Linux, Unicode, and Armenian Language support

Have you installed Linux and not sure how to type in Armenian? Are you not happy with the available Unicode fonts or keyboard layouts for the Armenian language? Then read on...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

GNU/Linux: Typing in Armenian using GNOME

The following instructions should work for any GNU/Linux distribution running GNOME (my version is 2.12.2); I'm running SUSE Linux 10.1 and GNOME is the default desktop for this distro.)

1) Add the Keyboard Indicator applet to your Panel:
  1. Right-click on a whitespace in your panel (the panel is the rectangular space on the bottom of your screen, holding the Start Menu, Applications, etc.)
  2. Select "Add to Panel" --> "Keyboard Indicator" --> "Add"
  3. You should now see a new applet with the current keyboard layout being used (mine says USA)

2) Configure the Keyboard Indicator Applet:
  1. Right click the new Keyboard Indicator applet --> Select "Open Keyboard Preferences" --> "Layouts" tab --> "Add" button --> Expand the "Armenia" node
  2. You now see all the keyboards installed in your X Window system. Mine only came with one out-of-box layout for Armenian: "Phonetic". Select that for now and click "OK". (In an upcoming post, I'll show you how to add new layouts for the Armenian language. For now, let's continue.)
  3. Optionally, if you want to configure how you will toggle layouts (e.g. between US English and Armenian), click the Layout Options tab. Expand the "Group Shift/Lock behavior" and select your preferences. (Since I like to switch layouts with the Alt + Shift command, I only selected the "Alt+Shift changes group" checkbox.)
  4. Click Close once you're done
3) Using the Keyboard Indicator Applet:
  1. The Keyboard Indicator applet is now configured. You can switch between keyboard layouts by simply left-clicking on the Keyboard Indicator applet, or by using the keyboard sequence you specified in step 2.3. Mine now says "USA". I click once, and it switches to "Arm".
  2. Open your favorite text editor or word processor and start typing in Armenian (along with any other language in the *same* document).

Caveats:
  • Make sure to save your files in UTF-8 formatting, because the Armenian characters are in Unicode format, and saving files containing them in anything other than a Unicode file formate (such as UTF-8) will lead to loss of data.
  • If you're seeing rectangular characters when you type in Armenian, make sure you first select a font that has defined Unicode characters in the Armenian language range. (My preference is the Sylfaen font which comes with Windows XP. In an upcoming entry, I'll describe how to add this font to your Linux/X Window system.)

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