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My Hebrew/Yiddish Keyboard Layout

Hebrew-ZC Keyboard Layout


I've used a number of Hebrew and Yiddish keyboard layouts in the past and have found all of them lacking in some respect. In the end, I created my own custom keyboard layout that works best for me when I'm typing Hebrew or Yiddish. This document provides a summary of the layout and some of my design rationales.


In order to use this keyboard layout, you can:
  1. Mac:
    1. Download the keyboard (click here to download: Hebrew-ZC.keylayout) and put it in your "~/Library/Keyboard Layouts" directory (you'll need to log off and log on again before it will be available).
    2. Follow these instructions from Apple on how to switch keyboard layouts.
  2. Browser: If you want to be able to enter Hebrew text using the Hebrew-ZC layout from any browser (regardless of what keyboards are installed), follow these instructions).
  3. Emacs: If you want to be able to enter Hebrew text using the Hebrew-ZC layout from Emacs, download my emacs lisp file (click here to download: hebrewzc.el) and follow the instructions in the comments at the beginning of the file. The only major change from the keyboard layout described here is that '`' is used to switch levels instead of Alt.

My Requirements

  1. I am a fast English touch-typist and only type Hebrew and Yiddish occasionally. Therefore, I prefer a layout that attempts to match Hebrew letters to English phonetic equivalents. This lets me make reuse my "finger muscle memory" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_memory) when typing Hebrew or Yiddish. I don't want to learn a completely new keyboard layout that I will only use for the occasions that I type in Hebrew.
  2. I want to keep punctuation, special characters, and numbers on the same keys (as much as possible). Most Hebrew/Yiddish keyboard layouts move special characters and punctuation characters around and this drives me crazy!
  3. I mostly type Modern Israeli Hebrew (MIH), usually without vowels, and Yiddish. But, I also sometimes need to be able to enter vowels, Biblical Hebrew-specific characters, cantillation marks, and accents. Therefore, the keyboard layout should focus on making modern Hebrew and Yiddish fast to type but also make Biblical Hebrew fairly intuitive.


The following Hebrew keyboard layouts are in common use and I have tried and dismissed them:
  • Israeli Hebrew (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_keyboard): This layout is common is Israel. However, it's layout does not attempt to match English phonetic equivalents, it rearranges punctuation and special characters and it does not support Biblical Hebrew.
  • Tiro (http://www.sbl-site.org/Fonts/BiblicalHebrewTiroManual.pdf): This layout matches the same consonant positions as the Israeli Hebrew layout but has a different layout for vowels, punctuation, and some special characters. It also adds support for Biblical Hebrew. The cantillation marks and accents are positioned in a logical manner, but I've found the Hebrew vowel layout particularly irritating in that both the segol and patah are not located on the "asdfghjkl;'" keys. Since these are really common vowels, they should have been positioned on the "asdfghjkl;'" keys.
  • SIL (http://www.sbl-site.org/Fonts/BiblicalHebrewSILManual.pdf): This layout attempts to match Hebrew letters to English phonetic equivalents but I dislike some of the placement choices (e.g. - why are shin, ayin, and aleph on shifted keys but sin(dot) and shin(dot) are on unshifted keys?). I also prefer the Tiro placement choices for cantillation marks and accents over the SIL choices.
  • Hebrew-QWERTY (http://dougshivers.com/mikhtav/osx.html): This layout is Mac-specific (but there is also a Windows equivalent now) and was my preferred layout for a while. It does a pretty good job of matching Hebrew letters to English phonetic equivalents. The unshifted characters are mostly mapped well but it re-maps some punctuation marks and special characters and the shifted and Alt key maps are not very intuitive. It also doesn't support Biblical Hebrew.

My Hebrew-ZC Keyboard Layout

In order to address the shortcomings (IMHO) of the above layouts, I created my own Hebrew Keyboard layout that attempts to better address the requirements I listed. Here is the layout:



The unshifted keyboard is fairly similar to the unshifted Hebrew-QWERTY layout. However, the tet is on the "v" character instead of the "y" character and all punctuation marks and special characters are the same as on a regular US keyboard. I can type very quickly in MIH (without vowels) using this layout.



All characters with final forms (e.g. kaf, pe, tsadi, mem, nun) are on the shifted version of the character. Shin(dot) and sin(dot) are on the shifted shin and samekh characters. The vav and yod variants are on the shifted vav and yod keys. Some special characters are also in the shifted key map; however, all shifted English punctuation marks and special characters are in the same positions as on the English keyboard layout.

Alt (Option):


As I mentioned earlier, I found the Tiro layout for cantillation marks and accents to be positioned in a logical manner. The Tiro layout positions are:
  1. Number row contains all the "above character" marks including prepositional cantillation marks, consonant modifiers, holam, textual marks, postpositional cantillation marks.
  2. The "qwertyuiop" row has dagesh, above-centre cantillation marks, upper punctum.
  3. The "asdfghjkl;'" row has vowels positioned below characters.
  4. The bottom row of keys contains below cantillation marks and lower punctum.
My Alt (Option) key map contains all of the same characters that are found on the Shifted Tiro keyboard layout in basically the same mapping. The difference is that the vowels are positioned on the "asdfghjkl;'" row in a more logical manner, grouped (as much as possible) by English phonetic sound and with the more commonly used vowels directly on the "asdfghjkl;'" keys (making it easier for a touch typist to enter them).

Alt (Option) + Shift:


The Alt-Shift key map contains some less commonly used character modifications. The placement is an attempt to retain consistency so that (even though the characters are not used very often) it is still relatively easy to remember where the characters are. E.g.:
  • nun hafukha is on the nun key (Normal map)
  • atnah hafukha is on the atnah key (Alt map)
  • qamats qatan is on the qamats key (Alt map)
  • doubled vav & yod are on the vav & yod keys (Normal map)
  • maqaf is on the hyphen key
  • rafe is on the ‘q’ key
  • left-to-right mark is on the Alt-Shift-8 key (similar to Tiro)
  • right-to-left mark is on the Alt-Shift-9 key (similar to Tiro)
  • etc.

Supplemental Material

I made use of the following material to help me determine relative character frequencies (although not the prime consideration when determining key placement, these statistics were useful):

Hebrew Vowel Frequency in BHS (http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n2844.pdf).
Hebrew Character Frequency (http://www.sttmedia.com/characterfrequency-hebrew).

Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:58 PM
Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:50 PM
Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:50 PM
Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:50 PM
Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:57 PM
Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:50 PM
Zev Clementson,
Feb 15, 2014, 10:50 PM