Computer Music Politics Miscellany

Using Foreign Languages With Linux

Remapping the keyboard to use foreign languages is fairly simple in Linux. Both X and the console have commands available to remap the keys as if the keyboard is actually made for that language. The only things missing are the key caps for the specific language.

Using the following will allow you to familiarize yourself with the actual keyboard layout of the chosen language. For instance, if you have to use a Spanish keyboard while on vacation in Venezuela you will already be familiar with the layout. If you use a non-standard scheme to map the keyboard you will be at a disadvantage when confronted with the real thing.

Spanish mapping of the keyboard makes characters used in French and other Western European languages available while retaining the QWERTY arrangement of the alphanumeric keys; the French keyboard has its own layout which is not QWERTY. When using the Spanish layout it is only necessary to learn to apply accents and access special characters to become proficient with the keyboard.

Here are some of the Spanish characters available with the Spanish keyboard layout:

é ñ ü º ª ¿ ¡ « »

Although not Spanish, you also get

ö ç è ô £ ½ ° ± ¢ µ · æ ß ð ¶ ø þ ® © ¥ Ø

and more. Many of these characters correspond to ones in the ISO 8859-1, AKA Latin-1, encoding of western European languages.

Experiment with the keyboard to find the actual mapping. Accents are usually applied by striking the accent key followed by the letter to which the accent is applied. Holding the right meta (Alt) key, the shift key, or a combination of these two keys while typing other characters will display many new characters.

References: man pages for setxkbmap, loadkeys, xkeycaps

There are slight differences between the command line console mapping and the X mapping—mostly omissions with loadkeys.


Note: Don't be confused because this document is encoded using UTF-8 but discusses ISO 8859-1 encoding used for keyboard mappings. Currently, a discussion of character encoding, conversion, and application requirements is beyond the scope of this document. At some time in the future I'll update this document and address character encoding. Until then check out the Unicode HOWTO or my Unicode page.

Last updated: Tuesday, 09-Aug-2016 15:31:09 UTC