Friday, November 06, 2009

Trying to convince Microsoft to modernize its Ukrainian keyboard

Mirko Petriw, fellow author and occasional contributor to Nash Holos recently related to me that for the past couple of months, his website has been visited by IPs originating at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington (just outside of Seattle).

This started happening shortly after Ukrainian Day celebrations in Vancouver on September 12, which apparently attracted several visitors from Seattle's Ukrainian community. He speculates that at least one of them may work at Microsoft Corp (or knows someone who does).

Exactly why this sudden interest in his website is unclear, but he thought he'd take advantage of the situation.

As diaspora Ukrainians know all too well, the letter Ґ came under attack as part of the russification policy during the soviet times. This was a not-too-subtle attempt to demoralize Ukrainians and gradually destroy the language. The Ukrainian language has both a sound and a letter for Ґ (sounds like the English hard G) as well as for Г (sounds like the English H). The Russian language has only the Г which sounds like the English hard G.

Confusing, eh? As it was designed to be. And out of the confusion will emerge order, and according to Stalin's plan, Ukrainian would become more like Russian and eventually indistinguishable.

Of course, such a ridiculous plan was doomed to failure, and fail it did. The Ukrainian people adapted, they just used the letter Г for both sounds! Which is fine if you know both languages, and know the context when speaking Ukrainian.

But it leads to total silliness when translating into English, because you can get such gems as Al Hore (Gore) and Bill Hates (Gates). Mirko discusses this in his book Yaroslaw's Treasure so check it out for a good laugh.

During soviet times, then, the Ukrainian alphabet did not include the letter Ґ (since the soviets banned it) although of course diaspora Ukrainians hung on to it for dear life. For them, it remains a symbol of the Cold War, one the West was totally clueless about (and still is).

It really aggravates diaspora Ukrainians that this practice of interchanging the Ґ and the Г is still commonplace amongst Ukrainians in Ukraine (and recent immigrants). However, closer to home one of the more mundane annoyances is the Microsoft keyboard. It does allow one to type the letter Ґ in Ukrainian ... but provided you first tie your arms in a knot and do a backwards somersault mid-air (just about, anyway).

There is a very old font that has a nice phonetic keyboard containng the letter Ґ (where the English G resides) but unfortunately it's not being upgraded to keep up with the changes at Microsoft.

Which brings me back to Mirko. He decided to deal with this aggravation head on. He put up a message on his website to his anonymous visitors from Microsoft, asking them point blank to add the letter Ґ to Microsoft's Ukrainian keyboard layout!

Well, what the hey. No point beating around the bush when you have someone's attention.

You can see the message on the About page at his website. Time will tell if the Ukrainian brainiacs at Microsoft will comply, but it certainly was worth a try.

Tip of the hat to Mirko!


Anonymous said...

Love that message on Mirko Petriw's site to Microsoft. Maybe that will get their attention to add the Ґ
to the keyboard. Regards Roman Holash aka: Golash

Pawlina said...

Love it, Roman!

I believe there's a Jewish (Yiddish?) word for Mirko's message: chutzpah!

And who knows, the good folks at Microsoft might even see the light soon.

In the meantime, as you demonstrated, there's lots of fun to be had switching H's and G's in English. Thanx for the laff! :-)

Kenneth said...

Or just drop the whole Windows thing and get a Mac... O have both US and Ukrainian keyboards enabled, and switching is as easy as selecting the appropriate flag... г and ґ are on the same row default keyboard layout.

Pawlina said...

Well Kenneth, switching to a Mac is certainly not out of the question!

I currently have a very old keyboard program that has the Ґ and the Г where the G and H are ... and I just toggle to switch between the two languages. Is that what you are referring to?

Kenneth said...


I work for IBM, since 1978, so I know full well the ins and outs of IBM (now Lenovo) PC and Windows.

But for my personal use, I switched to a Mac in 2002, and now have three. On the Mac OS, you can point to a area on the common menu bar at the top of the screen and select which keyboard and language that you need to work with.

Then I can display a mini keyboard layout to see the actual key definitions. While the keyboard locations are different, it's the same principle. Since I'm only learning slowing Ukrainian, and at 55 that's a challenge in and of itself, the system works for when I need to type something in Ukrainian.

Several Sisters at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Philadelphia have a keyboard program they use to switch between English and Ukrainian Keyboards for their Windows machines. I have the name of their utility somewhere; I think it cost about $50 but very useful for them creating dual language display cards for the Archeparchy Museum.

BTW, I've tried the buckwheat cabbage rolls recipe, very interesting taste. Needed a little more sauce, even when using the extra butter and onions on top!


Pawlina said...

Thanks, Ken. Now if I ever do make the switch to a Mac, I am good to go! :-)

Re the cabbage rolls, while I absolutely love buckwheat, I do find that it can be a bit bland on its own, so I tend to add things like butter, onions, and extra sauce as well. Glad you enjoyed them.

BTW, I tried out the fresh mushroom soup recipe the other day and it is to die for. :-)

If you try it out, would love your feedback.