April 25, 2011

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Writing macrons in Linux for Latin pronunciation

Frustrated with the inability to search the scanned images of the 1822 Latin textbook we’re using (Albert Harkness’ An Easy Method for Beginners in Latin – get the PDF, the full-text version is badly OCRed), W- has taken it upon himself to recreate the public-domain textbook as a fully searchable TiddlyWiki (sans illustrations). This meant that he needed to type in a great number of macrons in the words, and that meant finding a better way than copying and pasting from KDE’s character map.

Macrons turn up in many languages. In Japanese, you use them to indicate that vowels are doubled. 大阪(おおさか)can be romanized as Oosaka or Ōsaka. In Latin, beginner textbooks often use macrons (macra) to indicate pronunciation. (Why do we care about pronunciation for a dead language used mostly in church hymns? W- and I actually want to be able to use this conversationally, at least with each other. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it.)

I suggested Emacs. In Emacs, it’s just a matter of using M-x set-input-method to choose latin-alt-postfix. With that input method, you can add macrons to letters by typing – after them. For example, typing “a -” will result in ā. Not only that, dynamic abbreviations (M-/) make it easier to retype words you’ve already written before.

W- wouldn’t hear of using Emacs, being almost as firmly wedded to vi as he is to me. ;)

Instead, we spent some time figuring out how to set up KDE and gvim to make it easier for him to type in macrons. HTML character sequences were out of the question, of course. W- used KDE’s settings to map his unused Windows key and menu key to compose keys. That made it easier to produce ē, ī, ō, and ū using the key sequence “Compose + hyphen + vowel”. However, “Compose + hyphen + a” produced ã, not ā. This was probably a bug based on some issue reports we found on the Net, but the suggested fix didn’t work (im-switch -c to change to default-xim). I found a page describing an .XCompose fix, customizing the key sequences. He copied the relevant key sequences from en-US’s locale settings for Compose in /usr/share/X11, restarted X, and it worked.

Now he’s off and typing!

2011-04-24 Sun 23:21