Are You Tired of Writing on Clay Tablets and Sheepskin? Use a Computer!

On Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 8:24 AM, Romil Benyamino wrote:“Hey Romil, how do I type in Assyrian?!” This is a question that I face several times a year. Although the information is out there, it’s fairly scattered, and the searcher may not know the proper keywords to find it.  While surfing the web, looking for Assyrian Neo-Aramaic fonts (also known as East Syriac fonts), I ran into a 2007 article titled Forty years of Syriac Computing by George A. Kiraz.  In the first paragraph, Kiraz mentions one of the earliest projects that used a computer to study Syriac,“Stanislav Segert, former Professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from whom I learned this in the mid-1980s, heard that someone at UCLA had encoded Brockelmann’s Lexicon Syriacum on a mainframe computer system back in the 1960s. He attempted to trace down the data during his tenure, but was unable to find anything.” In his article, Kiraz describes the history of Syriac Computing, how it made its way to the word processer and internet; along the way, referencing the people involved with its development. Thanks to institutions like Beth-Mardutho and Hugoye, today we are able to type and send emails using Syriac keyboards and fonts. However, outside of academia and church, rarely will you find users of “Syriac” languages, such as Assyrians, using the tool that has been available for more than a decade, and free (for PC, that is).So how do you type in Assyrian? On a PC, it takes three semi-easy steps which I will go over in the following paragraphs. MAC, on the other hand, still requires software since MAC itself does not yet support Right-to-Left (RTL) languages. Here’s a link that suggests some software for MAC: Penn State, MAC Software Suggestions.

  • Step 1, Installing Syriac Fonts: You can obtain all of the Syriac fonts that you’ll need from the download page of Beth-Mardutho’s website: Beth Mardutho, Font Download. Click and download the “methlofonts” to any desired location on your computer.  Notice that the downloaded content is compressed in a zip file; thus, right click and extract the files to a desired location on your computer. The extracted folder will contain 22 font files, 1 methloguide Word document, and 1 license text document. To install the fonts, you will now need to drag and drop the 22 font files into the “Fonts” folder located in C:\Windows\Fonts, and you’re done. The fonts are installed. More detailed instructions on installing fonts can be found here, Microsoft Office, Adding Fonts. Also, after finishing Steps 2 and 3, go back and read the methloguide file since it contains the key to your Syriac keyboard.
  • Step 2, Activating the Syriac Keyboard on your Computer via Control Panel: Now that you have your fonts installed, let’s get you a Syriac Keyboard. In your Control Panel\Clock, Language, and Region, click on Region and Language, then on the Keyboards and Langugages tab, and click Change Keyboards. You will need to add the Syriac (Phonetic) keyboard by clicking Add, then scroll down the list of languages to select Syriac. Under Keyboard, check the Syriac Phonetic box and click Okay. The phonetic keyboard is the most widely used Syriac Keyboard where Alap is “a,” Beth is “b,” Gamal is “g,” so on and so forth. Again, the key to both phonetic and standard Syriac keyboards is in the methloguide file. If you can’t find Syriac in the list of languages, then you’ll need to install the complex right to left languages to Windows from your Operating System CD/DVD (instructions here: Microsoft, Instal Complex Languages). Once you add the Syriac keyboard, go to the Language Bar tab and check the Docked in the taskbar box. You may also go to the Advance Key Settings tab to create hotkeys to change between input languages (by default, left-Alt+Shift changes between input languages). The following links may also be useful for activating or installing the Syriac Keyboard on your PC: Penn State, Syriac Keyboard Set Up; How to Geek, Change Keyboard Language; Conversation Exchange, Change Keyboard Language.
  • Step 3, Setting up Microsoft Word to type Right-to-Left (RTL): For Microsoft Word 2007 and earlier versions, refer to Penn State, RTL on Word. If you have Word 2010, the RTL and LTR button should be in the Paragraph section under the Home tab. The RTL and LTR buttons contain a blue arrow (pointing left or right) next to a black pilcrow symbol. If you don’t see these buttons, you may need to add them to the toolbar or ribbon. For Word 2010, the steps required in adding the RTL and LTR buttons are similar to the steps for Word 2007, except that first you must go to File, then click on Options to open the Word Options window; on the left panel, click on Customize Ribbon.  Under the pull down menu Choose commands from choose All Commands. Scroll down to find Right-to-Left and add it to the main tab in Paragraph under Home. Do the same with the Left-to-Right button.

You are now equipped to write Assyrian in Word, in your internet browser, and emails—so start playing around with your fonts in Word. Press left-Alt+Shift to switch between input languages, or just manually switch from the language bar that you docked on the taskbar in Step 2 (switch from EN to SY). One more thing, page 11, Figure 2-4 of the methloguide Word document that came with your fonts from Beth-Mardutho, illustrates the Syriac phonetic keyboard, Shift keys, and the Alt+Ctrl keys, respectively. This is the go-to manual when you don’t know, for example, which key is the KHETH (ܚ is actually “;” on the phonetic keyboard).For the “East Syriac” fonters in the Assyrian community, you will notice that the web mainly displays in “Estrangelo” font which was the text used by theologians circa 300 A.D. Academically, it makes sense to make this font the standard since most of the ancient texts are written in this form. As for today’s Assyrians and users of the Assyrian Neo-Aramaic language, I encourage them all to start making their forums and websites compatible with the more contemporary “East Syriac” fonts developed by Dr. Isho Marcus and Rabi Daniel Benjamin. The only forum I know that is compatible with these fonts is Ankawa.com. In terms of email, for now, you can transmit in desired fonts using Microsoft Office. You may either send your emails via Outlook, or simply write them in Microsoft Word, copy, and then paste them into GMAIL. The receiver will then be able to view it in his browser given that he has the same fonts installed.Here, I have attempted to provide everyone with enough information, resources, and keywords to set up Syriac Keyboards on their PC. I know my explanations won’t fit everyone’s needs since I gave specific instructions for Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2010, but hopefully the links that I provided will assist everyone with different versions. Keep in mind that with learning comes struggling, and with struggling comes discovery and new ideas. During your struggle, you may find an easier way to do something—so be patient with yourself. Just be sure to send me friendly messages in Assyrian afterwards: AssyrianEpal@gmail.com.Article by Romil Benyamino: www.romilography.tumblr.com