Custom Keyboards

If there is currently no keyboard layout available for download on Languagegeek, I would be happy to work with you to create a keyboard which will suit your needs.


What do you want to be able to type on the keyboard? Depending on who will be using the keyboard, and what sort of documents they will be typing, the scope or coverage of the keyboard layout can vary.

  1. National Keyboard. This type of keyboard layout will cover all of the letters / characters used in one standard or official orthography of the First Nation. Priority of key mapping is given to the Native language, meaning that, where possible, all of the Native language’s characters will be accessible with one keystroke or one shifted keystroke. Punctuation or number keys are subject to remapping. These keyboards are best for people who work in the language as part of their everyday life or who need to type long documents.
  2. Multi-orthography Keyboards. Most Native languages have had many different writing systems throughout their history, and often several of these orthographies are still current. A Multi-orthography keyboard will enable access to all characters used in all the writing systems. These keyboards are best for historians, dictionary makers, or where multiple orthographies are to be used in a single document.
  3. Linguistic Keyboards. Linguists who mostly write in English or another global language still need to type a proportion of their work in Native languages as well as phonetic transcription (Americanist, IPA). These keyboards take advantage of other shift-states (AltGr, Option) to access phonetic characters as well as orthographic letters. This method is awkward for typing long passages in the Native language, but useful for occasional words.

What I Need From You

Once you have decided on the kind of keyboard layout you are looking for, and have contacted me about starting a project, it is time to start looking at the materials I need to design an effective and ergonimic keyboard layout for your language.

  1. A complete list (inventory) of all the possible characters used in the language. This list should include all of the individual letters, diacritic marks (accents), and which diacritics appear over which letters. Here is a hypothetical inventory:
    • a b č d ḍ e ē ə g gʷ ɣ h i k kʷ m n ŋ o ō p s š s̱ t ṭ u w x xʷ x̱ x̱ʷ
      diacritics: háček (wedge), low dot, macron, underline
  2. A scan of a page or two of text in the language; this can be either clearly hand-written or typeset. I need examples in the language so that I can statistically determine which characters are the more common, and which characters tend to appear together. These factors are very important to good keyboard design.

With this information, I would be ready to design a prototype layout.


At this point, the keyboard layout is in the beta stage—ready for testing. I will send you they keyboard layout files which you can install on your computer. After a week of working with the keyboard, you will be able to write back about any overlooked characters or diacritics missing from the layout. Once I get the green light, I will make a final version of the layout and make it available for download.

All custom keyboards I develop follow the model used for all Languagegeek software. Except in specific cases, the QWERTY layout is retained with the whole alphabet (A–Z) present. Native language characters will be located on punctuation or number keys depending on the orthography. This method (or similar ones such as QWERTZ or AZERTY) is employed for virtually all languages throughout the world using the Latin script.

  • Wholescale remapping of the keyboard is neither necessary nor desirable.
  • AltGr or Option-key shift states are not appropriate for National Keyboards.
  • Digraphs should not be given their own keys, except in specific situations, such as Dakelh t̲s̲ which would otherwise require four keystrokes.
  • Diacritics which appear over many different letters will be given their own key. Diacritics which appear only over one or two specific letters may be mapped on the keyboard together with their base letter.

For any National keyboards missing from Languagegeek’s list of downloads, I will be happy to develop the software free of charge as it is my belief that all people have the right to work in their own language. In cases where the layout goes beyond the needs of the Native language speakers (such as linguists, historians, etc.) I will ask for some remuneration. In cases where the keyboard layout will not be made available for download from Languagegeek, I will also charge a fee.

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©2002-2009 Chris Harvey/Languagegeek
Last Modified: 24-Sep-2009