Idiocy of International Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Recently, am looking at different keyboard layouts used in different countries, as research for the ErgoEmacs project. [see ErgoEmacs Keybinding: a Ergonomics Based Keyboard Shortcut System]

One thing i noticed, is that many of them are idiotically designed.

Idiocy of Swapping Keys

idiocy of Alt Graph

Another major stupidity is related to entering special characters.

In many of these layouts, the right Alt is the AltGraph key, for typing many letters not in English. [see Alt Graph Key, Compose Key, Dead Key] If you look in detail, you'll notice that vast majority of key spaces in most of these layouts are left empty with the AltGraph, a egregious waste of spots.

And if you look at their choice of placement for the chars, clearly they have paid absolutely no consideration to touch typing efficiency.

When you read Wikipedia articles on them, you also read about some criticism similar to the above, and get the sense that these layouts didn't really came from conscious design. For example, the French speaking people in Canada do NOT use the AZERTY used in France, even though their language is the same. (the variations between French in France and Canadian French, with respect to typing is basically non-existent.)

If one must create a incompatible layout among nations, simply adopting Dvorak will be much better, because of the simple fact that all vows are on the home row, and all European languages heavily use the vow letters. Even better is to adopt a Dvorak variant layout modified for their particular language.

(ergo layouts for different language exist, for example:)

Your Layout vs My Layout

Also, you'll note that there are a lot unnecessary variations of layout. For example, there's Canadian Multilingual Standard, Canadian French, French. There's “Spanish (Spain)” and “Spanish (Latin America)”. There is United Kingdom, United Kingdom Extended, US-International. If you just use Dvorak Layout, with a Alt Graph that fill key spots more with chars, and with ergonomics considerations, it is trivial to arrive at a layout design that can replace much of these variations and yet be more touch-typing efficient than each of the layout.

Among existing layouts, the US-International layout, or the Canadian Multilingual Layout, are more close to technical excellency, as it more properly uses AltGraph spaces. If we re-arrange it to Dvorak, it would close to a good universal layout for majority of Latin-alphabet based languages.

US-International kbd
US-International [ ]

Overall, i think the way things are has little to do with technical reasons, but rather: (1) historical happenstances. Much like the story of QWERTY and Dvorak. (2) Human animal's egotistic pride. Much the same pervasive and perpetual political fight about language, among different countries of different languages, among different countries of the same language, among the same country with different languages, or among regions using the same language but small variations. It's not about technicality of design, but this is MY, that is YOURS.

International Layouts

Western Layouts