Friday, February 18, 2005

Buckwalter Arabic transliteration - now a Windows keyboard

Back in the day when I was studying Arabic, I used to use the Buckwalter transliteration all the time. Mostly because I was using the XRCE Arabic Morphological Analyzer as an Arabic-English dictionary - and believe me, it's better than any dictionary! Especially since I never bothered to memorise the order of the Arabic alphabet (alef, beh, um...). That proved a problem, though, when I started wanting to type in Arabic, since the Arabic input method editors basically arrange the Arabic letters alphabetically along the keyboard. So what's on the t key doesn't sound like t. This was not good. I basically gave up typing anything in Arabic.

Finally I decided that I had to do something about it, so I looked to see how I could modify keyboard mappings so that the mapping was the same as Buckwalter's. This was much more logical to my mind, since sounds that are similar in English and Arabic share the same key. So 'qaf' is a 'q'. Of course, this doesn't work for every letter - Arabic and English have very different phonological inventories - but it works for the majority of the cases, and anyway I had more or less committed the mapping to memory from using the morphological analyzer so much.

I found a few utilities that seemed to do something similar, but the ones I looked at didn't seem suitable for me: not for XP, or you can only map a few key combinations, that sort of thing. I wanted to be able to create a whole new keyboard within, say, Arabic (Egypt). Then I found that Microsoft had a keyboard layout creator - for free (!!!??? - did you say Microsoft?). Catch is, you have to download the Microsoft .NET framework, which is 20-some MB. (BTW, I should mention that Unix/Linux users can do this really easily - they have utilities built in to help with this.

The keyboard layout creator is pretty simple. It gives you a blank keyboard. You click on a key then define the Unicode character to associate with it. So you just do this for key after key, and then you build it, and it makes a nice little dll and installation file for you. Then you install it, add it to your language options, and voila!

The only thing was, I'd forgotten all about Arabic question marks being the "wrong" way round. So there I was, gaily typing away, and then ? - oops, that looks very wrong, when you're typing right to left! So I just went back to the keyboard layout creator and changed that.

So, if it so happens that you're in the same boat as me - too used to Buckwalter to use Microsoft's silly mapping, drop me an e-mail or write a comment to the effect that you would like a copy, and I'll send it to you. Or, you can give yourself a bit of fun and go through the whole rigmarole yourself! (But seriously, if you'd like this - only for Windows - let me know.)

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