newcomer - multilingual text input

Ross Werner ross at
Fri Nov 4 18:43:15 MST 2005

On Fri, 4 Nov 2005, Alan K Melby wrote:

> So the question, finally, is this: has anyone has experience entering 
> text into a text both in Firefox under Linux in any of the following 
> languages (in alphabetical order)?
> Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, 
> Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish

I have experience with entering text into Firefox (and various other Linux 
applications) in Arabic, Japanese, and various Romance languages.

On Linux, most languages have a "keyboard mapping" already installed which 
can be switched to by (as Byron pointed out) a command like "setxkbmap es" 
(using the two-letter ISO language code). I've found these mappings to 
usually be identical to the keyboard layout that native speakers of the 
language use in their home country, which is usually the same as the 
Windows keyboard layout for the language as well.

These standard keyboard mapping files look like this:

and can be completely modified and customized. For example, I took the 
Arabic keyboard:

and modified it to produce a "phonetic" version suitable for English 
speakers (for example "q" produces an Arabic qaaf, "3" produces an Arabic 
ain, etc). If the standard keyboard layouts that come with Linux don't 
suffice for your needs, you can easily modify one of these files to 
produce the desired keyboard mapping.

Languages like Japanese and Chinese are a little more complex because you 
don't have a one-character to one-keystroke mapping like you do with (I 
think) every other language you mentioned. Even with just the Japanese 
kana, there are more letters than there are keys. However, there are 
several systems on Linux that allow easy input of these languages as well.

The one I've used in conjunction with Japanese is IIIM, which is quite 
easy to set up and very easy to use in GTK applications like Firefox. 
After installing IIIM, you can switch from English to Japanese mode by 
hitting the "CTRL-SPACE" keyboard combination. A small Japanese symbol 
will appear at the bottom of the window to let you know that you are in 
Japanese mode. From there you simply type transliterations of the hiragana 
you wish to type. After completing a word, if the letters match one or 
more kanji characters, you are given the option to select one of the 
various kanji options, or simply leave what you typed in hiragana or 
katakana. It's very easy to use, although I'm not sure how it compares 
with Windows methods of Kanji input.

Hope this helps, and please let me know if you want any more detailed 

 	~ Ross

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