Blair and Ed Lake
needs standardized computer fonts. There are none even now, nearly
10 years after the new Latin alphabet has been adopted.
Photo: Azerbaijani kindergartners
celebrate "Alphabet Holiday", showing that they have
mastered all 32 letters of the Azeri Latin alphabet. Their hats
spell "A-L-I-F-B-A", the Azeri word for "alphabet".
Why can't I read some Az Latin or Az Cyrillic documents that
are typed on other computers? Why do these letters always come
up looking like garble on my computer?
Simply, the Azeri font character assignments are not compatible
with the character assignments that were used in preparing the
Computers are designed so that every text character, tab mark,
paragraph mark, punctuation mark has its own number equivalent
that all computers understand. For example, your "A"
might be assigned Number 65. Their "A" might be 128.
At a basic level, these codes are called ASCII (pronounced ASK-key)
which is an acronym for American Standard Code of Information
Interchange, a universal system of numbering characters. All
computers support at least the original 128 character standard
ASCII set; and many computers use an extended ASCII set of 256-characters
or other character mapping techniques.
When a character assignment is established for Azeri, you won't
have any problems reading other people's files. That's why it's
critically important for the Azerbaijani government to establish
a standard. Eventually, standardization will occur by default,
but it could happen much faster and with much less wasted energy
if the government would define a standard as quickly as possible.
Why is my "upside-down e" in a different place on
my keyboard than on other keyboards?
Keyboard placement of characters and the character assignment
of font sets are two different issues and totally separate from
each other. It is possible to have "upside-down e"
on any key - wherever you wish, it doesn't matter. The operating
systems today have the capability of conveniently remapping characters
on the keyboard. See Chart: "Where's the upside-down e?"
But if keyboard assignment is also standardized, this will facilitate
what is called "touch typing", meaning a typist's ability
to learn where the keys are placed, which obviously facilitates
I grew up typing Azeri on a Cyrillic typewriter. It confuses
me when I have to type Azeri on American computer keyboards.
It is possible to create two official standard keyboard layouts,
one for those who prefer to use the Russian standard and another
for those who prefer the American. More important than layout
is the character assignment which must be identical no matter
where you place keys to create a letter. On the American keyboard
layout, you might find "the upside-down e" ()on
"w" whereas on the Russian layout, you might find it
on "period". The critical point is that both use the
same character codes. Then, no matter which computer you use,
they both print the same letter.
I have a document that I created in Azeri Cyrillic but now
I want to print it out in Azeri Latin. Is that possible?
Yes, if the character assignment is the same for both Cyrillic
and Latin, then you won't even have to type a single word again,
just exchange the font. It's as simple as converting font styles
from Helvetica to Geneva. Very simple.
I've been using our own set of Azeri Cyrillic and Latin fonts
for many years now. If a new set is standardized, then all my
old documents will have to be retyped.
Don't be afraid of standardization. Computers can handle those
changes with what is called a translation driver, which will
also become available for all the various fonts that are out
there. In other words if your ""
has an assignment of 78 and the standardized font gives it a
new assignment of 89, the software program can reassign that
letter and put it in the standard location for you along with
any other changes necessary. So it won't be necessary to retype
all those documents that you've spent so many hours and weeks
creating. The computer can convert them. Once standards are developed,
translation programs can be developed.
In English there are thousands of font styles - Helvetica,
Times, Arial, etc. Why are there so few in Azeri?
Once the character font assignment has been standardized for
Azeri, font styles will proliferate all over the place. But the
font creators realize that there is no market yet because so
many font sets exist. When all potential customers use the same
font assignment, then the market will increase immensely, making
it worth all the effort to create different styles.
When I type a list in English, it's easy for me to alphabetize
automatically, but not when I type in Azeri Latin. Why not?
Once again, this is a problem that can be solved when the font
becomes standardized. The alphabet sequence in Azeri Latin is
similar, but not exact, to English. One of the most obvious differences
is that Azeri "x" is not at the end of the alphabet
as in English but follows the letter "k" as Azeri "x"
is pronounced as "kh".
The alphabet sequence in Azeri Cyrillic was different because
it was based on the Russian alphabet sequence. Once again, if
the fonts were standardized, programs could be created to make
sorting automatic in both Azeri Latin and Cyrillic.
I'm used to the position of letters on my layout on my Azeri
keyboard, I really don't want standardization or I'll have to
relearn all these positions again.
For the sake of the future, it really is important that a standard
layout be established as it will facilitate typing speed. However,
there are specific software programs like KEYGO that will enable
reassignment of any character on the keyboard so that even if
you adopt a standard font, you can personalize your keyboard
layout to suit your own preferences. The most important thing
is that all fonts have the same character assignment.
I've heard that in the future, UNICODE will make it possible
to print all the languages in the world on a single computer.
How will that affect Azeri?
UNICODE is a universal character encoding scheme for written
characters and texts. It is a standard, not a technology. As
of 2000, Version 3.0 of the UNICODE Catalog is available. Instead
of 256 character positions that are available in the ASCII system,
UNICODE allows for 65,536 code elements. Already 49,194 characters
have been assigned as of February 2000.
This coding system was created by those who understood the internationalization
of business. Think of UNICODE as a huge catalog - a museum of
the world's alphabets and symbols where all characters are assigned
a name and a code, including those with enormous character sets
such as Chinese and Japanese, as well as archaic and obsolete
scripts like hieroglyphic Egyptian, Old Persian cuneiform and
Greek Linear B. It can handle right-to-left scripts such as Arabic
and Persian, and scripts of Asia of vertical alignment. It allows
for scripts to use diacritical marks such as Azeri with umlaut
( and ),
circumflex ( and
). For more about
UNICODE, visit: www.unicode.org.
Already the Azeri alphabet is listed with UNICODE according to
Elmir Valizade, who heads the Computer Department in the office
of Azerbaijan's President. In the future, look for Azeri in UNICODE
to be accessible through universal Web browsers such as Netscape
and Internet Explorer.
For UNICODE to work requires sophisticated computer systems such
as Windows 2000 for IBM, updated software applications and drivers
- obviously an expensive proposal, especially for Azerbaijanis,
many of whom cannot even afford to buy a personal computer. So
UNICODE is the long-term solution to the font standardization
problem. In the meantime, standardization of extended code assignments
is the cheaper interim solution.
I've been looking for Web sites that use the official Azeri
Latin script, but can't find any. Several places allow me to
download fonts, but make nothing available to read in Azeri.
Some few sites use older versions of the alphabet. I'd like to
read Azeri on the WEB.
Yes, you're right. Despite the fact that numerous sites exist
that relate to Azerbaijan (see www. resources.
few of them are based on Azeri, many are in English or Russian.
Once again, we predict that once the Azeri fonts are standardized,
Web sites in Azeri will begin to proliferate.
In the meantime, Azerbaijan International has just launched a
new Web site totally dedicated to the Azeri language. It includes
articles in Azeri in two scripts - Latin and Arabic (familiar
to Azerbaijanis living in Iran). Currently, there are no items
available in Azeri Cyrillic (which is no longer official).
Also you will find language learning material and articles in
English about the Azeri language itself. Visit AZERI.org or AZARI.org.
- mirror sites with the same material. And let us know what kind
of material you'd like to start reading in Azeri on the Web.
If fonts become standardized, you'll see how quickly many individuals
start to create sites using the Azeri language.
Our institution has many old documents that were published
in Azeri Cyrillic. Is it possible to scan them and print them
out in Azeri Latin?
Yes, once the fonts have been standardized, this will be an easy
task. It requires scanning the documents, running an Optical
Character Recognition (OCR) Program, mapping the document into
a standard Azeri Cyrillic font, then changing the font assignment
to a consistent Azeri-Latin font. You'll need to have both Az
Cyrillic and Az Latin fonts installed that have the same character
Furthermore, such documents can be shared both easily and economically
by posting them on WEB sites. In fact, this process is likely
to become the greatest solutions to the problem of converting
Azeri Cyrillic texts to Latin. It means you won't have to retype
every book and document that deserves to be available in the
new script. And if they are posted on the WEB, you won't have
to go to the enormous costs of printing them on paper.
goes to Ed Lake for his enormous contribution to the discussion
of fonts with our staff since 1997. Lake opened Amoco's office
in late 1991. A few months later, a contract had to be signed
but there were no Azeri Latin fonts. Lake kept company that weekend
with "White Out", black pen, scissors and a copy machine,
and the contract was ready by deadline. Azeri officials were
Lake went on to create one of the first Azeri Latin fonts in
1992. It was meant to be a temporary fix, but "Azeri 5"
fonts are still circulating today. And Lake, who now works for
BP Amoco in Wyoming hasn't given up on Azerbaijan getting standardized
fonts - hopefully, some day soon.
(8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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