Memories of Japanese Input: Appeal to Readers

I have received the following e-mail from Helen DeWitt, and it would give me the greatest possible pleasure to be able to help her out:

I am working on a story in which a character started a project in the 1990s using an Apple Performa, Nisus Writer, and the methods of Japanese input available in Apple OS 7 through 9. He then runs into problems with the introduction of OS X, which eliminates some of the input methods formerly available. (I devoutly hope the story is more interesting than this sounds.)

Now, I could swear when I used Nisus ca. 1999-2000 – that is, when the advance from The Last Samurai permitted me to pony up for a Mac – one of the methods of Japanese input enabled one to look up a character by radical and stroke numbers. In other words, you didn’t need to know how a word sounded to type it into a document; you could look at it, hazard a guess at the radical and stroke numbers, and look through the little chart that appeared onscreen. I, at least, found this enormously helpful, and it is unfortunately no longer available in OS X.

The only thing is, I’m starting to wonder if I imagined the whole thing. When I try to run a search on Google to see what other people have to say about this input system, I get no hits at all. (Well, maybe they are buried 50 pages into the list of hits; all I can say is that no amount of rephrasing, no amount of constraining for dates, has helped.) I wondered whether any of your readers might remember this system? The sort of thing it would interest me to know is whether it could also be used in Word or WordPerfect.

I’m afraid this is a little remote from the normal concerns of Languagehat – but maybe there is something of linguistic interest lurking somewhere. It seems to me that only someone who had never personally tried writing a text in Japanese (or, for that matter, Chinese) would replace the features we used to have with one which presupposed you always knew how to pronounce what you wanted to write – an interesting (if exasperating) mistake to make.

Anybody know?

Comments

  1. Dave Lull says:
  2. I don’t know about this functionality in classic Mac OS, but I’d like to point out that a similar tool actually is available in OS X, although it’s fairly well hidden. Here’s how to get to it:

    1) Select “Emoji & Symbols” in the Edit menu (present in most OS X programs).
    2) If the window comes up in the small form just showing emoji, click the icon at the top right to expand it.
    3) Click the gear button in the upper left, and select “Customize List…”
    4) Under “East Asian Scripts”, check the box for “Kanji” (for characters that Apple considers Japanese Kanji only) or “Han Characters – All” (for all CJKV characters), then click “Done.”
    5) You can now click the new category at the left of the “Characters” window, and then select characters by radical (grouped by the radical stroke count) and stroke count. Double-clicking a character will insert it in a document.

    This applies to OS X El Capitan, but other versions should be similar. “Emoji & Symbols” used to be called “Special Characters” in older versions.

  3. It’s still possible, although extremely cumbersome, to use a similar method on a Mac now. You just click on the input method label (shown near the top right of the screen) and choose Character Viewer from the drop-down menu. You can then choose Hanzi (Simplified), Hanzi (Traditional), or Kanji, which allow you to look up characters ordered by radical and number of strokes. (You can also access lots of other things like Greek, and Mongolian, etc. I seem to remember that Thai, Burmese, Hebrew, Devanagari and many others could also be accessed, but strangely enough they’re missing from my system at the moment.)

    I really don’t remember the input system that Helen mentions, although that’s possibly because I never saw it as having been phased out. Instead, I think I saw it as somehow “seguing” into the current method.

    However, I know that it was always possible to look up characters using this method on a Mac. That is because when I was using a Mac in China in the late 90s, some Chinese staff said that since the character 町 doesn’t exist in Chinese, they had problems printing text with Japanese place names in it. They then proudly showed me how they’d managed to cobble together a makeshift 町 to fill the gap. It took me less than five minutes to locate the character Simplified Chinese character 町 in the Character Viewer, based on using radicals, not pronunciation.

    Of course, I’m not sure whether this is the same as the input system that Helen describes. My feeling is that it was simpler in those days to look up characters by this method. The Character Viewer is pretty slow on my computer, and while it allows you to access a huge range of Unicode characters, I have a vague recollection that the old system was divided up by language. That is, when accessing Japanese characters, you were only shown kanji, when showing Chinese characters, you were only shown Hanzi, etc. The current system is more comprehensive but less convenient for the user.

    I’m afraid I can’t remember more than that. Memory plays tricks on you when things are constantly changing. (I’m now trying to figure out why I used to be able to see Thai, Hebrew, Burmese, etc. on my Character Viewer — or at least I think I could — but can’t see them now.)

  4. The person to ask might be Tom Gewecke at Multilingual Mac.

  5. George Gibbard says:

    On my Mac purchased a few years ago I don’t see “Character Viewer” either under my input menu or when I search under the magnifying glass.

  6. George Gibbard says:

    If I go to “Open Language & Text Preferences” under the input menu, I can select “Kotoeri”; this lets me get any of Hiragana, Katakana, Full-width Romaji, Half-width Katakana, Romaji or Ainu, but not Kanji, and there is still no “Character Viewer” under the input menu. If I instead select “Chinese — Traditional” or “Chinese — Simplified”, I get a new option under the input menu, “Show Trackpad Handwriting”, but still no “Character Viewer”. With each of the latter two, though, I can select a few different input methods whose names are in Chinese and I don’t know what they mean. So someone else will have to take over from here.

  7. Keyboard preferences, keyboard tab. There’s a checkbox there to enable access in the input menu to the keyboard viewer and the character viewer (“Emoji & Symbols” since OS X 10.11).
    If you type IPA, you will enjoy having the IPA Palette from blugs.com.

  8. George Gibbard says:

    Y, I have a different Mac than you. If I go to “System Preferences” and then to “Keyboard”, I get only things like speed of “Key Repeat” and “Delay until repeat”, and “Keyboard shortcuts”. The input menu on the top right of my screen is different, currently allowing me to select various keyboards for various languages, but apparently Japanese Kanji is not an option.

    I’m shocked that the support for foreign languages on this version of the Mac System is so bad. I tried, under the input menu, to Open Language and Text Preferences and adjust the language preferences so that Japanese was my preferred language, and restarted. The result was that my menu labels were all in Japanese, but I didn’t have more options for input.

    So would it be all better if I were to get a system upgrade?

  9. The reason that the hanzi in OS 9 were segregated by language is that they belonged to separate and incompatible non-Unicode encodings, so they only worked in applications that could handle files with multiple encodings, or using the ISO 2022 meta-encoding (of which ISO-2022-JP is a special case).

    IICORE is a collection of about 10,000 widely used characters intended to bridge CJK, so that systems which implement it can do a good enough job. Predictably, it’s only Chinese systems that take this seriously.

  10. George Gibbard says:

    What I have and have demonstrated to be woefully inadequate is OS 10.8.5.

  11. Try System Preferences/Language and text/Input sources. There’s a checkbox at the very top of the input sources list. Then go and type something in Syriac or Linear A. I dare you.

  12. I used to have 10.8.5 and it was fine at the time. It was easy to access the Character Viewer; I just can’t remember how! Apple may have rearranged the System Preferences since then. Earlier these things weren’t under Keyboard; they were under Language & Region, or possibly International. As I said, it’s hard to remember what things used to be like because they are being tinkered with all the time.

    The input menu at the top of my screen gives me a choice of input system, as well as Show Character Viewer, Show Keyboard Viewer, Hide Input Source Name, and Open Keyboard Preferences… It’s only after opening Character Viewer that I can look for Japanese Kanji.

    One change in my current system (10.9.5) is that you can’t collapse the character viewer to the Dock. That means that if you want to hide it, you basically have to close it. If you don’t close it, it obscures a portion of the screen. Opening it again is inconvenient and slow. It was much better when you could just press the orange (-) button and put it out of the way temporarily.

  13. George Gibbard says:

    Y, it’s clear that what you are proposing would require a system update for me (10.8.5), which I’m reluctant to do since I can do what I need to do now and am not sure it will be clear how to do it afterwards. But for Helen DeWitt, it’s probably what is needed.

  14. No, I checked on a computer running 10.6.

  15. George Gibbard says:

    I reread Y’s comment and was able to turn on Character Viewer and Keyboard Viewer. Character Viewer always only gives “Arrows”, “Parentheses”, “Punctuation”, “Currency Symbols”, “Pictographs” (not Kanji), “Bullets/Stars”, “Math Symbols”, “Letterlike Symbols” (no Kanji), “Emoji” and “Latin” (this is even with Traditional Chinese switched on and a Chinese input method selected). However, with Traditional Chinese switched on and Cangjie or Sucheng selected, Keyboard viewer gives me radicals. I don’t know how to do the rest. I also get radicals in the Keyboard Viewer with Simplified Chinese on and Wubi Xing selected. My computer did not come with Syriac or Linear A, I’m certain.

  16. Look for “Unicode” at the end of that list.

  17. It seems to me that only someone who had never personally tried writing a text in Japanese (or, for that matter, Chinese) would replace the features we used to have with one which presupposed you always knew how to pronounce what you wanted to write – an interesting (if exasperating) mistake to make.

    I think this is a bit unfair. The decision to change the Japanese text input method was almost certainly made at least in part by someone who personally had a great deal of experience writing text in Japanese — that is, a Japanese person. The fact is that when you are writing a text in Japanese, the vast majority of the time you do know how to pronounce what you want to write. There are obvious exceptions (transcribing names that are new to you, etc.) but they are very rare. So it makes sense to prioritize sound-based input once you have a system that can do it well enough.

    (If they really did remove the radical search entirely, that I would agree deserves vigorous protest, but I can confirm the other reports here that it is in recent versions of OS X at least and I strongly suspect that it’s been in there from the beginning — perhaps tucked away somewhere too difficult to find, but that’s another kind of mistake.)

  18. One important trick on the Mac is to choose U.S. Extended as your English-language input system. Once you’ve chosen U.S. Extended you can deselect the standard English input system.

    U.S. Extended allows you to input combinations like ü, ǎ, ē, é with two keystrokes. The first is achieved by pressing alt+u then u, the second by pressing alt+v then a, the third by pressing alt+a then e, the fourth by pressing alt+e then e. Other combinations are possible.

  19. (1) Begging our host’s indulgence…
    To Helen DeWitt, if you’re reading this, let me just say how much I enjoyed The Last Samurai, which I found out about through languagehat (and read while in Japan, as it happens). Can there be any other writer who has succeeded not only in combining Homeric Greek and Japanese in the same book, but making them both smoothly integral to the plot? So many fond passages… No need for any reply, only know that whatever you’re working on, I look forward to it.

    (2) The sort of thing it would interest me to know is whether it could also be used in Word or WordPerfect.

    Fortunately, the answer is yes. I’m not a Mac user, so can’t competently answer your questions about that, but if you use the standard Microsoft IME, absolutely, and it should work throughout Windows without regard to application. Just right click the spot on the language bar that toggles between “A” and あ, then select the “IME Pad” option. The small window that comes up will open default to a drawing utility (which I highly recommend over the radical-lookup method), but if you select the “部” (for bushu部首, “radical”) option on the window’s left-edge side, you should have what you’re looking for.

    (3) It seems to me that only someone who had never personally tried writing a text in Japanese (or, for that matter, Chinese) would replace the features we used to have with one which presupposed you always knew how to pronounce what you wanted to write – an interesting (if exasperating) mistake to make.

    Matt is of course completely right about this. I’d even go further: I’m sure there are hobbyist adepts out there, but for the average Japanese user, the radical-input method has got to be among the worst (and surely least-used) input-methods available. This is because Japanese users are almost always trying to write not characters, but words, words they already know. The vocabulary used to discuss input methods reflects this. When you type, you’re not so much “writing” characters as “converting (into characters)” (henkan変換). “Autocorrect” is accordingly called “predictive conversion” (yosoku henkan 予測変換). And “misconversions” (henkan-misu (E. miss) 変換ミス) are an amazingly common species of typo (and infuriatingly hard to spot in your own writing).

    Likewise, when you can’t produce the character you want, it’s not that you can’t write the character, only that you can’t “get it to come up (lit. out)” (dasenai出せない). This usually means that the speaker has either learned/guessed the pronunciation wrong in the first place, or is drawing a blank trying to think of a word that contains the desired character (and thus can’t use the most common method for inputting single characters–typing words that contain them and deleting the extra kana or kanji). But as Matt said, this doesn’t regularly happen with literate speakers writing about topics they’re familiar with. Even in the most common case of input difficulty, that of personal and place names containing rare characters (or rarer forms of common characters), a host of frequently updated, internet-connected input programs are making things easier all the time. And when you do hit a wall, there’s always Google/Wikipedia and cut-and-paste.

    (4) But what about the <3-5% of cases where even (gasp) Google-san fails us? This is where I can see the radical-lookup method coming in handy even for the native speaker, at least 5-10 years ago. Nowadays it's much quicker–especially with touch screens–to use the "drawing pad" option most input systems provide. This is my own go-to when all else fails. From personal experience at least, though I do a lot of ridiculously specialized J-word-processing, involving transcripts of materials with either (a) non-standard character forms or (b) characters that have little or no citizenship outside Chinese-Chinese texts, I don't think I've used the radical-lookup method twice in two months. Yet I have to admit: part of it's just laziness. Upping my radical-parsing/stroke-counting game would occasionally make things faster, but (to my shame) I'd rather google up the Shijing for the thousandth time and copy-paste from it than slog though the radical lists for something like 簋.

  20. Upon reflection, I might have misread the bit about Word/Word Perfect, if the question was about whether such a system was useable, not now, but at a given point in the past. In that case, in Windows at least since 2002 or so, certainly. Before that I couldn’t speak from experience, though it at least seems likely that the feature has been there since the beginning. (All of which might still be irrelevant if this is Word for Mac we’re talking about).

  21. Thanks everybody! And especially Steve H. – I did in fact manage to find the radical listings buried deep in Special Characters. So I’m glad it is not gone after all. With regard to typing something whose pronunciation you don’t know, I can certainly believe this is more common for users who are not native Japanese speakers – but the old version was convenient for anyone who was not a native speaker. (The radical listing simply came up as one of the input options.) But I wonder whether even a Japanese speaker might not sometimes find him- or herself wanting to copy a passage from a book, say, in which not all the characters were known – perhaps one from an older text, for example.

  22. Max Pinton says:

    “… this lets me get any of Hiragana, Katakana, Full-width Romaji, Half-width Katakana, Romaji or Ainu, but not Kanji.”

    This is because kanji are entered using hiragana. Type some hiragana, hit space, and it’ll convert to kanji.

  23. For Chinese it is even more important to have an alternative to phonetic input methods. A method of entering handwriting is obviously one of the best solutions, and I’ve seen a number of Chinese religiously using handwritten input, but constituent-based methods (mostly using radicals) also have a place. Some of the fastest but most laborious-to-learn Chinese input methods are based precisely on inputting the components of the character.

    Be that as it may, as Victor Mair pointed out recently on Language Log (sorry, I can’t locate it in the waterfall of somewhat unfocussed posts in LL recently), something like 99% of Chinese texters input using pinyin.

  24. I second Helen’s vote of thanks to Steve H. Had I followed his steps properly I would have found out why only part of the whole Unicode universe was showing up on my Character Viewer. At some stage I’d been into Special Characters and edited it myself but I’d obviously totally forgotten about it!

  25. With regard to typing something whose pronunciation you don’t know, I can certainly believe this is more common for users who are not native Japanese speakers – but the old version was convenient for anyone who was not a native speaker.

    No argument there! Apple in particular is very big on streamlining for the most common use case rather than putting a bunch of options up front and center, though. I suppose they decided that it was more important to prioritize native speakers over non-.

    But I wonder whether even a Japanese speaker might not sometimes find him- or herself wanting to copy a passage from a book, say, in which not all the characters were known – perhaps one from an older text, for example.

    Well, it’s not unheard of, but it is rarer than you might think, because of course what people type isn’t determined for them randomly. If a passage from a book is meaningful enough for someone to copy out, then they probably know how to pronounce it. If it’s their job to type up things that aren’t meaningful to them, then as a job skill they probably know enough to at least guess at virtually everything thrown at them, and so on. (And of course ever since Google became a thing, as Elessorn says, it’s almost always easier just to find the characters online and copy+paste.)

    Looking forward to the new story!

    (henkan-misu (E. miss) 変換ミス)

    I’ve long harbored a suspicion that this misu is actually a shortening of misteeku rather than a borrowing of E. miss directly, but never found a good way to prove it. (There are definitely some instances of misu that do seem to be from E. miss directly, though, e.g. verbified with -suru and used in contexts like “miss the train”… and of course there’s the verifiably separate loan of the honorific “Miss”, used as a nominal element sometimes, e.g. in orudo misu “old miss” = “old maid”.)

  26. There is, of course, niyamisu (‘near miss’).

    I agree with you about misu in Japanese. I’ve often noticed the same thing, although I simply interpreted it as a peculiar ‘semantic twist’.But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it originated as an abbreviation of ‘mistake’.

    Or it could be more subtle than that: the ‘miss’ in ‘miss’ and the ‘mis-‘ in ‘mistake’ could have reinforced each other or (to put it another way) have become subtly confused — the meanings are quite similar.

  27. Type some hiragana, hit space, and it’ll convert to kanji.

    Or it won’t. No matter how hard I may try to input だに to get 壁蝨, I just can’t (I’m talking Windows here, don’t know about Mac). Even typing かべ and しらみ doesn’t help: the result is 壁虱.

    But I wonder whether even a Japanese speaker might not sometimes find him- or herself wanting to copy a passage from a book, say, in which not all the characters were known – perhaps one from an older text, for example.

    I’m not a Japanese speaker, but a few years ago there was a project of digitizing a Japanese-Russian (paper( dictionary. The conversion problem kept cropping up incessantly, and the only way out was to draw characters by hand. I wish there was a way to input them by combining elements, like 犭and 美 for きょん (which I can’t find anywhere else, not even in the Unihan database).

  28. I wish there was a way to input them by combining elements, like 犭and 美 for きょん (which I can’t find anywhere else, not even in the Unihan database).

    You mean this character?

    (It’s got an entry in UniHan too, but all my browser can show are broken images.)

    It looks like in Japan at least is the “standard” way to write it today, so perhaps dog + beautiful was a variant of something like .

  29. 壁蝨 comes up fine on a Mac. In fact, 壁虱 doesn’t even come up as a choice.

    I’m not familiar with 犭+ 美. I did manage to find 猐 (in Chinese) but I assume that’s not what you’re looking for. If, as I suspect,犭+ 美 is not in Unicode, then you’ll have to create the glyph yourself. I’m not sure how this is done but I believe it’s possible.

  30. When our host awakens from his slumber, he will moderate my comment and the secret of codepoint 2AEC4 will be revealed!

  31. I’ve long harbored a suspicion that this misu is actually a shortening of misteeku rather than a borrowing of E. miss directly, but never found a good way to prove it.

    Or it could be more subtle than that: the ‘miss’ in ‘miss’ and the ‘mis-’ in ‘mistake’ could have reinforced each other or (to put it another way) have become subtly confused — the meanings are quite similar.

    Interesting! The “mistake” possibility never occurred to me. I’ve always thought it was from miss as in hit/miss, slotting smoothly into the Japanese atari 当たり / hazure 外れ mind-groove, so to speak. (Even had the occasional Lakoffian musing that it hinted at an external, “target-rightness” concept-metaphor different from the internal, “essence-rightness” concept-metaphor familiar from English, but that’s neither here nor there.) Still, I bet you guys are right that it’s more complicated than that. Definitely could be overdetermined, with “miss” (v. “hit”), “mistake”, and the “mis-” prefix all coalescing. This might help explain why, say, misu-riidoミスリード and misu-macchi ミスマッチ work slightly differently in Japanese.

  32. Or it won’t. No matter how hard I may try to input だに to get 壁蝨, I just can’t (I’m talking Windows here, don’t know about Mac). Even typing かべ and しらみ doesn’t help: the result is 壁虱.

    Weird. It comes up fine for me (windows 8, first-generation Surface). But there’s a good workaround: if you’re using the standard Microsoft IME, register it in the user dictionary (available when you right-click the A/あ spot on language bar). It took me years to start making good use of it, but now I almost always have the user dictionary window open when I work. Over the long term it really pays off. E.g. it took a long time to register every odori-ji 踊り字 combination (かゝ、さゝ、ちゞ、しゞ等), but never having to open up the Wikipedia article to cut and paste again has been totally worth it. (The humor when in a rush you send unconsciously retro emails with たゞ or 此前, etc., are an added bonus.)

    But I wonder whether even a Japanese speaker might not sometimes find him- or herself wanting to copy a passage from a book, say, in which not all the characters were known – perhaps one from an older text, for example.

    Surprisingly less than you’d think, unless it’s actually a Chinese/Sino-Japanese text, or unless you’re really strict about reproducing alternate character forms (itaiji 異体字, e.g. 叓 for 事) or older, “pre-war” forms (kyūjitai 旧字体, e.g. 實 for 実). (Pace readers pointing out these two categories are not completely distinct.) But even academic presses pretty rarely go that far.

    It is true, however, that if we didn’t have good handwriting recognition utilities, transcribing a Buddhist or a kanbun text would definitely require radical-lookup tools. And this only applies to Japanese. As bathrobe says, Chinese presents its own problems that surely make such tools more useful.

  33. “target-rightness” concept-metaphor

    Well, hit is not reconstructible beyond Germanic, but it seems to start out life as ‘meet’. Hit it off, hit upon ‘discover’, hit on reflect much older states of meaning, and the first at least is 17C. Then from the idea of a missile (perhaps more likely a stone than an arrow, but I can see either one) it becomes ‘strike a target’ and then just ‘strike’ in general. Outside English it goes a different way semantically and becomes ‘find’ in the Scandinavian languages.

    Miss has a PIE root *mei- ‘change, go move, send’, but always seems to mean ‘lack’ in Germanic, both as a separate word and as the native and borrowed prefixes mis-, which have converged semantically. (One of the characteristic errors made by other Germanics in writing English is to try to use miss directly where ‘lack’ is meant rather than something like not have, since lack is too formal and archaic.) In a few French words like mischief, miscreant it represents the other PIE *mei- that leads to minus and its friends.

    (Life in the hospital still involves being awakened at 3 AM, though not as often as used to be the case. But at least now there is the Internet, and the potential comfort of friends in other time zones or time-delayed. There is also the new, or newish, danger of the IV line getting imbrangled with the mouse cord, however.)

  34. Tales of modern life: one of the great moments of my hospitalization after having my appendix out was when my wife brought the charger for my iPhone. (She had to rummage through my appallingly cluttered desktop to find it, too. Many, many spousal brownie points.)

  35. the secret of codepoint 2AEC4

    A remarkable find! (I was going to look in my volume of CJVK language processing but it’s off the bookshelves and ready to be packed for my move back to Oz.)

  36. jdmartinsen says:

    A lot of Chinese input methods take advantage of the fact that “u” isn’t a valid initial in Chinese Pinyin to provide a character composition mode. In Windows, I believe it lets you type radical/component names; in OSX, you use individual strokes.

    Back when I used to type with Wubi input (for character components), I appreciated it when input methods supported the reverse — a hotkey that would temporarily switch into Pinyin and then tell me the proper composition keys for a character whose breakdown wasn’t obvious.

  37. I was able to emulate KanjiTalk 7 and it looks like you can do a radical search by pressing Option-Shift-B to show the character palette (文字パレット表示) and then selecting the table to look up kanji by radical (漢字表(部首引き)).

    Does this look similar to what you remember?

  38. I was using Kanjitalk back then, although I don’t recall a radical-based input method.

    I do clearly remember there was a J-E dictionary app for the Mac called Unidict that let you build kanji by clicking on their constituent radicals. The website for it is still out there, but it was never updated for OS X: http://www.enfour.co.jp/unidict/e/about.html. You can still do more or less the same with JEDict, although it’s not as tidy.

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