Richard Ishida, of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), has created what he calls “small web-page utilities” to aid in language use online: a Unicode database viewer (“Look up characters, character blocks, paste in and discover unknown characters, store your own info about characters, search on character names, do hex/dec/ncr conversions, highlight character types, etc. etc.”), Unicode character pickers (“Pickers allow you to quickly create phrases in a script by clicking on Unicode characters arranged in a way that aids their identification”), and a Unicode Code Converter. (There’s also supposed to be a Language learning test app, but it doesn’t seem to be available at the moment.)
On the other hand, if what you need is a keyboard to write any language from Akan or Albanian (Shqip) to Xhosa or Yoruba, try Gate2Home:

This site enables you to write in your language wherever you are in the world, with an online onscreen keyboard emulator. The main purpose of this site is to let everyone who gets stuck without the ability to write/type/search the internet in their own language be able to do just that (usually travelers/tourists or anyone in front of a foreign computer).

(Via MetaFilter.)


  1. Victor Sonkin says

    Gate2Home is excellent. It has the ‘Typewriter’ layout of Russian keyboard, a feature many other keyboard emulators don’t have. The only problem is that one needs to touch-type in order to use it efficiently.

  2. On a mac you just get any of the different language & nationality keyboards up by clicking the little Norwegian flag at the top right of your screen.

  3. Ja vi elsker!

  4. Gate2Home uses VirtualKeyboard [*], which is also available as a TinyMCE/Xinha plugin. That means you can use it in online forms, such as this one (hint).
    [*] sorry for using a URL obfuscator, but the original link contains a “questionable” word for a Bulgarian molly.

  5. ёстой зэвүүн гоё софт байна!

  6. Looks like you fell upon an old page about utilities that I had forgotten to redirect to The language learning tool is at I added a redirect and updated my utilities page (which now shows a few more tools.) HTH. RI

  7. Thanks, Richard.

  8. John Emerson says

    Off-topic: Charles Nodier, the early French romantic author, was both an entomologist (classifying insects for Lamarck) and an etymologist (writing a book about French onomatopoeia, which I just bought).

  9. John Emerson says

    Nodier’s book is as insane as I had hoped. Most French words are onomatopoeias, it seems.

  10. Most French words are onomatopoeias, it seems.
    They say French is the language of love.

  11. marie-lucie says

    French is the language of love.
    Sure, and also of everything else. You can say anything you want, on any topic, in French, provided of course that you know the language.

  12. Dave Lovely says

    hat – in re: Cheka – couldn’t comment on previous post, but wondered if you seen this:

    The Cheka, Bailey learned later, had come to the conclusion that he must either have got clean away or been disposed of by the Germans who – with the war still on at that time – had good reason for wishing him out of the way. The evidence for the later, it seems, rested on the fact that he had disappeared without his toothbrush. This, the Bolsheviks felt, no Englishman would ever do. In fact, he happened to have two. (59)

    via the inestimable eudaemonist

  13. Yes, I love the eudæmonist, and I had seen the passage when I read the book itself years ago. Hopkirk is a fun read if you’re interested in that part of the world.

  14. John Emerson says

    Nodier is one of the founders of fantasy fiction.

  15. John Emerson says

    Also, in the 19th c. the French definitely thought that Spanish and Italian were the languages of love.

  16. komfo,amonan says

    Most French words are onomatopoeias, it seems.

  17. John Emerson says

    Nodier may have had a hand in a revision of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française. You’ll all be glad to know that he was a descriptivist and believed that a dictionary should key on the actual contemporary state of the language.

  18. You can say anything you want, on any topic, in French
    As with everything else, it’s not so matter what you say as how you say it.

  19. any topic, in French
    Except bobbing for apples.

  20. John Emerson says

    Nodier participated and probably led the 1935 revision which produced the long-overdue Sixth edition. As the French imperial governor he also played a part in the development of Slovenian literature, and was the first to bring Balkan vampire stories to France.

  21. John Emerson says


  22. marie-lucie says

    bobbing for apples
    JC, no self-respecting French person would think of indulging in such a silly pastime, so there is no reason to for the language to have a word or phrase for it. It is possible, though, to describe the procedure using French words, but that would take longer.

  23. no self-respecting French person would think of indulging in such a silly pastime
    I can’t seem to find a French word for ketchup.

  24. John Emerson says

    The French just use the Walloon word for ketchup and other nasty things.

  25. John Emerson says

    The French do fish for peaches, I just found out.

  26. Trond Engen says

    And they carry fish and only throw it off when they are in a hurry.

  27. marie-lucie says

    The French did not know what ketchup was until MacDonald set foot (or rather, arches) in France. There was no reason to miss it.

  28. John Emerson says

    I don’t understand. What did they put on their hamburgers?

  29. Byron
    Google translate: “Also, I recommend to people who do not fish without sauce, never cross the seas without having sent their cooks, their wives or their friends to buy a supply of ketchup, anchovy juice, vinegar chili, etc.. etc.. If they had lacked this precaution, my faith, I would not answer that Lent made me die of hunger.

  30. In French (without diacriticals): Aussi , je recommande aux personnes qui n’aiment pas le poisson sans sauce, de ne jamais passer les mers sans avoir envoye leurs cuisiniers, leurs femmes ou leurs amis, pour acheter une provision de ketchup, de jus d’anchois, de vinaigre de chili, etc., etc. Si elles manquaient a cette precaution, ma foi, je ne voudrais pas repondre que le careme me les fit mourir de faim.

  31. marie-lucie says

    JE: What did they put on their hamburgers?
    That was before MacDonald’s. They did not have hamburgers.
    Nijma: There is a spelling mistake in the original: the 6th word from the end should be ne (the negative) not me.
    Translation: Also, I recommend that persons who do not like fish without sauce should never cross the seas without having sent their cooks, their wives or their friends to buy a supply of ketchup, anchovy juice, chili vinegar, etc, etc. If they should fail to take this precaution, well, I would not like to be responsible if they starved to death during Lent. (lit. if Lent caused them to starve to death).
    (Since this is by Lord Byron, I suppose that the French text is itself a translation from English).

  32. Not to spoil the fun, but here’s the original.

  33. Regardless of spelling, it’s clear France is pretty much BYO-ketchup.
    The reason I mentioned ketchup was that it entered somehow into the political debate. I have lost track of the thread with all the French digressions now, I suppose it was the Howard Zinn thread, but the latest hate-France thing comes from the French refusal to join the “coalition of the willing” in attacking Iraq. Not surprising — France and Germany both had sweetheart deals for oil with Saddam, and Europe has long tried to keep young upstart America out of its gentlemen’s agreements for dividing up the pie of colonialism and middle eastern oil. In that round of cultural wars, congress passed a resolution that the “French fries” in the congressional cafeteria would be renamed “freedom fries”, and a French pundit retaliated by saying America didn’t deserve French support since it was barbaric enough to use ketchup.
    The Harvey Sauce looks interesting, though.

  34. John Emerson says

    What did the French eat before they got hamburgers?

  35. Harvey’s Sauce (evidently still produced), like Worcestershire, has anchovies as a major ingredient. Which makes it a bit of a surprise to find it used in Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery‘s recipe for Ravigotte Sauce.

  36. There are vegans who eat fish.
    And I think the French used to eat French Bread. With fromage and jambon, since those are the only food words I was able to pick up in France, along with “sandwich”. They drink it with cafe au lait, which was the only beverage I was able to discover there. Oh, and vin rouge.

  37. People who eat fish are not vegans. As per wiki: “Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind.” See the rest of the article:

  38. John Emerson says

    A quaint hamburgerless culture. You learn something new every day.
    Ding dongs. DO they have Ding Dongs?

  39. They have dindons.

  40. I do not mean to deny anyone the right to make their own rules. Or even their own labels, provided they accept the risk of misunderstanding.
    But in this case, I believe Payne made a mistake. Fish is excluded in the preface. I think he wanted something like mushroom soy.
    Either that or I am mistaken about the ingredients back then.

  41. The Harvey’s Sauce recipes I found were all old and they all used anchovies along with mushroom catchup or walnut ketchup.
    There is also something called “mock anchovies” but it is made from “sprats” or herring.
    Yes, I was surprised that a Hattian who is a self-described vegetarian would eat fish. At this point I don’t remember the exact words, maybe they were something more along the lines of “I don’t eat meat”.
    What DO the Hattians eat?

  42. Their words. And their hats.

  43. marie-lucie says

    MMcM: the original Byron is somewhat different from both translations. It sounds like we have been playing “telephone”.
    Nijma: the latest hate-France comes from the French refusal to join the “coalition of the willing” in attacking Iraq.
    Is this supposed to be uptodate news? And how many hours did you actually spend in France, drinking café au lait with a ham and cheese sandwich? (yuck).

  44. John Emerson says

    “Dinde” comes form poule d’Inde. Turkeys are named as foreign birds every where except C. America and S. America.
    Following up a conjectured “dinde” / D’Indy pun, I’ve come up with this:
    “D’Indy, l’indigne dandy, se dandine lundi d’Inde à Dundee.”
    and this.

  45. John Emerson says

    A good site if you like nonsense:
    Paul Auster, hostile au steak
    De son austère lit d’Austerlitz
    Par terre lit par stères les périples
    De l’aztèque Asterix

  46. And how many hours did you actually spend in France, drinking café au lait with a ham and cheese sandwich?
    All of them. You can no more expect to find someone in France who speaks anything but French than you can expect to find someone in America who speaks anything but English. If you can’t say it, you can’t eat it. Greece is better in the food department because they have steam tables and you can just point to what you want. But eating in France is far from unpleasant, once you have tasted the British idea of coffee (and sausage). And French vin rouge is probably better than Greek retsina, although retsina does go well with Greek food. I also found their kneejerk European hatred of America and Ronald Reagan to be tempered by their fond memory of America’s role in France during WWII.

  47. John Emerson says

    If you can’t get retsina, just soak some lumber in vodka.

  48. marie-lucie says

    I also found their kneejerk European hatred of America and Ronald Reagan to be tempered by their fond memory of America’s role in France during WWII.
    This finding must have been made through the medium of language. Which one did you use?

  49. Which one did you use?
    English obviously, which didn’t help, and some Spanish. People in train compartments tend to speak to each other and exchange nationalities and destinations as an opening conversational gambit, in an attempt to find a common language. The train compartments had space for 6 people, some would speak French and English or French and Spanish, or sometimes you can just get the idea of your nationality across and watch the body language. I did get the idea that being American was not as bad as being British. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, so I picked two cities my father spoke of being in during the war and went to look at them, as a sort of mcguffin. I must have been able to impart something of that even in English, because it made people relax.

  50. The second glass of retsina always tastes smoother than the first.

  51. I learn so much from Wikipedia. For example:
    Prior to the widespread use of barrels in Europe, wine was stored in amphorae, often sealed with Aleppo pine resin. Wines thus sealed were flavored by the resin, and over time this became a feature of the wine itself rather than an unwanted side-effect.
    Whereas nowadays bottle caps are used to keep the winy sappy goodness in the bottle.
    I myself have enjoyed retsina with Greek food on occasion. Maybe the French should try using it to wash down hamburgers. I do have some sympathy for less adventurous eaters and drinkers such as the fellow mentioned in the following paragraph. (I have no sympathy for the lazy slob who wrote the paragraph, however.)
    The difference in taste between the two empires took center stage in the work of the historian Liutprand of Cremona work Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. In 968, Liutprand was sent to Constantinople to arrange a marriage between the daughter of the late Emperor Romanos II and the future Holy Roman Emperor Otto II. According to Liutprand, he was treated very rudely and undignified by the court of Nikephoros II being served goat stuffed with onion and served in fish sauce and “undrinkable” wine mixed with resin, pitch and gypsum-very offensive to his western tastes.

  52. marie-lucie says

    retsina with Greek food …. Maybe the French should try using it to wash down hamburgers.
    Have “the French” asked you for your advice, or is it what you would like to see served at “Macdo” on your next trip?
    If I can believe my nephews, hamburgers are best served with “un coca” (s Coke).

  53. Nijma: I guess you went to smaller towns, where few people had the opportunity to hear English spoken and to practice speaking it. Also, perhaps you expected more people to be able to actually speak English, as there is a popular idea that “in Europe everybody can speak English”. It is true that there is much more language teaching in schools in Europe than in the US, but actually language learning is not the same thing, and there is also much variation depending on the country. Another thing is that until one becomes fluent, one’s passive knowledge (understanding) is much greater than one’s active knowledge (speaking), so the people you were able to speak to probably understood you and got the gist of your father’s story much better than they were able to respond.

  54. Have “the French” asked you for your advice
    Ouch. Touché. First Nijma puts all French red wine in one vat, and now here I go doing the same for the French people.
    No, I don’t recall anybody (let alone a whole nation) asking my opinion about (any) Greek wine or (any) American food, let alone Greek food or French wine. It’s just me trying to keep the conversation going with a vague notion of letting two bad tastes cancel each other out.
    I have rarely set foot in France. The first time I passed through Paris, in 1976, I was startled to see golden arches by the train station.
    or is it what you would like to see served at “Macdo” on your next trip?
    More or less never touch the stuff. Retsina or MacDonalds.
    I used to wear a French T-shirt with an image of a snail. It was years before I happened to learn that this was the emblem of the “slow food” movement.

  55. John Emerson says

    A friend of mine experimented with raising snails for restaurants. He says that they eat noisily, so if you have a lot of them you will have a constant buzz made up of many tiny crunches.

  56. Gypsy worm caterpillars seem to eat noisily, too: when your trees are infested, you hear a steady sound made up many tiny sounds. But I have never been sure whether this really is crunchy eating, or whether it is perhaps the sound of many droppings dropping on the leaves below.

  57. Gypsy moth caterpillars

  58. m-l Nijma: I guess you went to smaller towns
    Not really, Paris for some marital arts class and of course the Louvre, Avignon, Grenoble, Malmaison, criss-crossed France several times going other places. Those were the days of cheap rail passes, and if you wanted to save money on hotels you could take a night train and sleep on the train. France was the only country that required a special visa though, so I had one for multiple entry, then they don’t wake you up when you cross the border. The only place I really expected people to speak English was in England, and that was more or less true (no British, but lots of Australians there that time, unlike my last visit where I met all Japanese) although Edinburgh was a bit of a challenge. Maybe it’s different now, but no one in France really spoke English at all. I did learn the verb “be” from some guy I met who later claimed to be a French spy, (“but it’s all right to talk to me because we’re NATO allies”), so I could say je suis, and for the rest sometimes I would use a Spanish word since the Latin base is probably closer to French than the English. They understood about my papa en la guerra, definitely, and I found the areas he described full of happy skiers. I got the idea France is large enough to be insular, very much like the U.S is.
    retsina… Maybe the French should try using it to wash down hamburgers.
    All I can say is …GAK.
    From the American perspective French red wine can indeed be put in one vat, since any table wine you order at the most humble French cafe is a hundred times better than any California varietal wine. Unlike Russia, which is said to export its best booze (Stoli anyone?), France keeps its best wines at home.

  59. Exactly what are “marital arts”?

  60. Um, Freudian slip? I should be so lucky. Wado Ryu is similar to Shotokan, only faster, developed by a short person, so they say (and they don’t make that annoying hissing sound when they punch). It’s all over Europe, from Sweden to Greece. I studied with Sensei Suzuki, very dry sense of humor, that one, on the advice of a Swedish roommate who came to London especially to improve her sparring technique at that dojo.

  61. any table wine you order at the most humble French cafe is a hundred times better than any California varietal wine.
    What a ridiculous statement. The best California wines are some of the best in the world. Your view was common some forty years ago, but I thought the famous 1976 Paris wine tasting had put an end to it for good. In a blind tasting with French judges, California wines were rated best in each category. And you can get some really terrible wine in French cafes; that’s why they have the term gros rouge (cheap, crappy red wine).

  62. John Emerson says

    Night Train Express and Red Rocket are indeed a fine wines. Nijma just isn’t in touch.

  63. I may have exaggerated just a little, but:
    In a blind tasting
    …there’s your problem right there. It tastes better when you can see the label. Or the Seine, as the case may be. The same principle makes food taste better outdoors next to a campfire, or a pot of Algazaleen tea with a visible teabag printed in Arabic more enjoyable than Lipton, even though the taste would be indistinguishable to most people.
    Right now I have on hand Shiraz Yellowtail, a red from southeastern Australia. They say on the bottle it’s good with fillet of kangaroo steak.

  64. Yellow Tail apparently has a very bad reputation for ruining the concept of fine wines in Australia. Try How Yellow Tail crushed the Australian wine industry.

  65. That’s a sad story. When I could afford good wine, I used to buy the Penfold’s Bin [Number] wines; I can’t remember the number that was my favorite, but they were always tasty and memorable. Now that Yellow Tail stuff and that damn Robert Parker have combined to ruin the whole country.

  66. Thank you for all the wine comments. I wondered about the alcohol content of the Yellowtail–I can’t drink more than one glass of it. But I’m on an Australia kick right now and it must run its course. I hope the Australian port has a better reputation. Here you can choose between a $10 bottle and a $45 bottle. It has completely ruined my taste for cognac.
    JE, if you’re going to mention Gallos legacy wines, don’t forget Ripple and Thunderbird. There were many other California wines with their followings too, like Boone’s Farm Apple or Strawberry Hill, although these may not be competitive with a Russian product like бормотуха. Now the wine reviewers think a $7 bottle of wine is in the “practically free” price range, but I remember when you could get an entire gallon of Cribari, yet another popular California product, for less than five dollars.
    I am heartened to know there exists in France somewhere a rotgut known as gros rouge. I shall have to return some day and search for it by name.

  67. marie-lucie says

    Nijma, un gros rouge is whatever nameless variety of cheap wine you would get in a working class bistrot or in a truckers’ stop. (In France un bistrot definitely does not refer to a stylish place, except through an affectation of the restaurateur; normally it is primarily a bar, focused on cheap drinks, and it usually has some food available but that might just be sandwiches). A gros rouge is not really terrible but it is not particularly good. It would be OK with hearty foods, such as beef stew or strong cheese. There is another word for a really terrible, vinegary wine: la piquette. That word would definitely be a no-no to use if you want to sample the wines in a genuine bistrot.

  68. Looking around the internet, it looks like gros rouge is more or less table wine. In the U.S. the quality of the house wine or carafe wine is variable, depending on the taste of the restaurant’s buyer. In Chicago, while you can pick up a cheap merlot with fairly predictably drinkable quality in any liquor store, restaurants are notorious for not knowing what dry wine is, also the staff usually puts it in the refrigerator. It’s a beer town, you’re supposed to order beer. Perhaps my experience with Chicago made me overly appreciative of any drinkable wine, but in Paris it was a relief to be able to sit down, ask for “vin”, and not have to wrangle to get something drinkable.

  69. John Drinkwater says already houses a unicode look-up database, it’s been useful for years!

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