The standard QWERTY keyboard has keys for all the letters in English, and also numbers, symbols and a few punctuation marks.

Other languages, such as French, might have diacritics in their spelling. They resolve this by having keys for common diacritics and key-patterns to input the less common ones.

And a lot of languages are written in non-alphabetic scripts. Chinese and Japanese are 2 obvious examples, and they employ pinyin and JIS keyboards so characters can be typed alphabetically and selected using the keyboard.

Are there any other examples that come to mind?

Here is a list of different keyboard layouts.

Here are the different languages of the world.

  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Are there any scripts which have more than 127 characters? – jk - Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '20 at 17:41
  • I guess technically although I wouldn’t mark it as a duplicate. – William Dec 5 '20 at 17:43
  • 1
    Note that "language" does not equal "script". Many scripts are used for multiple languages, and some languages are customarily written with more than one script. – Colin Fine Dec 6 '20 at 22:08
  • I think this question can be left open with some rewording, though I'm not sure if it really belongs on Linguistics stack exchange so much as Stack Overflow or the User Experience SE – madprogramer Dec 10 '20 at 9:49
  • 1
    @madprogramer I agree; it might be a better fit somewhere else, but seeing as we have tags for "list-of-languages" and "orthography", I'd say it's not necessarily off-topic here. And we've got quite a few questions on hieroglyphic and cuneiform orthography, two classic writing systems that would never fit on a standard keyboard. – Draconis Dec 10 '20 at 17:27

Most non-alphabetic scripts won't fit on a keyboard, if by "fit" you mean "have one key for each letter". For example, the Cherokee syllabary has 85 characters, and Canadian syllabics generally around 100 (though the exact number varies by language). However, as with Japanese kana, various workarounds exist to allow them to be typed easily.

The systems with the most distinct characters, and thus the most difficult to fit directly, would be (partial) logographies like Mesopotamian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, or Xixia/Tangut logograms. For both cuneiform and hieroglyphs, the solution is to give each character a standardized name that can be easily typed, and use those names instead. For example, the name we know as "Tutankhamun" would be typed as j-mn-n-t-wt-anx, and "Gilgamesh" as d-gic-gim2-mac.

  • Cuneiform and Xīxià don’t seem like good matches for systems with the most distinct characters. Wikipedia says there’s an inventory of about a thousand cuneiform signs, and Xīxià has less than 6,000; compare this with the over 100,000 Chinese characters included in 异体字字典 (though that’s including many, many variants). (Also, your inputs for Tutankhamun and Gilgamesh look more like transcriptions than anything you can type on a regular keyboard layout… is that really what you type?) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 10 '20 at 23:25
  • @JanusBahsJacquet All the special symbols have ASCII alternatives, for both of them, so the last character in Tutankhamun can also be written "anx", and Gilgamesh as "d-gic-gim2-mac" (or with sz instead of c, for some systems). I should probably put those into the answer to show the typeability. – Draconis Dec 11 '20 at 0:47

Probably no language can "fit" on a keyboard, if you mean "get the letter by pressing only one key". if i only use one key at a time, i can type a lot of english but i don't have any key for capital i etc, i can only use single quote, and so on. I can double that using the Shift key, one of the so-called Modifier keys. Then, in principle, I can further increase the number of letters by pressing alt then a key, likewise with ctrl, and ctrl-alt (though interactions with other software, such as Word, can complicate things). "Keyboard" is a bit of an abstraction, involving a physical object and various layers of software. With 104 keys and the right software, you can write 52 upper and lower case letters, the digits, some punctuation, and have a few spare keys for computer functions, which accomodates English (it would be very non-mnemonic). If you include sequences of key-presses composed of modifier key(s) + one regular key with only shift, control, alt as modifiers, and nothing else, you have 707 possible letters. Chinese is clearly out of reach, since there are more than 707 characters.

There are about 296 letters in Tigrinya script, although they are kind of decomposable to 40 core consonant shapes and vocalic modifications. Devanagari has a huge collection of letters, since apart from letters for "c", "t" etc there are also letters that conjoin letters such as क्ष which combines क and ष, and there are 1296 two-consonant conjuncts plus many 3 and 4 letter conjunctions like च्छ् and क्ष्ण्य. These are usually (?) dealt with automatically at the software level so that non-alphabetic languages with many letter shape variants (Tigrinya, Hindi, Arabic) don't require massive special keyboards. Given the right software, the hundred thousand characters of Chinese can be handled with qwerty keyboard.

In other words, it depends on what you mean by "fit". sequences of keystrokes enable an unbounded set of letters to be produced.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.