Alt Gr

Since the point of this post is way down while the intro is a bit long, you can just skip to the point with Ctrl+F. Just search for Now, to the point of this post.

Intro

Although a lot of lingoes use Latin alphabet, English is one of a few lingoes that use Latin alphabet without diacritics (i.e. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ without stuff like Ä, Č, É…), except in a handful of words (e.g. cliché, naïve, façade, mediæval etc.). When being typed, those words are often simplified to omit diacritical marks [e.g. just cliche, naive,  facade and medi(a)eval].

Anyway, computer keyboards have 128 keys despite their local variant. Those 128 keys are meant for the basic Latin alphabet (ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ), certain interpunction symbols (e.g. dot and comma) and numbers. In order to make room for local letters, certain characters had to be moved. So the question is where to move the characters removed to make room for the local letters? The solution is to just put them on the existing keys and make a way to access them. The first thought is, of course, to press a key like Shift. That would mean adding a key to a keyboard which is not possible and wanted to be avoided in the first place. That left only a combination of keys, which became Ctrl+Alt (e.g. I have to press Ctrl+Alt+V to type @). Now, that is still going through more trouble than just clicking one key, like it’s the case with Shift. Well, there are two Ctrl and Alt keys on a keyboard. So, someone decided to make a new key of one Alt key. On most keyboard layouts right Alt functions as Ctrl+Alt and is labelled Alt Gr (now, I only have to press Alt Gr + V to type @).

SAM_2791
Alt Gr key on my keyboard (click on the image to enlarge it]
Characters accessed with Alt Gr are marked on bottom right part of a key (e.g. € is marked on the bottom right of the E key because it is typed by pressing Alt Gr + E).

Every Latin keyboard layout has easy access to basic Latin alphabet letters despite local lingo(es) not using all basic Latin letters (e.g. I can easily type QWXY despite the letters not being part of Croatian alphabet). The point of all keyboards having access to the basic alphabet is so all basic letters can be easily typed. Because of the same reason, only basic Latin alphabet letters can sometimes be used. For example, it would be rather difficult to send an email, using a foreign keyboard, to Pero Perić if his email address would be pero.perić@email.com. Likewise, it would be rather difficult to visit his blog, using a foreign keyboard, if it were peroperić.wordpress.com (just as it would be hard to visit it if Croatian keyboards didn’t have access to W…). Since his email address is pero.peric@email.com and his blog pero.peric.wordpress.com, both his email and blog address can easily be typed on any keyboard (be it English, German, Swedish, Italian or another) layout. Two examples in real life: websites of Škoda and Zürich are www.skoda-auto.com and www.stadt-zuerich.ch. I must say, I get quite annoyed when I see a gamer who nicked his character, dunno, Übermensch. I can’t simply type, dunno, /whisper übermensch to private message him because I don’t have bloody Ü on my keyboard [well, actually I do, but only because I modified my keyboard layout (yes, you can do that) with Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator – I added Ü to Alt Gr + U – on a standard Croatian layout, (the keyboard pic above) you cannot type Ü]. Nooooooooooooo, I have to target bloody Übermensch and then right click and then click “whisper”. That’s why some games, like Atlantica, allow only basic Latin alphanumeric characters when naming a character. I don’t know why games simply don’t recognize /whisper ubermensch as /whisper übermensch, but they don’t (when I name a post on WordPress with a diacritic, the link generator automatically replaces the diacritic with the basic letter – hence bedakjen.wordpress/2013/07/23/zumberak for Žumberak). Those wannabes that use letters diffrent than those needed {e.g. ßlack [yes, ß (sharp S) has nothing to do with B], Borдt, (Д is Cyrillic equivalent for Latin letter D)} are a diffrent story.
In addition, diacritics can be recognized differently depending on encoding. Furthermore, different programs sometimes display them differently. Sometimes they’re even treated differently in the same program. I have a blast every time I open a shapefile table in M$ Excel because ArcGIS and Excel don’t see eye to eye when it comes to Croatian diacritics (luckily, there’s the Replace tool in Excel😀 ). On the other hand, S, for example, is always S despite encoding.

So, all nonEnglish layouts and many English (i.e. British/Irish and American International) have Alt Gr key. Since American International has been provided for most English layouts [English (US) is just a label in the language bar] by default since Windows Vista, you probably have Alt Gr despite the key, and it’s combinations, not being labelled on your keyboard. Just try to press, for example, right Alt + Q and you should get Ä. American International layout is quite shiny since the layout is identical to basic English keyboard layout, but it gives you quick and easy access to additional characters. If you use an English layout (other than British and Irish, of course) and don’t have American International layout already set, just play a bit in Control Panel / Region and Language / Keyboards and Languages / Change Keyboards…😀

Now, to the point of this post 😀

What when Alt Gr is not working? Happens rarely, but it still happens😦 I guess it happens because Alt Gr is a combination of keys used for keyboard shortcuts (i.e. Ctrl and Alt). Well I’m sure that is the case when I get stuff from the clipboard instead of @ when I press Alt Gr + V (Ctrl + V is shortcut to Paste)😉

Alt Gr not working is barely a problem to American International keyboard layout users, since all the characters that matter are available without Alt Gr because the key simply gives you additional stuff. However, that is not the case with other layouts. Okay, I can often just use replacements, like writing my email in bedakjen(at)hotmail.com form (note that no program recognizes an email address in that form and when you paste an address written this way in To/Cc/Bcc field, you’ll have to replace “(at)” with “@”). Everyone will know that my email address is bedakjen@hotmail.com when I write it that way.
But what when you just need characters that are accessed with Alt Gr key (yes, that is when death of Alt Gr usually occurs😡 )? For example, what if the key dies on you while you’re entering textual commands. [ and ] are often needed when one enters such commands. Those characters are accessed wit Alt Gr on Croatian layout (i.e. Alt Gr + F and Alt Gr + H).
Well, you can always find what you need in Character Map (Start \ All Programs \ Accessories \ System Tools). However, there’s a much simpler way, a way that is quite easy to grasp once you think of it😀 Just change your input method to English. That can be done by clicking on that ISO language code (e.g. EN for English) on task bar left of the clock and system tray. You’ll get a drop menu of the input methods you can currently use. Unless you changed it yourself, English should be available, so choose English.

Language Bar

If you don’t know how keys on an English keyboard are arranged and don’t have a pic of the layout at your side, just type various keys until you get the desired character😉 If you need a local letter, either switch back to your layout (the same way you switched to English😉 ) to type it or use Character Map (or a similar built-in tool of the program you’re working on, such as Insert Symbol in M$ Office). You can set keyboard shortcuts to switch between various input methods in Control Panel / Region and Language / Keyboards and Languages / Change Keyboards… That’s the same place you go to if there’s no language code on your task bar😉

Hope the post was helpful!🙂


Posted on September 25th, 2013 at 16:57 GMT
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