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A keyboard layout for Okinawan.


Use the image above for reference. First, some background on the Okinawan language. There are five main vowel sounds in Okinawan: a-/i-/u-/e-/o- (あ/い/う/え/お). Then, for each consonant sound, one can create up to five more sounds using the vowels. In some cases, not all are used, but for one example where they are, k- can be composed with a to form ka, or か. Thus, in the same order as the vowels: か/き/く/け/こ. Additionally, the y- sounds, ya/yu/yo (や/ゆ/よ) can sometimes be combined with some consonant prefixes to form glides. For example, k- combines with ya to form kya, or きゃ.

With this in mind, I will explain my layout. First, the five vowels are on the same keys as those normally in English. These keys can be pressed on their own to produce single vowel characters. This seemed reasonable simply because there was no compelling alternative to the locations that those accustomed to an English keyboard would already know.

Then, on their traditional English keys are each of the consonant prefixes that can be composed with between two and five vowel sounds. To compose a prefix with a vowel, simply press it and then the desired vowel in order. If one were to create an actual keyboard with this layout, it might make sense to print the -a version of the character on the physical key, as above. Unfortunately, this is slightly disingenuous because, for instance, the k- key has か (ka) printed on it, despite needing to type <k> <a> in order to produce a か. However, there is no Japonic character that captures the k- sound more generally, and existing Japanese keyboards that require the user to press the ka key multiple times in order to reach ki/ku/ke/ko have か on them. These encompass the functionality for w-, r-, t-, y-, b-, s-, d-, f-, g-, h-, j-, k-, z-, ch-, p-, n-, and m- sounds.

Two problem children exist. First, is the n sound (ん). Because na/ni/nu/ne/no are all viable sounds in Okinawan, the n key must serve double duty. In order to type ん, the user must enter nn, because it is otherwise impossible to type something like ぱ/ん/あ/る (pan aru; there is bread). If this nn input mode did not exist, the layout would always detect that phrase as ぱなる (panaru; nonsense). The other problematic sounds are tsu/tsi (つ/つぃ). I placed these on the two otherwise completely unused xu/xi combinations, since they do not play nicely like hya/hyo and friends. In every other case where two consonant keys must be pressed, it is always represented orthographically as a "large" version of the first sound, followed by a "small" version of the second (plus the vowel suffix). Consider ひゃ (hya); a large h-family character followed by a small や (ya). I could have mapped tsu/tsi directly to つ/つぃ, but it would not have been consistent with the other compositions unless it was written as big た (ta) followed by little す (su).

Existing Resources

Okinawan does not appear to have any keyboard support anywhere. Speakers could conceivably use a Japanese keyboard layout, as nearly all sounds are supported (in different ways) by the Japanese language, but this is clearly suboptimal.


1. sudo apt-get install ibus-m17n

2. im-config -n ibus

3. Either copy ryu.mim from this git repo to /usr/share/m17n/, or symlink it there with the following (from this directory):

  ln -s ryu.mim /usr/share/m17n/ryu.mim

4. Restart X11 by logging out and logging back in. In your system tray, there should now be a very faint blue "en", indicating that your current keyboard setup is for English. Right click it and select "Preferences".

5. Navigate to the "Input Method" tab. Press the "Add" button and the "..." button to see all of the available categories. Scroll all the way to the bottom and click "Other". You should find an entry for "Okinawan - m17n". Add it.

6. Close the ibus preferences menu and right click the difficult-to-see system tray icon. You should be able to select "Other - Okinawan (m17n)".

7. You're done! You can now type in Okinawan!