at over 34 centuries. Likely, a Greek predecessor language was spoken before the written form was invented.
Japanese Computer Keyboard
Spoken by over 130 million in Japan and abroad, this is a very difficult language to fluently master. While possessing just a few sounds in the spoken form, the construction of verb form is difficult with its use of honorifics. This is a recognition of social rank, social intimacy and social standing. Humble, respectful, polite. Speaking to anyone in their native tongue must include this acknowledgment of their social standing. Failing that, it can be perceived to be rude or disrespectful. In many ways, Japanese language resembles Korean and Chinese languages, which also use honorifics.
Chinese Computer Keyboard
Spoken by the largest number of humans by population, Chinese has between 7 and 13 regional grouping variations. Mandarin (the largest group) at over 850 million speakers, Wu with about 90 million speakers, and Cantonese (also called ‘Yue’) and Min with 70 million speakers each.
International Language Computer Keyboards
Making computer use accessible also means having a keyboard with native language characters on it either by manufacture, or through the use of stick-on keypads and software to associate the designated key with the native language character. One such company making both international language keyboards and conversion kits for keyboards (software and adhesive labels for keys) is WorldLanguage.com. While far from all-inclusive; they provide over 340 computer keyboard products covering some 94 languages.
As internet and computer acceptance and usage continues to grow, the demand for greater inclusion of local languages is sure to increase.