Of Mice and Keyboards

Inuktitut Legacy Fonts:
What did I inherit?

keyboard detail showing character assignments in legacy fonts

shift-4 shift-5 shift-6 shift-7 shift-E shift-R shift-T shift-Y shift-U shift-D shift-F shift-G shift-H shift-J shift-C shift-V shift-B shift-N

One Font’s Trash
is Another Font’s Treasure

You enter a site that’s supposed to be in syllabics, and everywhere you turn it’s wobEJm/4v d/8NDm9lQ9l wo8ix3=1u and x}=x6g4nsZlx3Lb xg6t5tJ8N3mb. Or you open a document and at first sight you think there’s a problem with your word processor. Welcome to the legacy font. For historical background, see the Fonts and Input page. If all you want to know is how to deal with the garbage—preferably by getting rid of it once and for all—read on.

Would you believe the better-known legacy fonts are still available for download? It isn’t even that hard to find them. Just pick a font name, add the word “download” and plug into the search engine of your choice. In one fell swoop I picked up AiPaiNunavik, Naamajut, Nunacom and ProSyl. Oh, and both versions—Mac and Windows—of the enthusiastically named AUJAQ.

If you’ve got a slab of text and no clue what it’s supposed to be, try changing the font in your text editor or word processor until it comes into focus. Or proceed directly to your friendly neigh­bor­hood trans­coder and let it do the work for you.

The Transcoder is Your Friend

Where there are legacy fonts, there are transcoders. For UCAS, I use the one at Inuktitut Computing. Along with the most common legacy fonts, it handles the various encodings that you may meet in raw HTML or percent-encoded URLs.

There is nothing complicated about a transcoder. It simply takes each letter of the original and changes it to the letter it’s “supposed” to be. At worst, it may have to look for letter pairs—or even triplets for a handful of long vowels in Nunacom. But when you are set up to deal with HTML entities (ᐄ) or percent-encoded URLs (%E1%90%84), it will take more than a |w, `w or to throw you off your stride. They all resolve to the modest ᐄ.

Here’s the quirk: what you see will depend on whether you actually have the legacy font you’re working with. Converting into Prosyl will give you either a string of garbage, or lovely readable syllabics. But if you copy and paste those syllabics into anything that isn’t set for Prosyl by name, your text goes right back to alphabetic chaos. Better convert to proper Unicode and be done with it.

Keyboard Layouts

These are the four main families of legacy fonts: Prosyl, Nunacom, Naamajut and AiPaiNunavik. Aujaq is shown on a page of its own. The first pair of illustrations shows shared key assignments. You’ll notice that most of those shared characters are also the same in modern Unicode keyboard layouts—except Inuktitut-QWERTY, made for people like me who didn’t grow up typing syllabics. In all fonts, the number keys (unshifted) are used for syllable-final consonants. The shifted version gives the numbers themselves.

For the overall design of these illustrations I used my own keyboard (Mac Bluetooth). Keys for a few non-alphabetic characters may have been in slightly different places on older keyboards—for example, next to the space bar, or in a row by itself. But the basic arrangement is always the same.

 

punctuation marks (unchanged)


 

shared key assignments


 

Prosyl, Nunacom and Naamajut only

Shared Characters

Plain:

keyboard layout: see text

Shift:

keyboard layout: see text

Prosyl

Prosyl screenshot

Prosyl was one of the most important pre-Unicode syllabic fonts. In particular, it was used for the Inuktitut versions of the first few years of the Nunavut Hansard. It can also be found at the Nunavut Court of Justice site (last updated late 2002) and at the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre.

Keys shown as a gray box with raised dot are the long-vowel marks.

Plain:

Prosyl keyboard layout: Plain

Shift:

Prosyl keyboard layout: Shift

Nunacom

Nunacom screenshot

Nunacom may have been even more widely used than Prosyl. You are most likely to have seen it in the Inuktitut version of Nunavut ’99. This is another of those classics whose authors seem to have forgotten all about it. I finally got fed up and transcoded most of it myself so it would be available—and searchable—to modern readers.

Other sites that still use Nunacom include NITC (Nunavut Implementation Training Committee), the Taloyoak Project, and Ilisaqsivik Family Resource Centre. Nunacom also shows up in the archives or older pages of many sites that now use Unicode. I’ve found it hiding in:

Nunatsiaq Online

The Nunavut Trust

Nunavut Nurses (along with a link to a font I can’t make head or tail of!)

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

Aboriginal Human Resource Council

Nunavut Planning Commission

. . . and that’s just from a preliminary search.


As in Prosyl, keys shown as a gray box with raised dot are the long-vowel marks.

Plain:

Nunacom keyboard layout: Plain

Shift:

Nunacom keyboard layout: Shift

Naamajut

Naamajut screenshot

I’ve never found anything written in Naamajut, but it must have been pretty common at one time. It’s one of the three non-Unicode options available at the Living Dictionary—a legacy in its own right.

Plain:

Naamajut keyboard layout: Plain

Shift:

Naamajut keyboard layout: Shift

No, you’re not seeing double. The Naamajut font had two parallel sets of characters that both match the Unicode ᖏ (ngi) series. Since I’ve never seen the font in action, I don’t know whether this was Naamajut’s version of the double consonant ᙱ (nngi) or some other letter entirely. The ᙱ series doesn’t exist in its own right, though the syllable-final ᖖ does. So the series could have been made either by attaching ᖖ to ᒋ, or, Prosyl-style, by combining ᓐ with ᖏ to make ᓐᖏ.

I don’t know what was on the blank keys. Either my copy of Naamajut has holes in it, or those positions were really unassigned.

AiPaiNunavik

AiPaiNunavik screenshot

In spite of its name, AiPaiNunavik doesn’t seem to have used a French keyboard. Note especially that ᖏ and ᐃ correspond to q and w, not a and z.

You can recognize this font in an instant because of its distinctive tall, narrow letterforms. Maybe it was a regional preference. I have here an early Inuktitut book, Normee Ekoomiak’s Arctic Memories or Arctic Childhood (the English says “memories” but the Inuktitut says ᓱᕈᓯᐅᓂᖅ, surusiuniq) from 1988. It was typeset in something that looks a lot like AiPaiNunavik—and, as it happens, the author grew up in what is now Nunavik.

Plain:

AiPaiNunavik keyboard layout: Plain

Shift:

AiPaiNunavik keyboard layout: Shift

Are you looking for the ᙱ (nngi) and ᖠ (łi) series? They’re hidden among the long-vowel forms, accessible only with the aid of the Option or Alt key.

Nor is that all. Unlike the other legacy fonts, AiPaiNunavik included both the ᕵ (“Nunavik H”) and the full ᐁ (ai or e) sequence—hence its name. And, to wrap things up, it had the rarely-seen ᐞ. Officially this is the glottal stop, as uttered in Kivalliq and points west. But it also shows up as j, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find ᐊᐞ as an alternative to either ᐊᐃ or ᐁ.

Like Naamajut, AiPaiNunavik used the “spectacled” form of the ᖐ series. But here it appears instead of, not in addition to, the ordinary ᖏ design.

Ê ÃÀŸ¸
ÉÑÖÜáàâã
ᖕᒉ *
äèëêòô¨

* At time of writing, the Euphemia and Uqammaq fonts share a mistake in this letterform, repre­senting it as ᖖᒉ (nngai or nnge) rather than the intended ᖕᒉ (ngai or nge). I’ve sidestepped the problem here by combining syllable-final ᖕ with ᒉ.

Long Vowels

Long vowels in the legacy fonts are so messy and complicated that I’ve exiled them to a page of their own, with a sub-exile for Naamajut.

Help!

If you have a font-related question and can’t find an answer, drop me an e-mail. I may or may not know, but it can’t hurt to ask. Conversely, let me know if you have infor­mation that you think belongs in this group of pages.