If you’ve done some world traveling, you may know the frustration of sitting down in an Internet cafe, expecting to type out a message, only to realize that the keys on the computer’s keyboard are nothing like the ones from your home country. That quick e-mail to mom just became a hunt-and-peck chore that will send you back to the cafe’s counter a couple of times to re-up the reservation at your terminal.
This week, France’s culture and communication ministry acknowledged that residents of the country faced similar frustrations when using different keyboards within their own country, a problem the ministry said it would begin trying to solve. In a statement released this week, the ministry lamented the fact that French keyboards, which use the AZERTY layout rather than the QWERTY layout familiar to English speakers, make it unnecessarily difficult to type common symbols and letters. While the 26 letters of the alphabet as well as common accented letters like é, à, è, and ù are generally represented similarly on an AZERTY keyboard, the ministry said that the @ symbol and the € symbol are inconveniently or inconsistently placed, as are commands to capitalize symbols like “ç”.
The trouble of finding how to properly capitalize accented letters is a big issue in written French, especially for legal texts and government documents where every letter of the names of people and businesses are capitalized. Often, an accent is the only distinguishing factor between two similarly spelled words. A report from the ministry asserted that the “hardware limitations” of the French AZERTY keyboard “have even led some of our fellow citizens to think that we should not accentuate capital letters.”
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