Looking for a solution to finding and using special characters.
December 12, 2008 11:25 AM   Subscribe

What is the best, most efficient FREE way to get a bunch of people on the same page with IPA or special character fonts, across platforms?

My fellow linguists and I are having a hard time figuring out the best way to allow ourselves to write our documents and papers containing special (IPA) characters. Some of us are on a mac, some PC, and we even have a Linux user or two. Most of us use Microsoft Word.

Keyboard shortcuts only take us so far, because crucial letters like Thorn and Eth are unavailable (as far as I can tell), but what is nice about the shortcuts is that you can pass the document around, change fonts, etc. and the characters are unchanged (epsilon still looks like epsilon in Times, Arial, etc.)

OR, using the SIL IPA fonts, requiring all of us to have them installed...I know the IPA special characters are included in the font of course, but how do we find/see them?* Does MS Word have a character map or keyboard shortcut feature that will let us see how to pick/make the characters we need?

What has worked best for you? Is there an industry standard method for this type of work/document creation?

I would like to figure this out, and then set up some simple step-by-step instructions for the rest of my classmates. Your help in understanding how this works is greatly appreciated!

*I have no problem seeing the entire glyph set in Adobe InDesign, so I know the characters are there, but nobody else has that program of course, and we need to be able to do this in Word. Typing alphabet strings while holding down various keys to map it all out is SILLY. Somebody has got to have already figured this out.
posted by iamkimiam to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is the key here to be able to have more than one person/computer open and work on the same document? Or is it just that you want others to be able to read the documents with the IPA looking as it should?
posted by tractorfeed at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2008

Response by poster: Both, but optimally I would be able to write a couple of sentences in IPA, using Word. Then save and close it. Send it to a classmate and they'd open it and be able to see it properly and/or edit it.

At this point though, I can't even figure out how to get the characters I want using Word on my Mac. (InDesign is easy, because I use the glyphs palette, which shows me the complete character map for any font.)

Thorn and eth are specific troublemakers. I'd be pretty happy if I could figure that shortcut out. Then onto the next thing. Baby steps, right?
posted by iamkimiam at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2008

I think that Word uses it's own cross-platformly consistent encoding unless you tell it to do otherwise, so I would expect IPA characters to resolve correctly.

You can also force Word to save as Unicode text (I think it prefers UTF-16, which is a little weird). Again, this will always preserve information, since IPA is in Unicode.

Finally, and this is a halfway solution, there are HTML character entities for many special characters, but not everything in IPA. So you could type out the character entity name, which is more or less understandable, and will render correctly on the web. Eg &-T-H-O-R-N-; will display as Þ (on the web) and so on. BBEdit has a nice palette for inserting them.
posted by adamrice at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2008

Oh, and BTW, on a Mac, you can enable the keyboard menu under the International settings. This menu lets you activate the character palette, which has everything.
posted by adamrice at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2008

Best answer: pretty much anything John Wells writes about regarding handling IPA is good. IPA transcription in Unicode is a start.

You can access IPA character from Windows Charmap, if your font supports it, or AllChars could be programmed for your specific characters. Macs have Show Character Palette. You may be able to do something clever with compose keys under Linux.

Or you could just give in and define ASCII equivalents and do a macro replacement come typesetting time. It's what we used to do at Collins Dictionaries.
posted by scruss at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far. Just to clarify, we have no need to display these characters on the web, we just need to make Word documents with the characters in them.

Word tells me that it is unable to to insert the ETH or THORN because they are unicode-only and Word does not support it.

Interdental fricatives are part of the English sound inventory. I'm really at a loss as to why it seems impossible to display the "th" sound in a friggin' Word document.

The characters map and keyboard viewer are great btw. Thanks. But I feel like eth and thorn are taunting me now.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2008

If you can get the people you're interacting with to install Doulos SIL, then you can just type the whole document in that font as it contains regular roman characters as well as the full set of IPA (including diacritics).

Expanding on what adamrice said: If you're on a mac, go to system preferences, click on "international", choose the "Input Menu" tab, check the box next to "character palette" and the box next to "Show input in menu bar". Then you'll get a little US flag in the menu bar. Click on that, and choose "show character palette" and you'll get a nice input utility. Under symbols there's a sub-menu for "Phonetic Symbols" which will show you just about everything you might need for writing in IPA.

Another option is LaTeX, which is useful for linguists in all sorts of ways (it's what I use), but which has a steeper learning curve than MSWord. But if you do put some time into learning it you'll likely not regret it. There are tons of tutorials online, here's some info specific to linguists: the LaTeX4Ling page. The tipa package for IPA is fantastic and well documented.

The easiest way might be to follow scruss's suggestion and adopt an Ascii equivalent convention. It should be clear from context when you're writing out IPA and when you're not. I made a conversion chart (ascii-IPA) for my students so that they could write out IPA in email if they needed to. It won't allow for a macro-replace because it relies on capitalization (e.g. for ð use D, for [d] use d; for θ use T, for [t] use t, etc.) but it is a universal solution.
posted by tractorfeed at 12:18 PM on December 12, 2008

Check your gmail -- I just sent you a document that I was able to make on a mac using MSWord and inserting eth and thorn using the character palette. So instead of using any kind of "insert" from MSWord, just go straight to character palette and insert them from there.
posted by tractorfeed at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2008

I hesitated to link to Well's Eureka IPA (word doc) as it's so old, but it shows a method of entering IPA using Auto-Correct.

I just pasted ð and þ into word from Character Map without problems in Word 2007.
posted by scruss at 12:38 PM on December 12, 2008

Response by poster: I have Word 2004 on a Mac, using the Doulos SIL font. Everybody else seems to be able to do it but me. I get this error: "The current application does not support this Unicode-only character."

Sorry to overmod my thread here, but I'm totally stumped and have tried every thing suggested. Also, I was not able to see the characters displayed properly in the Word doc that tractorfeed sent.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2008

I'd see if NeoOffice (OpenOffice for Macs) has better support for this.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:39 PM on December 12, 2008

If all else fails, check out IPA93, SIL's non-Unicode IPA font. If you persuade everyone you ever want to share a document with to install it, it'll do what you need. (Good luck with that.)

There's also a converter that translates documents that use IPA93 into Unicode and vice versa. I suppose if you passed everything through the converter before you gave it to anyone else, you could use IPA93 yourself and still work with people who use the newer Unicode fonts.

Really, though, the best and (in the long run) easiest way to do this is just to get everyone working with Unicode documents. Using IPA93 or any of the other pre-Unicode IPA fonts should be a last resort. Hopefully, someone here will know how to solve your Word '04 problem, or you'll be able to get around it by switching to a different application.

(One more thought: If you're collaborating on something for publication, this won't work, but if you're just passing messages back and forth within your research group, you could use X-SAMPA. It's an ASCII encoding of the IPA; it's ugly as sin — [aI min r\i@5i Of5= lUkIN] — but it can convey all the same information the IPA does, in a way that's completely font-independent, and it's used on mailing lists and whatnot for that reason.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:58 PM on December 12, 2008

If it were just you, FWIW, I'd be suggesting LaTeX along with tractorfeed. But getting a whole group of non-techies to adopt it can be like herding cats.

If you think your collaborators would go for it — it does have a bit of learning curve, but using it is no harder than writing HTML once you're accustomed to it — then LaTeX is the Right Answer.

posted by nebulawindphone at 9:17 PM on December 12, 2008

I've had no problem handing around Unicode IPA in RTF format. I use the Gentium fonts, also from SIL, and I love them.

I've had copious, abundant problems handing anything around in Word format. Never mind IPA, I've had trouble enough getting headers and italics moved properly from version to version and platform to platform. I have sworn right off it. Druther learn TeX.

Whatever you do, use Unicode-based IPA. Unless you really like hair loss and elevated blood pressure.
posted by eritain at 10:03 PM on December 12, 2008

Best answer: As a fellow Linguist, I can tell you that I had been using Word 2004 in combination with Doulos & Charis SIL fonts with no problems I can recall (I'm now using 2008). If I have myself set up with the wrong font or something and try to insert an IPA character, the worst that could go wrong would be that Word would auto-switch me to another font that I did not want to use. I never got the error you are describing in Word 2004. (In any case, does your university offer cheap/free Word 2008 like mine?)

This may not help with the Word problem, but there is an IPA keyboard layout available from SIL. This maps the IPA characters to the keyboard (and if you open up the keyboard viewer then you can easily see what symbols are on which keys). I use this and can just type IPA without even really having to slow down my typing. I wonder what Word would say if you installed this keyboard layout and tried to use it?
posted by kosmonaut at 10:57 PM on December 12, 2008

If you thought it would be too difficult to get others to learn LaTeX then you could just learn it yourself and send around the pdfs you make with it when you wanted other people to see your work. They'd probably get jealous because your documents would be so pretty and journal-looking and that might motivate them to learn it themselves. There are lots of nice features beyond integrated IPA, like lining up glosses, OT tableaux, syntactic trees, etc.

And in the interim they could use PDFpen (http://smileonmymac.com/PDFpen/) to annotate your work (as long as they're on Macs). Or perhaps your school has a full license to Acrobat (the whole thing, not just the reader) which also would allow anyone to mark up a pdf with comments.
posted by tractorfeed at 12:17 PM on December 13, 2008

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