This is the "Basics" page of the "Unicode Fonts for Religious Studies" guide.
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Unicode Fonts for Religious Studies   Tags: bible, hebrew_bible, new_testament, old_testament  

Or - how to type in Greek, Hebrew, and other languages
Last Updated: Aug 14, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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About this Guide

Selecting a font for writing about Religion can be a daunting task, especially with Ancient, Asian, and non-Latin fonts. Each tab along the top of this guide provides resources and techniques for selecting and writing with different fonts often used in Religious Studies.

There are a number of helpful tutorials on selecting, downloading, and typing unicode fonts, especially for Greek and Hebrew. Basically, there are two steps involved:

  1. Choosing a font, and
  2. Choosing a keyboard.

Both steps are necessary: you must choose a font that has Greek or Hebrew Unicode characters, and also a Greek or Hebrew keyboard to type the characters.

Thomas Keene provides a four part series on Unicode fonts for Biblical Hebrew and Greek.


    What is Unicode?

    What is Unicode and Why do I need it?

    • Fundamentally, computers just deal with numbers.
      • letters and other characters are stored by assigning a number for each one.
    • Before Unicode
      • there were hundreds of different encoding (font) systems for assigning these numbers.
      • No single encoding (font) could contain enough characters: for example, the European Union alone requires several different encodings (fonts) to cover all its languages.
      • Even for a single language like English no single encoding (font) was adequate for all the letters, punctuation, and technical symbols in common use.
      • These encoding (font) systems conflict with one another.
        • two encodings (fonts) can use the same number for two different characters
        • or use different numbers for the same character. 

    Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language.


    Configuring Your System to Type the Font

    Yale's Resources for Biblical Language Computing provides a helpful step-by-step setup for a number of Apple and Windows operating systems. Topics include: downloading fonts, keyboard configuration, and other script settings. An alternate setup program is the Tyndale Unicode Font Kit. Or you can configure your system manually, using the Biblical Fonts FAQ from SBL.

    For Mac users, additional help in font download and keyboard configuration is offered in this Tutorial on Converting to Unicode on Mac. Language keyboards are set up in the "International" or "Languages & Text" preference pane; simply check off the languages you want, and make sure to check "Show input menu in menu bar." The keyboards can then be accessed in the menu bar, where they appear as little flags, or by keyboard shortcuts (by default, Control-Space). Mac users can select the Greek Polytonic keyboard, or use alternates like SophoKeys. Hebrew keyboards are available that follow both modern Israeli and English QWERTY layouts.

    PC users can follow these additional directions. After you take these steps the “language bar” will appear at the bottom of your Word Processer screen (e.g., MS Word) with Greek as an option, and you can click on that language bar (or push Alt+Shift keys) to switch back and forth from English to Greek. Go to MS Word, begin writing in English, then select your Greek font, press ALT+Shift Keys, then you should be typing in Greek, then press ALT + Shift and your back to English.

    The key layout for the Windows Polytonic Greek keyboard is available from several sources. Note that the Windows Polytonic Greek keyboard requires you to type the accent before the letter. If you would prefer to type the letter first, or use different keys for the accent marks, there are other keyboard applications available, such as the Tavultesoft Keyman Desktop, or the free MultiKey.


    Viewing Font Samples

    Once you've got your fonts and keyboards installed, how do you know what they will look like? You could, of course, just cut and paste them into a document, but that's not very interactive—it doesn't show you what new fonts can do, and doesn't let you find glyphs you didn't know about in fonts you already had. Fortunately, it's easy to create an interactive multi-lingual font viewer on Macs, and only a bit more complicated on Windows PCs.

    How to view font samples in various languages:

    In Mac OS X:

    1. Install the language fonts and keyboards you wish to use.

    2. Type a few sample lines in the languages you want to see, using your word-processor. Copy the samples into the clipboard (Cmd+C).

    3. Open Font Book (in Applications). Choose Preview/Custom.

    4. Paste the sample text (Cmd+V) into the Preview window (the right column) to replace the text that is already there.

    5. Scroll through the font list (middle column) to see what glyphs are available in your language samples. The sample screen shots show Greek and Coptic in IFAO-Grec, and Greek and Hebrew in Cardo (right click on images to view full-size). Note that Font Book shows placeholders for glyphs and languages that the font does not contain.

    Samples in IFA-Grec Font

    Samples in Cardo Font


    In Windows:

    1. Install the language fonts and keyboards you wish to use, and use your wordprocessor to type some sample lines of text from the languages you want to see (as above).

    2. Install a third-party font manager. Free- and donation-ware font managers include Font Frenzy and AMP Font Viewer.

    3. Follow the instructions for the font manager to create a custom font view using your sample lines.


    But I Just Want to Type Accented Characters!

    Fear not! Typing Roman characters with umlauts and other accents is easy.

    You can set up your Windows computer to use the International keyboard. The procedure is essentially the same as enabling a Greek or Hebrew keyboard (see box above)

    Microsoft Office has a different set of accented character shortcuts built in. Note that the keystrokes are different from the International keyboard, which will work in all programs.

    Or you can use a program like AllChars, which is free and open source (and also does keyboard macros, which can be quite handy).

    Mac users can simply use the system's built-in keyboard shortcuts to type most accented characters. Or you can enable the U.S. Extended keyboard for even more accents; the procedure is the same as enabling a Greek or Hebrew keyboard (see box above).


    Basic Unicode Resources

    The Unicode Site is an valuable resource, including its definitions, e.g.: "The Unicode Standard is a character coding system designed to support the worldwide interchange, processing, and display of the written texts of the diverse languages and technical disciplines of the modern world. In addition, it supports classical and historical texts of many written languages."

    SIL ViewGlyph is a download that helps you understand the underlying principles of Unicode fonts.

    Uncode Code Charts - Type these code into a document and press the Alt and "x" keys to create the corresponding character. You will need to be in a font that contains the character or glyph you want to use.

    Babel Map - Searchable Unicode Character Map for Windows

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