Thu, 02 Mar 2006


English (Queen's English) is the only real language.

After this required short announcement by our main sponsor, Daniel Stone, lets go ahead and explain something of interest to the many Catalan X.Org users out there.

Ivan and I have been looking at the issues that block a GNU/Linux user from using the compound geminate L, Ŀ, instead of the more usual “L·L” spelling.

The “ŀ” and “Ŀ” characters are unfortunately not included in ISO-8859-1, so fonts were the first big problem we faced. When modern X desktops started using True Type fonts by default, the de-facto free font in most distributions became Bitstream Vera as soon as they were licensed under a Free Software license back in 2003. Bitstream did not include the Unicode glyphs U+013F and U+0140, but some time after, chatting with daf, I learned he was working on Olwen, a Vera extension which would add proper Welsh coverage. He promptly added the Catalan glyphs, but Olwen never got widely exposed in distributions. Luckily, things are changing lately. Due to the lack of bugfixes or new releases of Vera, the list of Vera derivatives like Olwen started growing. The DejaVu project is building a font family, based on Vera, which merged many of these smaller purpose Vera derivatives, including Olwen. DejaVu, is, as far as I know, slowly replacing Bitstream Vera as the standard free, high quality true type font in free desktops.

With the font blocker easily solvable now, the next problem was making the input easy. Some terminals, such as GNOME's or rxvt, allow you to insert Unicode typing a Unicode code point. The Spanish layouts don't provide a shortcut for it though, and if you try to do Level3-Shift+l, you'll get a Polish character, “ł”, that is of no use in neither Catalan, Spanish, Galician, Basque or other languages in the Spanish state.

We wanted to replace that with ŀ, but when we had a look at it last Saturday night during our stay in Bruxelles, we couldn't find what the name for Unicode's U+0140/U+013F was in XKB-speak. So, as I said, on Sunday I went looking for Daniel and Keith to see if we would be clued up.

The solution is easy: there is no name mapping, but you can use Unicode in 0x100XXXX notation directly in your X config file to make it work. He tried in his laptop, and why not, generated a patch for X.Org 7.0's xkeyboard-config. Daniel can't be that good, so he forced me to spread lies about the English language in this blog entry if we wanted the patch committed. :) Support for X.Org 6.8 and 6.9 isn't planned, unless you bribe your X maintainer to add a tiny patch.

This has been implemented as an "es" keyboard extension (named “cat”) because other systems don't have that feature in the Spanish layout, and X.Org wants to remain compatible with the rest. We'll have to add a

        Option          "XkbVariant"     "cat"

option to our keyboard section in xorg.conf.

If you're not using X.Org 7.0, you might want to try:

xmodmap -e "keycode 46 = l L U140 U13f U140 U13f"

but I don't know if that'll work in all systems. To test in your keyboard, that'll probably be “AltGr+l” or “AltGR+L”.

What we need to do now is to add support for the character in more fonts, alternative spellings for words using the “ela geminada” (ie, “col·labora” and “coŀlabora”) in dictionaries, wordlists..., and of course, teach users about the avalability of this, and promote its usage.

You rule, guys!
Açò em provoca una gran feŀlicitat! :)

Posted by Toni Hermoso at Fri Mar 3 01:29:42 2006

Bé... mmm... tranquiŀlitat...

Posted by Toni Hermoso at Fri Mar 3 01:33:21 2006

Hi Jordi, I read your blog on Planet GNOME. Am I misunderstanding something about the way Bitstream released Vera? Why are there forks of Vera instead of patches being provided to Bitstream?

Posted by Darren Brierton at Fri Mar 3 02:17:14 2006

I see a long path to adoption... (in fact I'll probably have forgot about that by the time 7 enters unstable)

The capital Ŀ looks quite awkward to me, I hope it's just a matter of time but it's been too many years writing and reading l·l.

Anyway gràcies aŀlots :)

Posted by Toni Corvera at Fri Mar 3 06:02:21 2006

Darren, many have tried to submit patches to Vera and to encourage a new release that would fix a lot of problems. The requests weren't answered, and what happened is that distributors have vera and a large collection of patches against them in their packaging.

This situation ends up not scaling too well, so a fork is not only unavoidable, but very welcome too.

Posted by Jordi at Fri Mar 3 10:41:19 2006

This rocks, doesn't it?  After discovering the UNNNN trick for xmodmap, I couldn't help devising the rest of commands to support the other Catalan characters, i.e. proper hyphens, apostrophes and quotation marks.  The commands are in my no-blog.  Of course, suggestions are most welcome!

Posted by Ivan at Sat Mar 4 01:21:42 2006