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SwiftKey from the Chuvash point of view

SwiftKey is a keyboard app for iOS and Android, it adds a new virtual keyboard and it provides the Chuvash one among others.

Here is my review of Swiftkey from the perspective of a person who writes in Chuvash on the mobile.

IMG_0095

Positive things

  • The fact that it has the Chuvash keyboard map is awesome. There is no official Chuvash keyboard in iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows (well you can add Chuvash, but you won’t get the Chuvash letters). Only Linux has the built-in Chuvash keyboard.
  • It has a built-in Chuvash dictionary, so that can provide suggestions. It also can learn from your typing. Although there is an issue  with the suggestions, see below.
  • The Chuvash characters with diacritics are right: Unicode and Cyrillic, not their look-alikes from the Latin set. It is important: if people use the same characters, they can find more on Google.

Negative things

Actually I don’t want to call it negative things, many of them are just missing features. I hope with that review I can get in contact with the Swiftkey team and improve the app.

  • Chuvash letters with diacritics are “hidden” behind their “siblings” without diacritics. To get ӗ you have to long-press е then е and ӗ will pop up. The Chuvash letters should be in the front. Some typical Russian letters can be moved to the back, e.g. ц, щ, ж, д, г etc. Those “Russian” letters are used in Russian loanwords. See the proposal of the keymap below.
  • There are “too many” characters, the keyboard buttons are too small on the mobile. This issue is the same for the Russian keyboard. Since Chuvash has fewer Core Chuvash letters, we could take the rare ones to the back, it would be okay to long-press to get them: г, д, ж, з, щ etc.
  • One character is used a lot, it is a simple hyphen “-“. It is between words and small additions to express questions, wondering, nice asking: -и?, ши?, -ҫкӗ, -ха etc. Also in the “collection words”: сӗтел-пукан (furnitures), сас-хура (rumors). It is heavily used and having the hyphen somewhere in the front, would make typing a lot faster in Chuvash.
  • Swiftkey should be at least tri-lingual, not bi-lingual. It is limited to 2 languages only on the iOS (on Android you can add up to five languages). Consider a typical Chuvash guy who needs to write in Russian in his daily life. He also writes in Chuvash in social networks. Occasionally, he has to input latin letters (domain names, e-mail etc), meaning he needs the third language – English.
  • The dictionary used for the suggestions seems to use a mix of Cyrillic diacritics and their latin look-alikes: ӑӗҫ. They are not treated as the same letters, therefore many right words are excluded from the suggestions. A solution for that would be a simple find and replace of three letters (the capitals and versals): Latin A with breve to Cyrillic A with breve, Latin E with breve to Cyrillic E with breve. Latin C with cedilla to the Cyrillic C with Cedilla. But even Latin Y with diaresis should be replaced with Cyrillic y with double acute.

Keymap proposal

Since many “Russian” letters are not used a lot, they could be brought back and accessed by long-pressing the keys. I would suggest, keep the existing keymaps (Russian Compact, Russian Phonetic, Russian Full), but also add a new keymap: “Chuvash Compact”. Here are the three rows of characters.

  • Top row (10 chars) : й ӳ у к е н ӗ ш ӑ х
  • Middle row (10 chars): ҫ ы в а п р о л – э
  • Bottom row (8 chars): я ч с м и т ь ю

The “long-pressed” characters:

  • к: к г (why: simplified: they represent allophones in Chuvash)
  • е: е ё (ё to type some Russian loanwords)
  • ш: ш ж (why: simplified: they represent allophones in Chuvash)
  • х: х ф (historically ф was transformed to х or хв, still not very common letter)
  • ҫ: ҫ щ (why: simplified: they represent allophones in Chuvash)
  • п: п б (why: simplified: they represent allophones in Chuvash)
  • -: – ! (why: hyphen is used a lot in the words, the exclamation mark is used often after onomatopoetic words)
  • с: с з (why: simplified: they represent allophones in Chuvash)
  • т: т д (why: simplified: they represent allophones in Chuvash)
  • ь: ь ъ (to type some Russian loanwords)

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