Sunday, February 14, 2010

French phonetic characters

As a student of the French language, which i am not, one is sometimes required to analyze French phonology. In the course of this, one might want to write about one's work, and inserting symbols in documents on a computer becomes a necessity.

To cut this short, the question is: How do you type a "backwards c with a tilde on it"?

A paragraph or two about OpenOffice first. OpenOffice comes with a huge list of special characters, which you can insert (by clicking "Insert" > "Special character", funnily enough). A list of characters and symbols appears, which you can just click to insert. There's a "subset" of characters called IPA Extensions, IPA stands for International Phonetic Alphabet.

Having this wealth to choose from is nice, but to speed up typing it would be nice not have to use the mouse each time. Luckiliy, there are shortcut keys. In the lower right corner, you will see something like "U+00A9 (169)" (example for the copyright symbol). The first string, the one after the 'U+', is the Unicode "code point", an internationally valid code which represents the character. The second one, between the brackets, is the Latin-1 code, another code representation for the character. Remember that in the old days, we used to type Alt+{number} to insert special characters. Latin-1 is a simple character encoding which contains enough characters for most Western languages, but cannot be used for something as complex as phonetic characters.

On Ubuntu, you can create a character from its Unicode code point with Ctrl+Shift+u {codepoint}. (Windows?) This will work not only in OpenOffice.org, but in many programs where you can enter text. For example, if i hold down Ctrl and Shift and press 'u', an underlined 'u' appears. I then enter '0254' and press Enter, and what do i get? A beautiful reversed c!


ɔ


The question remains how to create the tilde on my "backward c". It turns out there's also character subsets called "Spacing modifying letters" and "Combining diacritical marks". The characters from the latter subset will add themselves to the previous character when clicked. You can look up these characters in OpenOffice, but they're available on lots of places. Unicode Phonetic Symbols is a good starting point. After some searching around, it turns out the code for the tilde is 0303. So first i create my reversed c (Ctrl+U 0254 Enter), and then the tilde (Ctrl+U 0303 Enter), and the tilde places itself above the reversed c.


ɔ̃


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