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A new Chuvash keyboard layout

The Chuvash keyboard layout has been the Russian keyboard layout with 4 Chuvash letters that are typed by pressing the right Alt button plus the base letter. Some of the arguments have been

  1. Users don’t need to switch or learn a new keyboard layout. They can keep on typing Russian texts and sometimes Chuvash texts
  2. It is easy to communicate about how the right Alt button works. The Right-Alt-technique is also used in Esperanto, Polish and other languages.
  3. The letters are placed according the labels

Recently two major events happened that made the question about the Chuvash keyboard layout important:

  1. We are working on a Chuvash keyboard for iOS. There we have less place and we have to remove rare Russian letters from the first keyboard screen. There are no physical labels. So we can rethink the whole keyboard.
  2. chuvash.org finally moved from latin equivalents with diacritic marks to Cyrillic letters (Cyrillic extended script). Therefore we need to update users’ keyboard layouts

I’ll write a separate post about the Chuvash Keyboard for iOS. One of the important things we made during that work was to find the frequency of the Chuvash letters. This was used to design the keyboard layout.

Here is the most recent version of the keyboard layout (first screen):

cv-kbd-ios

These are the principles for placing the letters:

  • The most used letters are in the middle.
  • Consonants and vocals come after each other. We tried to avoid many consonants after each other.
  • The letters are often in the same area as in the Russian keyboard layout (but it is not so important)

Now to the physical keyboard

When it is possible on a virtual keyboard, wouldn’t it be worth trying on a physical keyboard? Knowing the “best” layout, we can implement it for a physical keyboard. Let’s do it for xkb. xkb is a keyboard system for Linux. I wrote a few articles on that topic.

Many minority languages in Russian use the Russian keyboard layout plus their Cyrillic letters instead of numbers (Bashkir, Udmurt, Kalmyk) or Right-Alt-combinations (Chuvash, Sakha, Komi…). Two other languages have their own keyboard layouts for primary keys: Tatar and Ossetian. Ossetian language has only one extra letter. The Tatar alphabet contains a few more. Let’s look at the Tatar keyboard layout for xkb:

tatar-xkb-kbd

The Tatar keyboard layout uses their letters on the primary keys and puts the Russian letters in the Right-Alt-combinations. It allows:

  • A quicker typing in Tatar
  • And access to Russian letters, because they are part of the official Tatar alphabet, but they are only used in Russian loanwords. The placement of those rare Russian letters are the same as in the Russian layout (except that they are accessible by pressing the Right-Alt button).

Now the Chuvash keyboard layout for Linux and Windows is as follows:

chuvash-xkb-kbd

When I use it, I always press the Right-Alt, because the ӑӗҫӳ in Chuvash are very common. So the Right-Alt is not an exception, rather that a regular typing behaviour. Some Chuvash frequently used Chuvash letters (х, й, э) are placed too from the middle. Some rare letters (ф, ц, ж, о, г, щ) are too “near”.

So let’s change it. If we just take the keyboard layout designed for iOS and put the rare Russian letters “behind the Right-Alt button”, then we’ll get this:

chuvash-xkb-kbd-2015

This keyboard layout will demand some time to learn, but once learned, it will provide

  • a better and quicker typing in Chuvash,
  • less pain in the right thumb,
  • and, perhaps, less Russian loanwords caused by laziness.

Regarding the learning, it could be facilitated using keyboard stickers, printed for Chuvash keyboards. Here is how Russian stickers look like:

The xkb code for the new Chuvash keyboard layout

// Chuvash Keyboard Layout that is organized according the letter frequency of Chuvash
// Author Anatoly Mironov @mirontoli
// Last changes: 2015-01-03
partial alphanumeric_keys
xkb_symbols "cv" {
    include "ru(winkeys)"

    name[Group1]= "Chuvash";

    key.type[group1]="FOUR_LEVEL";


    key <AD01> {[ U04F3,  U04F2 ]}; // ӳ
    key <AD02> {[ Cyrillic_shorti,  Cyrillic_SHORTI, Cyrillic_tse,     Cyrillic_TSE ]}; // й, ц
    key <AD03> {[ Cyrillic_u,       Cyrillic_U ]}; 
    key <AD04> {[ Cyrillic_ka,      Cyrillic_KA ]}; 
    key <AD05> {[ Cyrillic_ie,      Cyrillic_IE ]}; // е, ё
    key <AD06> {[ Cyrillic_en,      Cyrillic_EN ]}; // 
    key <AD07> {[ U04D7,            U04D6 ]}; // ӗ
    key <AD08> {[ Cyrillic_ha,      Cyrillic_HA ]};
    key <AD09> {[ Cyrillic_sha,     Cyrillic_SHA, Cyrillic_shcha,   Cyrillic_SHCHA ]};
    key <AD10> {[ Cyrillic_ze,      Cyrillic_ZE ]}; 
    key <AD11> {[ Cyrillic_ghe,     Cyrillic_GHE ]};

    key <AC01> {[ Cyrillic_be,      Cyrillic_BE, Cyrillic_ef,      Cyrillic_EF ]}; 
    key <AC02> {[ Cyrillic_yeru,    Cyrillic_YERU ]}; 
    key <AC03> {[ Cyrillic_ve,      Cyrillic_VE ]}; 
    key <AC04> {[ U04D1,            U04D0 ]}; // ӑ
    key <AC05> {[ Cyrillic_el,      Cyrillic_EL ]};
    key <AC06> {[ Cyrillic_a,       Cyrillic_A ]}; 
    key <AC07> {[ Cyrillic_er,      Cyrillic_ER ]}; 
    key <AC08> {[ Cyrillic_o,       Cyrillic_O  ]   };
    key <AC09> {[ Cyrillic_pe,      Cyrillic_PE ]   };
    key <AC10> {[ Cyrillic_e,       Cyrillic_E, Cyrillic_zhe,     Cyrillic_ZHE ]}; 
    key <AC11> {[ Cyrillic_de,      Cyrillic_DE ]};     

    key <AB05> {[ U04AB,            U04AA ]}; // ҫ
    key <AB06> {[ Cyrillic_i,       Cyrillic_I ]};
    key <AB07> {[ Cyrillic_te,      Cyrillic_TE ]}; 
    key <AB08> {[ Cyrillic_softsign,Cyrillic_SOFTSIGN, Cyrillic_hardsign,Cyrillic_HARDSIGN ]};
    key <AB09> {[ Cyrillic_yu,      Cyrillic_YU ]}; 

    include &quot;level3(ralt_switch)&quot;
};

Windows

To create a custom keyboard layout for Windows is easy, but it is hard to contribute to Windows official releases. We only need to install the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator.

This is how the new Chuvash Keyboard layout looks like in Windows (Chuvash 2015.1)

chuvash-win-kbd-normal

chuvash-win-kbd-shiftl

chuvash-win-kbd-altgr

Dead keys

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