Dotting ä and ö


This post is about typing Finnish letters on your computer. It was sparked off by a welcome surprise experienced while watching the IAAF World Athletics Championships this week. While wondering if Finland had even sent a team :( and then with relief seeing the great Tero Pitkämäki lining up for the javelin final, I realised something else. Have you spotted it yet? (Yes, that's a hastily grabbed shot of my telly) They've finally managed to include diacritical marks or accents or whatever you want to call them, in screen graphics, as in this results table. Maybe it's been happening for a while; and I suspect it'll never happen in some places. The fact is, that you can happily Google Finnish names using just a and o instead of ä and ö if you want. But if globalisation isn't just going to be for the benefit of an English-speaking world, then there needs to be recognition that other world languages make use of 'accents' and they're diminished without them.

It matters in Finnish, because although those dots may look like an umlaut, in Finnish ä and ö are separate letters. Words spelt with a and o are completely different words from those spelt with ä and ö. It can take a while to force this essential fact into the brain. At first you can tear your hair out trying to find words in the dictionary, because Finnish alphabetical order is different: ä and ö (and the Swedish å) are found at the end of the alphabet, and therefore after x, y and z when you flick through dictionary pages.

Finnish handwriting is interesting. This is one respect in which I will never be mistaken for a Finn(!), because I can't help myself, I do dot those letters when I write them. Most Finns don't do that. Instead, they add a short dash above the letter, because it's quicker.

But how about typing those letters? Learning Finnish, you will soon want to be able to type those letters; but you will see that they don't exist on your keyboard. You may think there is nothing for it but to buy a laptop in Finland or something ridiculous like that. However, you don't have to spend a penny. In fact, you can already type those letters, and here's how.

Whether for print or for digital use, typefaces usually have far, far more letters, numbers and symbols designed for them than just numerals and the standard lower and upper case letters. They're all there, and you can see them (in Windows - there'll be something equivalent in MacOS and other operating systems) if you go to Windows Accessories and then click on Character Map. You'll see this, to the right. If you scroll down you'll be astonished at how much is available for some fonts. But what we need for Finnish is right there, I've highlighted the relevant letters in red. In Character Map, you can select a letter, copy it (Ctrl+C), then paste it (Ctrl+V) into your document. Once they're there, you can carry on copying and pasting without going back to Character Map.

There's an alternative, older method. I'll explain it although I'm near certain you'll find it too long-winded. If you have a numeric keypad on your computer and can use NumLock, you can type in these Alt input codes: ä is accessed by typing in alt+132, Ä with alt+142, ö with alt+148, and Ö with alt+153.

What about actually installing a Finnish keyboard? No, I don't mean sticking on another physical keyboard (although that is perfectly possible!). I mean, downloading a new map for your keyboard which means that although the keys would obviously be the same, they would type the letters as you would find them on a real Finnish keyboard. This is the likely layout of the keys as found on a computer or laptop bought in Finland:
From Wikipedia Commons, credited to Stuart Brady and Simo Kaupinmäki
The letters we're discussing can be seen over on the right hand side. As you can see various punctuation marks have been rearranged. For what it's worth - I'm a little hazy on this - the letters and symbols in blue can be accessed with the AltGr key. I discovered that about the @ key with the help of a succession of friendly hotel receptionists :)

Some people do this and then put little stickers with the new letters/symbols on the keys. I really wouldn't do that if I were you, because your fingers won't like the feel of it especially when the stickers become ragged. And anyway, you're probably going to want to switch back to an English layout at regular intervals, and it will all get a bit annoying. Just learn where the letters are, it's not difficult.

If you do a search for where to download a Finnish keyboard file, it may come across as a bit complicated. But in Windows 10 it's actually very easy. Go to Settings, then Time & Language, then Region & Language, and click on Suomi, and follow the simple instructions. The result is brilliant: if you look down at the bottom right of your screen, you'll probably see ENG next to the time. Click on that then a little window pops up and you can toggle between the English keyboard and the Finnish one no problem at all.

I've only done this since the end of term and it'll be interesting to see how my own habits change once the new term starts. To be honest with you, what I've been doing up to now is simply as follows. I copy an ä from a text, and when I need it, I just type Control V, ie. I paste it in. It's quick and no more complicated than typing an upper case letter. Ah ha, you say, but what about ö? Well, if I need it, I copy and paste that as well. But ö is much less common than ä and although it's always needed at some point, you can find yourself typing a long stretch of text without needing it again. It's not a problem and I don't normally think about it. But maybe now I've downloaded Windows' Finnish language pack, everything will change!

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