Unicode and custom input methods in Wunderkammer (#1)

Wunderkammer now endorses Unicode and allows the use of custom input methods, which practically means that you can use any IPA or other non-ASCII characters in your dictionary and let the users search for words using all these characters.[1] To paraphrase, that’s a small step for Wunderkammer, one giant leap for its users. Especially, for those of them, such as myself, who are involved in languages outside of Australia and Oceania.


For quite some time, I’ve been working (in Toolbox and my spare time) on a dictionary of Tura (toura in French, wɛɛn /wɛ̰̀ɛ̰̀/ in Tura), a small Mande language spoken in a mountaneous region near the city of Man in the west of Ivory Coast. My Tura-French dictionary currently counts around 3000 quite well-elaborated entries, which, given the predominantly monosyllabic nature of the Tura lexicon, represents a rather complete coverage (you may have a look at it here). Eventually, I hope to make it nice and publishable as a book. In the meantime, a mobile phone version is likely to be a much more palpable outcome of the project for the community. And it will definitely be more exciting to use than a book.

Here, I’d like to share my experience in adapting Wunderkammer for Tura. If you’d like to tweak WK for another language, you will need to do the following three things:

  1. If you do not have a font that has all the characters you need as single glyphs (as was the case with the Tura script), you will need to create one yourself, e.g. using FontForge (potentially, this is rather time consuming, but otherwise not so difficult)
  2. Customize the dictionary theme file with the LWUIT resource editor (also see wksite) by adding the desired character set (that’s an easy one)
  3. Add your custom input method into the code of the MenulessTextField class in the source code of Wunderkammer, build the modified version of Wunderkammer and update the wkimport binaries (this part sounds much worse than it is in reality)

To accomplish this, you will probably need to install some additional software and look up the unicodes for the characters you wish to use. The (free) software you will need includes an IDE (integrated development envinronment) for Java, such as NetBeans, the LWUIT resource editor and a font editor application, such as FontForge. The software mentioned definitely works on Windows. I do not have experience with other systems.


As a result, you should be able to use wkimport to build a dictionary with all the necessary characters and the desired input method. To give you an idea of what the end result may look like, here is a demo version of the Tura-French dictionary and some screenshots (for the installation procedure see wksite). The theme image is an oil palm nut kernel, wɛ̂n in Tura, which according to folk etymology is the source for the word wɛɛn ‘Tura’. 

[1] Small print: except for complex East Asian scripts, such as Chinese, and right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic. It must be possible to make Wunderkammer work with them as well, but I’m passing on that, as these scripts are somewhat beyond my current interests.

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