Hatted Letters

. . . and Keyboards

Many English speakers do not realise that the alphabet they use required some changes to the old Latin alphabet.  For instance Latin did not possess the two sounds represented by ‘th‘ in modern English words.  Yes, two sounds – the sound in ‘thought’ and the sound in ‘though’ though speakers are often not aware of the difference.  Neither sound had a letter in Latin as they did not occur in that language.  English makes do with the same combination of letters for both!   Some languages use ‘th‘ for one and ‘dh‘ for the second, but of course the two pairs of letters do not really produce either sound.

Zamenhof wanted a fully phonetic alphabet,  one with a single letter for each sound, an aim upheld in many modern languages.  As a keen user of the typewriter he was aware he also needed an easy solution for standard machines.  He chose to use ‘h’ to represent the ‘hat’, placing it after the letter, e.g. ch, gh, hh, etc.  This was widely accepted but has a few problems.  Besides looking strange and adding heaviness to typed text compared to one hand written or one executed with a specially designed keyboard, the use of ‘h’ could occasionally cause confusion or amusement,  e.g. chashundosenchava.  Of course a hyphen would suffice, so chas-hundosenc-hava.  A more serious problem is that the h-method upsets the alphabetic order of roots in a dictionary, e.g. fresha precedes fresko, instead of the correct order freskofreŝa

In recent years a second method of representing hats in print is often used.  It places ‘x’ after the character needing a ‘hat’, i.e. cx, gx, hx. etc.  This may look even stranger than ‘ch’ etc but it solves the problems mentioned above – no confusion and alphabetic order is maintained.

A number of redesigned computer keyboards has appeared.  In recent years the most popular method of producing hatted letters has been Jurij Finkel’s program ‘Ek’.  Now in version 3.9 it works well with all Windows.  Alas not with every program.  In Google Mail, for instance, ‘Ek’ can block the use of the Return key.  This can be solved by disengaging and reengaging the utility as needed.  A  second similar utility is ‘Tajpi’ by Thomas James.  It has become more popular as the more recently updated. 

For those using Mac OS X systems it is possible to use one of a number of extended keyboard layouts.  Which layout depends on which version of the system you are running.  Consult the article on  Esperanto Orthography  in Wikipedia.  Another neat way of producing hatted text is via the online keyboard which includes key presses such as Ctrl+C, Ctrl+G etc.

So-called smartphones are really handheld computers with internet and telephone facilities.  On the Apple platform there is a smart replacement keyboard called ĝusta klavaro available from iTunes.  For the Android system an appropriate replacement app is called AnySoftKeyboard.  Our Association member Aaron Irvine is responsible for its Esperanto layout.  It works very smoothly.  Since this article was compiled yet another app has appeared – Tajpi.  We are being spoilt for choice.

The biggest surprise and a welcome one in recent years is the acknowledgement of Esperanto by Google.  Not only do we have Esperanto keyboard apps for our phones but quite a competent translator.  This cannot be perfect because the amount and range of computerised data in Esperanto available for Google to exploit is not yet extensive enough.  As this factor is remediable, in the longer term Google Translate will become much better.  Esperanto is almost clear of idiomatic expressions, a very strong feature in promoting accurate translation.

From the birth of Esperanto there have been criticisms of circumflexes as a device, but it has been hard to deny that their use lightens the appearance of text and avoids any confusion and ambiguity.  They make the printed language easy to recognise and aesthetically pleasing, especially when a typeset is designed to take full advantage of their presence. In practice most languages using the ‘Latin’ alphabet have over the years have had to modify it.