On the typing of Greek

I remember when the pre-unicode SPIonic font was the best way to enter polytonic Greek text.  You typed in a series of characters – “qeo/j”, changed the font, and the same letters now displayed as θεός.  It related very well to the betacode way of doing things, and I think we all got on well with it.  All the same, unicode was definitely a better way of doing things, where the Greekness of the text was encoded in the very characters themselves, and not in their formatting.

Unfortunately typing up unicode is a pain.  It’s so much of a pain that I have a little routine in my elderly HTML editor (MS Frontpage 2003) that takes text entered in the SPIonic way and automatically converts it to unicode.  I’ve probably used this for over a decade.  Indeed I just used it to enter θεός just now.

But what do you do, if you need to OCR polytonic Greek?  Say in Finereader?  You will need to correct the characters within the editor, with the image text right there.  You can’t really use that trick to do it.  You need to be able to enter the characters properly.

In Windows 11 there is a polytonic Greek keyboard.  You have to install the Greek language, which will give you a modern Greek keyboard, and you can also install the polytonic alternative.

But the key mappings are a bit mad.  To me, at least, they feel deeply unnatural.  If I press “w”, I expect to get omega, ω.  Instead I get final sigma.  If I type u, I expect to get υ not θ.  And so on it goes.

A bit of googling reveals that you can change these things.  There’s a microsoft download called MSKLC, Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4.  You can start with the standard layout, save it out as a “source file” to some name of your choice, and alter all the mappings.  With considerable labour, of course.  Although the labour gets less if you realise that the “.klc” file produced is just a text file, and you can use Notepad++ to move stuff around.  Then you compile it up, and you can install your new layout.  Apparently uninstalling can be tricky tho: I’m told the trick is to use the same installer to uninstall, rather than the standard Windows Add/Remove process.  But I have yet to try.

I’ve been playing with this, and googling.  It’s a very old utility, and frankly rather outdated and clumsy.  One sign of this is that the characters on the page are teeny-tiny, and the accents are worse!  But it is still perfectly usable.  So far I’ve moved a few keys to where, as an old SPIonic user, I think they should be:

But the next stage is the accents and breathings.  How best to do this?

The MSKLC defines “dead keys” – keys that, when you press them, don’t seem to do anything, until you press another key.  So you press a key to give you an acute accent, and nothing happens; then you press alpha, and lo! You have a single unicode character, an alpha with an acute accent.

Here again the default mapping seems a bit mad.  In SPIonic, you did the breathings using round brackets.  “(” was the rough breathing, “)” was the smooth breathing.  It helped that at least they looked a bit like the breathing.  You did the accent with the forward slash “/” and backslash “\”.  Not so in the default polytonic keyboard.

I think what I will do is to remap the keys so that this happens.

Of course that gives you a problem.  What do you do when you need brackets in your Greek text?  But this is an unavoidable problem.

There are legions of weird characters for Greek accents. I’m going to ignore nearly all of them.  If I get something weird, I can pull it out of charmap or something.

Once I have this keyboard, then at least I will be able to correct polytonic Greek text in my OCR tool.  If I get that far, I’ll upload it to GitHub or somewhere.

UPDATE (3 Feb 2024): It’s on GitHub here.


6 thoughts on “On the typing of Greek

  1. The key mappings of the Greek keyboard are those of Greek typewriters from back in the day. Indeed it makes no sense why w is where ς is, but the second character is where ς was in old mechanical typewriters. Now monotonic Greek is pretty recent, legislated in 1982, hence there are old style polytonic typewriters. The accents and breathings are in the codepage where they were in them. Memotek was a Greek software company that pioneered the input of Greek characters in computers in the 1980s. ASCII does not support Greek, hence Memotek came out with code page 437, which Microsoft eventually adopted and renamed to 737 when native Greek support was added with Windows 98. On page 437 the Greek characters would be where on ASCII characters over value 128 where. Memotek also came up with polytonic code pages. I looked up Google briefly, there was a software called Πολυτονιστης by Magenta software recently enough to be on the web but it seems dead. What I did find now was this: https://thepolytonicproject.gr/tonizo/
    There is polytonic support out there because there are people that still use it.

  2. Ah I see! That explains everything. Thank you so much!

    I used to get enquiries about secondhand Greek typewriters long ago, but not for many years. No idea why.

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