Keyboard Connection

As an amateur linguist, and a recent transplant to Japan, I really enjoyed your article "The Japanese Language Meets the Internet" (see page 60, May 2000). It put a lot of information in context for me that I was receiving neither from self-instruction books nor from explanations from Japanese coworkers and clients. In particular, your discussion of using a Western keyboard to retrieve characters, with some biasing formula to resolve homonyms, struck a resonant tone.

Before going to China on a computer tour in 1981, I had some brief instruction in conversational Chinese, plus some explanation on forming Chinese characters and doing a lookup in a Chinese-English dictionary. While there, I proposed to my hosts the idea of using Western keyboards to retrieve Chinese characters. My hosts, who showed me a very cumbersome machine to electronically reproduce characters stroke for stroke, said it would not be possible. On my return, friends and I began an experiment -- suspended and ultimately canceled when I sold my company -- to build such a Chinese word processor. I saw one from Taiwan that used a similar approach, but did not use romanized Chinese as its keyboard input. It just used unique nonsense codes. Later, I read that the Chinese had built a machine along the ideas I had proposed, and that one woman was achieving speeds of 60 to 70 characters per minute. Anyway, thank you for such an enlightening and readable article.

Cris Miller