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Existing Keyboards

The existing Kikuyu keyboard on Linux appears to be identical to the English QWERTY keyboard with a variety of diacritics in the fourth position of various characters. Of these diacritics, only one, the tilde diacritic, appears in Kikuyu, and only on the letters ũ and ̃i, both of which are fairly common. The existing layout is not convenient for these characters, since it requires four keystrokes, right-alt, shift, tilde, and the letter u or i, to type them.


Kikuyu Keyboard


The Kikuyu alphabet contains characters from the Latin alphabet, except for f, l, p, q, s, v, x, and z, as well as the characters ũ and ĩ (u and i with diacritics).[1] The most common other languages for Kikuyu speakers are English and Swahili, both of which use only characters from the Latin alphabet without diacritics.[2]

For this reason, the new layout simply adds ũ and ĩ in third position on the characters u and i, and their uppercase versions in fourth position. The diacritics not appearing in Kikuyu are retained in their positions from the existing keyboard, since there is no reason to remove that functionality to allow other languages with diacritics to be typed; this keyboard is simply optimized to type Kikuyu specifically efficiently. The old way to type ũ and ĩ is also retained so speakers accustomed to this method would be able to continue using it. Because the keyboard contains all Latin alphabet characters in their usual QWERTY positions, it can easily type Swahili and English as well. It is worth noting that this new layout produces a single character for the letters with diacritics, which is not what the old Linux layout produces, but does seem to be consistent with at least some available Kikuyu texts online.[3][4][5]

This keyboard can type Kikuyu efficiently, but it does have the concern that including ũ and ̃i as third position characters may give the sense that Kikuyu is derivative of Swahili or English. However, the optimization for Kikuyu specifically counterbalances this effect, since it is clear this keyboard is designed specifically for people trying to type Kikuyu, unlike the current Linux keyboard which seems to have Kikuyu as an afterthought given the complicated position of Kikuyu's diacritic.

IPA for Kikuyu Keyboard


The second keyboard is designed to type IPA for Kikuyu. It is not designed to type IPA for any other language since it is specifically designed to type IPA for someone familiar with typing Kikuyu text with the keyboard layout described above. The keyboard is constructed with the following principles in mind: the layout of first-position characters should match the ordinary Kikuyu keyboard (to avoid confusion), and the position of IPA characters should be as close as possible to the orthographic characters which usually correspond to them in Kikuyu.

Kikuyu orthography and phonetics are in close correspondence[6]; for example, the letter u always makes the sound [u], and ũ always makes the sound [o]. For convenience of a user accustomed to typing Alt-Gr+u to get ũ, this keyboard gives [o] from Alt-Gr+u, as well as from just typing o. To the greatest extent possible, every sound can be typed from some position on the key that corresponds to its usual orthography; for example, typing b produces [b], and typing Shift-b produces [β], which the letter b can also correspond to in Kikuyu.

Finally, tone characters replace the - and = symbols, which are not needed for IPA, to give the low and high tones of Kikuyu.[7] The keyboard can type some uppercase letters, but not all; this is not an issue, because it is designed exclusively to type IPA characters for Kikuyu.


These keyboards are licensed under a GNU GPLv3 copyleft license.


To install the keyboards, replace your existing /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/evdev.xml with the downloaded file evdev.xml. Then, replace /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/ke with the downloaded file ke, and add the file kik-ipa to /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/. The new keyboards should then be available once you restart your machine. If you already had the old Kikuyu keyboard in your list of active keyboards, you will need to remove it and re-add it.

No existing keyboards will lose their functionality, although the existing Kikuyu keyboard will be overridden with the new one, which does not eliminate any of the original's functionality but only adds new characters.