Non-standard 8-bit fonts still in use

Don Osborn dzo at
Sun May 8 09:19:54 CDT 2016

Thanks all for the replies on this matter. Concerning the keyboard side 
of the issue, there has been a lot of discussion about unified standards 
over the years, but what we end up with is maybe another case of "The 
nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from." 
Within that, there seem to be two main questions addressed by keyboard 
creation: production and popular use. It Many keyboards are made with 
production in one or maybe a couple of languages in mind - this is in 
line with the thinking behind creation of old 8-bit modified fonts. On 
the other hand, is the need for keyboard layouts that can be accessed 
broadly without the users having to learn new key assignments at each 
new device. In terms of philosophy, I'd see common keyboards as more in 
line with the intent of Unicode.

In the ideal world, there would be no distinction between keyboards 
created with limited/focused production in mind (limited in the sense of 
one language in a multilingual society and/or focused on a particular 
production need), and keyboards intended to facilitate broad usage. Like 
a QWERTY+ or AZERTY+ perhaps? That has not been easy - kind of another 
theory of everything problem.

The flexibility of touchpad keyboards in theory gets beyond the 
limitations of the physical keyboards - has anyone tried adding a row to 
say a QWERY layout, which includes additional characters, rather than 
sweating the issues about shoehorning them in other levels or key 
sequences? Is that even possible? Still would be helpful to have 
standards, but where something is visible, it is easy to use.

On the font side, my impression (a bit dated) is that there is/was a 
policy dimension or gap. Back when Unicode was becoming more widely 
adopted, there were new computers marketed in Africa without the then 
limited repertoire of fonts with extended Latin. Even when these were 
included, there are some instances where it is possible that 8-bit fonts 
with extended characters were created on machines that already had one 
or two Unicode fonts - evidently unbeknownst to the user. So there was, 
and always has been, a public education side to this that none of us in 
position or interest to do so have been able to address.

In the background one should bring in the issue of whether computer 
science students and IT experts in Africa had any introduction to 
Unicode. That could be a big missing piece in the equation.

The case of the Chinese publications using modified 8-bit fonts for both 
Hausa boko and Chinese pinyin is a specialized one. Given the small 
number of people working on both those languages it may be just the 
chance outcome of their not being aware that Unicode already had their 
needs covered. A specialized keyboard for production of text including 
hooked consonants and tone-marked vowels, plus awareness of Unicode 
would probably set them on a new course.

Marcel, I would be very interested to know more about what you are 
working on wrt Bambara - perhaps offline.


On 5/5/2016 10:35 PM, Marcel Schneider wrote:
> On Sat, 30 Apr 2016 13:27:02 -0400, Don Osborn  wrote:
>> If the latter be the case, that would seem to have implications
>> regarding dissemination of information about Unicode. "If you
>> standardize it, they will adopt" certainly holds for industry and
>> well-informed user communities (such as in open source software), but
>> not necessarily for more localized initiatives. This is not to seek to
>> assign blame in any way, but rather to point out what seems to be a
>> persistent issue with long term costs in terms of usability of text in
>> writing systems as diverse as Bambara, Hausa boko, and Chinese pinyin.
> The situation Don describes is challenging the work that is already done and on-going in Mali, with several keyboard layouts at hand. If widening the range is really suitable, one might wish to test a couple of other solutions than already mentioned, that roughly fall into two subsets:
> 1) Letters on the digits row. Thanks to a kindly shared resource, Iʼm able to tell that over one dozen Windows layouts—mainly French, as used in Mali, but also Lithuanian, Czech, Slovak, and Vietnamese, have the digits in the Shift or AltGr shift states. The latter is the only useful way of mapping letters on digit keys and becomes handy if the Kana toggle is added, either alone or in synergy with the Kana modifier instead of AltGr. With all bracketing characters in group 2 level 1 on the home row and so on, there is enough place to have all characters for Bambara and French directly accessed.
> 2) Letters through dead keys. This is the ISO/IEC 9995 way of making more characters available in additional groups with dead key group selectors (referred to as remnant modifiers but actually implemented as dead keys). This is also one way SIL/Tavultesoftʼs layouts work for African and notably for Malian languages. IME-based keyboarding software may additionally offer a transparent input experience.
> On Mon, 2 May 2016 12:03:58 -0400, Ed Trager  wrote:
>> Also with web applications the "software installation" issue is eliminated.
>> Remember that while it is easy for technologically savvy folks like members
>> of this mailing list to install keyboard drivers on any platform we like,
>> this process is somewhat beyond the reach of many people I know, even when
>> they are otherwise fairly comfortable using computers.
> I canʼt easily believe that people who are comfortable with computers may have trouble using the widely automatted keyboard layout installation feature, because Iʼve as well experienced myself as got the opportunity to observe on other persons I know, that in fact there is some kind of reluctance based on the belief—call it a myth or an urban legend—that Windows plus preinstalled software plus MS Office come along with everything any user may need until the next update. Though informing about Microsoftʼs help to customize the keyboard is more complicated in that the display is part of the hardware, and the functioning behind has more of a blackbox.
> Being actually working on such a project for the fr-FR locale, Iʼve already got some ideas for Bambara. I hope it can soon be on-line.
> Kind regards,
> Marcel

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