How are Asian languages keyboarded?

There are special keyboards that are used to type Chinese, Japanese and Korean. However the CJK languages can also be typed using a regular English keyboard. You have to have a localized operating system for the language you want to keyboard. And you also need to have localized software to do the typesetting with. And, of course, a good knowledge of the language you are going to type.

When you open up a localized program (perhaps PageMaker or Word), a small window opens at the bottom of the screen. This is called a front-end processor (FEP for short) window. As you type using the English keys, letters appear in the FEP window. As you continue typing, those letters get converted to the language you want. Here's an example from Japanese.

Suppose you want to type Tokyo. To do that, you have to give it the actual Japanese sounds - TOU KYOU. First you type T and then O. The FEP then changes that to the hiragana syllable for TO. When you type the u (from TOU), the FEP changes that to a hiragana to represent what we would call a long O in English. Then you type K and Y and O and the FEP changes that into two hiragana representing KYO. Type the U and it again adds the hiragana to indicate the long O. Then you press the Spacebar and the FEP converts the five hiragana to the two kanji used for Tokyo. Press the Enter key and those kanji are finally placed into your document.

Sounds complicated, right? It can get even more complicated. Each syllable (for example, TOU) can be represented by many different kanji. The FEP tries to select the appropriate kanji, based on what else you have typed. But it often picks the wrong one. When you press the spacebar to convert the hiragana to kanji, if it converts to the wrong kanji you press the spacebar again. Another window opens and shows a list of possibilities. There may be just a few choices. There may be 40 or 50. You scroll through the list. When you find the one you want, you press the Enter key and that one is placed into your FEP window. If all the other kanji are correct, you then press the Enter key to put the text into your document.

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