Like me, you’re probably dealing with more than a single language at work and on a daily basis. If you’re from the US, it is not unlikely that you are speaking Spanish as well. Here, in Québec, we have English and french coexisting both at work and in our daily lives. Working at a computer, it means that I have two installed locales, one for the US Keyboard Layout and one for the Canada keyboard (formerly known as “Canadian French”) and I cycle between them constantly.
The fact that Gnome and Windows are smart enough to assign a keyboard locale per application or window allows me to chat in French in Xchat while coding using the US keyboard layout in emacs without explicitly switching the keyboard each time I switch windows. I’ve been doing this for so long I don’t even think of it. There are moment, though, where this model breaks a the seams.
Someone like me that’s trying to learn Japanese is bound to use, sooner or later—and sooner than later—one of the rōmaji systems, that is, the methods of romanization of Japanese. For example, ラーメン, which is transliterated using Hepburn romanization by rāmen, is very cumbersome to type in either the original Canadian French or US keyboards. I have to resort to special Unicode character insertion, which is less than a cromulent method. In Gnome, you type shift+ctrl+u followed by the hex digits of the character you want, followed by a space. To obtain ‘ā’, I must type shift+ctrl+u,1,0,1,space.
There are also a lot of foreign words in both French and English that need proper diacritics. In French, we have the æ from Latin words, œ for words like bœuf, neither of which I can type right from the Canada French locale. French, like English, borrows words from other languages and proper usage ask for correct orthography, which often requires the use of foreign diacritics. For example, canon is ambiguous, cañon is not. Of course, the tilde on the keyboard doesn’t behave as an accent. It just types ‘~’.
I don’t think that the modification needed to the existing Canada French keyboard would be important. It would merely suffice, I would think, to add a few new accents and extra characters to make it sufficiently more international to be usable:
- Reuse the over-line ¯ character (on the alt-gr+, key) as an accent. Type it twice to get the over-line. Press it once plus another character to get a macron accent on the selected character. ¯+a would yield ‘ā’.
- alt-gr+shift+; should produce a tilde accent. alt-gr-shift-;+n would produce ‘ñ’.
- Place the Euro monetary symbol € on the 4/$ key. shift+alt-gr+4 would give ‘€’.
- Œ would be accessible on the E key (O is already assigned an alt-gr character) with alt-gr-e or alt-gr-E.
- Æ would be placed on the A key and behave like Œ
- The ring ˚ key would give a ° or º if used without the shift. shift+alt-gr+˚ would make the key behave as an accent allowing the compositing of letters such as å.
Except for the over-line (which has no real use nowadays), none of the proposed changes impact on the current Canada French standard keyboard layout.
Keyboard layouts are paradoxical things. On one hand, most of them have been defined and static for many decades; and it’s a good thing. On the other hand, some layouts are in dire need of an upgrade or a tweak.
People learn a keyboard, get used to it, and any change—how ever minute—is an annoyance as muscle memory has to be retrained. I would be greatly annoyed if any of the Canada French or US keyboard changed. Unless, of course, the behavior of the keyboard is extended rather than changed. The difference is subtle; in one case, you have to fight habit and relearn how to use the keyboard because a particular symbol or key combination changed; in the other, you extend the use of the keyboard without changing its previous behavior: it has backward compatibility. That’s pretty much what I propose here: the Canada French Cosmopolitan keyboard layout is very much backwards compatible with the current Canada French keyboard.
The Typist is an image from Wikipedia, and so are the US and Canada French Keyboard Layouts images. As the Canada Cosmo Keyboard Layout image is based on a work released under the Gnu Free Documentation License, so it is.