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.