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Unleashing Your Multilingual Mac

One of the best kept secrets about Mac OS 9 is its built-in support for reading and writing languages beyond English, including ones that use non-Latin scripts and characters. Most users never realize that their operating system can handle the following languages out of the box: Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Nepali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. This is extremely useful for anyone teaching or studying one of these languages, or if you just want to see foreign Web sites in their native tongue.

By default, these capabilities are invisible to the Mac OS 9 user. To turn them on, you need to go to the Keyboard control panel and select at least one keyboard layout in addition to the default one. If you’ve installed non-Roman languages (such as Russian, for example), access them by making a selection from the Script menu. Your menu bar will then include a new flag icon at the far right. Clicking on this menu will show whichever languages you have checked.

If the Keyboard control panel doesn’t list the language you want, get out your Mac OS CD-ROM and perform a custom install for the language kits of interest. Afterwards, also look in the CD Extras folder on the installation disc, where the Language Kits CD Extras folder holds some additional fonts and keyboards. One common language not included in Apple’s kits is Greek, for which you need to download a Greek font and keyboard layout from the Web.


You don’t need a huge, fast system to make use of these resources. It all seems to work fine on my old Power Macintosh 6100, upgraded with a Newer Technologies MAXpower G3 card, including 40 MB of physical RAM. Installing all the language kits takes up an extra 80 MB or so of disk space. Note that some limited multilingual capabilities were available starting with Mac OS 8.5.


Reading Foreign Language Web Pages — Want to read a foreign newspaper in its original language? A growing number are published on the Web. Doing a search in Yahoo or another search engine under "newspaper" and the name of the country will normally yield several results.

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Setting up your browser to read them correctly requires having the proper font installed for the language in question and setting some browser parameters. In particular, you need to go into the Languages or Fonts section of your browser’s preferences and make sure the right font is selected under the right language. You may also need to go to the Character Set item under the View menu and set it for the right language. Sometimes experimentation is necessary because there is more than one choice for a language. The "user defined" option can be useful where your language/font does not fit one of the other categories. For a nice explanation, see Alan Wood’s page on setting up Macintosh Web browsers for multilingual support.

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"Dead" languages are also accessible with the right fonts. Want to read Homer in Ancient Greek or Beowulf in Old English? The Perseus Project and Old English Pages can display them for you.


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Typing Foreign Language Texts — If you want to write in a another language, the procedure is usually simple. You first need to open a Mac text editor or word processor that is able to handle other scripts (known as "WorldScript-savvy"). SimpleText, Nisus Writer, Word Perfect 3.5, and Microsoft Word 2001 are examples. Then go to the Keyboard menu and select the language. To see how the characters are mapped to your keyboard, launch Key Caps from the Apple menu. A small keyboard will appear on the screen with the new language’s characters in place of your normal keyboard layout (you may have to adjust the font in the Key Caps Font menu to get this right). You can type directly into the document from the real keyboard or click letters on the screen’s keyboard and copy/paste the result. For scripts that run from right to left, like Arabic and Hebrew, you may need to set the direction in the Text control panel.

You might want to print out a copy of Key Caps for the language you are using. You can try using the Mac’s built-in screen capture function (Command-Shift-3 or Command-Shift-4), or other third-party screen capture utilities you may have, but sometimes these make the keys go back to normal and won’t work. One program I found that seems to do the trick is Gif·gIf·giF.


For the more unusual scripts that use keyboards you can download helpful manuals from the Apple Web site: Cyrillic (Part 030-7977), Indian (U96600-025), Arabic (030-7912), and Hebrew (030-7978).


What about Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which use hundreds of characters? For these, the Mac language kits include special input methods. For example, with Chinese you can type in a romanized version of a word and you will be presented with a list of characters that correspond to it, from which you select the one that should go in the text.

These input methods can be quite complex, and finding English-language documentation on how they work is unfortunately not easy; for some reason the manuals are not provided on the Mac OS 9 CD. The Chinese manual is now available at the Apple site (Part 034-0602), and a good explanation of how to input Chinese has also been put into the Chinese-Mac FAQ.


For Korean I was unable to find any input manual online, and for Japanese there is only a partial explanation of the Mac’s "Kotoeri" input method.

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In the end, every language has its own complexities, and only someone with fluency can assess how adequate or functional Mac OS 9’s support is in a particular case. Although this article just skims the surface, it should help you get started using the Mac’s unusual linguistic capabilities.

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