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“The tyrrany of qwerty” December 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Personal Blogroll, technology.
7 comments

Gen has a post titled as above, referencing an article in which he was quoted.

As comments are still broken chez Kanai, I’m got to write about it here. (Gen: hint. ditch MT ;-))

Gen writes:

My quote is:

“To a certain extent, Asia is a slave to the alpha keyboard, [..]”

I’m pretty sure I said qwerty keyboard, but I’ll let Jeff slide 😉

I’d posit that Jeff’s liberal quote is more accurate. It is not really QWERTY that is the problem, as Dvorak or Maltron or any of the other proposed keyboard layouts which also assume alphanumeric requirements are equally “guilty”.

Gen’s quote continues:

“Many input methods for languages like Chinese and Japanese require knowledge of the Roman alphabet to use, which is crazy when you think of it. Imagine if the PC was developed in China and everyone in the rest of the world needed to know Chinese before inputting their own alphabet. Well, that’s the case for a lot of PC users in China and Japan.”

The more important point is this. Japanese input does not _require_ any knowledge of the Roman alphabet. OK, so Gen said “many”, but to ignore the fact that Japanese PCs come as standard with an ability to input text based on the Japanese alphabet is glossing over a not so trivial detail. All common keyboards sold in Japan have letters of the Japanese alphabet assigned in parallel to the alphanumeric markings (and there are plenty of keys to cover the entire Japanese alphabet. Typically the space bar is also shortened to add a few extra buttons to do things like hira/kata switching). You can even buy keyboards with markings which gives more prominence to the Japanese alphabet than the roman alphabet. I bet Gen’s Macbook has a US keyboard…. 🙂

And as for the software side of things, all common OSes understand the key mappings required to type in Japanese. (And creating a new driver for any new input device is trivial)

I know literally just one single person who actually uses Japanese alphabet input in preference to phonetic (roman alphabet) input on their PC, though.

The current Japanese keyboard format is the so-called “old” JIS format, they actually tried to popularise a newer version but they killed that off due to lack of traction….

I guess if we were to design a Japanese keyboard from scratch, would it contain keys in 5 rows rather than 4? (to reflect the traditional set of 5 grouping in the Japanese alphabet) Do we set up the groups right to left in the traditional layout, or do we go for a layout which is closer to the existing JIS layout? Do we even want to bother in the increasingly heterolingual world we live in? Would there be a real productivity increase?

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