Unicode education in UK Schools

William_J_G Overington via Unicode unicode at unicode.org
Fri Jul 7 10:14:04 CDT 2017

Around 1991 I was shopping in a supermarket and I noticed some product that I was buying had its ingredients list in a lot of languages.

I have been interested in typography and languages since the 1960s. During the 1960s I was given a copy of the Riscatype Accents Catalogue.

A page of particular interest had a list of the accented characters needed to typeset various languages of Europe. This was only of languages that used Latin script. Esperanto was in the list.

This list fascinated me.

For example, it mentioned the u diaeresis used in French, though I learned later that words that have a u diaeresis in French are rather rare.

There were the accents used for various Scandinavian languages. The various languages, if I remember correctly, each having a different selection of accented characters than the other Scandinavian languages.

I found that the character a tilde as I now know it to be called is only used in Portuguese. Some years later, in the early 1970s, two researchers were trying to translate a research paper using a Spanish dictionary and having great problems. I glanced at the text and said that it was not Spanish, it was Portuguese. I was asked if I spoke Portuguese and I replied that I did not and mentioned my interest in typography.

As I was saying, around 1991 I was shopping in a supermarket and I noticed some product that I was buying had its ingredients list in a lot of languages.

Thinking about this, I devised a scenario that I called The Café Äpfel.


Around the same time I set up a roomful of PCs so that the start up page of each had text at the lower edge showing the sentence Good Day. in about six or seven languages.

There was Good Day, Bonjour, and German and Italian versions, Bonan Tagon which is Esperanto and one or two others. I sought advice from linguists for some of them. Fortunately the Esperanto version did not need any accented characters otherwise it would not have been possible to include it at that time.

Here is what I wrote about The Café Äpfel in 2006 in the above-linked High-Logic Forum post.


Many years ago I devised a scenario to encourage people to learn how to enter words with accented characters in them even if they did not know the language. I called it The Café Äpfel and the idea was that text from ingredients lists from multilingual food packaging could be keyed. The Café Äpfel would have menus in English, French, German and the language of the musicians and singers who were performing in the café that evening. I had this idea of a television show series with each episode combining cookery, computing and music with actors playing the continuing characters and guest musicians and singers arriving as guest stars.

Well, a Portuguese band and singer would be fairly straightforward.

Once the musicians come from further afield the computing gets rather more complicated! :-)

end quote

So can the idea of The Café Äpfel be updated, extended so as to promote the use of Unicode, and applied to help with education?

For example, the original idea included a television series. Now there is widespread production of videos.

Previously I wrote:

> Once the musicians come from further afield the computing gets rather more complicated! :-)

What if the musicians are from Latvia?

What if the musicians are from Bulgaria?

What if the musicians are from Japan?

What if the musicians are from .... well, how about dividing the class into small groups and giving each group a language to investigate.

They could all use emoji as well if you like!

The whole exercise could take them beyond 7-bit to 8-bit, beyond 8-bit to 16-bit, beyond 16-bit to 21-bit.

Grocery packaging, yes, but today there is the PanLex database too. https://www.panlex.org/

So how about as an exercise for the students to typeset the list of ingredients of a gluten-free vegetable stew.

There could be a list of several vegetables and the students could use the PanLex database and Google translate to look them up and then typeset the menu, making use of Unicode code charts to find the code point of each accented character and finding out about that character.

For example, the reason why a number of Central European languages each have a c caron in them. Some interesting history there.

The first exercises could use languages that only use 8-bit characters, so as to get started and some print outs produced.

Maybe French, German, Portuguese and Swedish.

I have tried looking for carrot in the PanLex website.





That was fortunate, the Latvian word for carrot has an a macron in it.

So if The Café Äpfel is having musicians and singers from Latvia to perform, and the vegetable stew has carrots in it, the students need to get an a macron into the computer so as to produce the menu for the event.

The menu exercise could also be useful so that the students find that fonts get harder to find for some languages and that fancy fonts for some languages are harder still to find, if they even exist!

William Overington

Friday 7 July 2017

More information about the Unicode mailing list