Typing Syllabics on your Computer

The “Language Geek” method:

Chris Harvey’s Language Geek website is a terrific resource that provides free tools for many languages, including the fonts and keyboards the Cree Literacy Network uses every day. (There are a number of different methods and tools that produce the same results: I’ll address some of them in a future post. In this post, we focus on the Language Geek method.)

The following instructions create the setup we use here at Cree Literacy Network. Dorothy Thunder uses the same setup. It gets a little complicated because several different parts of your computer’s operating system are involved, and because Mac and Windows computers operate differently.

If you’re not comfortable following these steps, you may want to track down your nearest local geek (or tech support) for help, and give them a copy of these notes. 

To type syllabics on your computer, you need two things: 
  1. A syllabics Font that is Unicode compliant, and
  2. A syllabics “Keyboard Layout” file.

Each one needs to be downloaded, then properly installed on your computer.

Thanks to Eddie Santos for commenting that “modern computers have Unicode fonts pre-installed that work for nêhiyawêwin syllabics: Euphemia (for macOS) and Gadugi (for Windows).” So you can skip over the Font step, and jump directly to Keyboard Layout. 

If you’d like to add additional fonts to your computer, you can use these instructions any time:

  • The font we use most often here is Aboriginal Sans Serif (from LanguageGeek) because it is Unicode complaint, and includes all the characters needed for syllabics in y-, th-, n, and l-dialects. (You can add more Unicode syllabic fonts later following these instructions)

Step 1. Download Aboriginal Sans Serif by clicking this link:

    • https://www.languagegeek.com/font/fontdownload.html#Full_Unicode
      • Only “Unicode compliant” fonts can be used on the internet. Unicode is an international encoding standard, where each letter, digit, or symbol is assigned a unique numeric value that applies across different platforms and programs. Aboriginal Sans Serif is unicode compliant.
      • If you choose to download other syllabic fonts, beware of missing characters (they will show up in your documents as empty boxes where the characters should be. Language Geek’s “Aboriginal Sans Serif” is among the most complete syllabic fonts available.)

Step 2. Install the font by following instructions for your operating system (Mac or Windows):

Next, the Keyboard Layout.
  • We suggest Language Geek’s Cree Western “Build-a-Syllable” Keyboard Layout.
    • “Keyboard Layout” software controls what shows up on screen when you type.
    • “Build-a-Syllable” layout allows you to type in roman, but produces syllabics on screen. For example, to get ᑫ,  type ‘k’ + ‘e’.
    • This layout produces w-dots to the right, and the “reduced” style of finals that are preferred for y-, th-, and n- dialects.

Step 3: To install the keyboard, click the following link:

The page will open in a new tab, and will look like this:

Step 4: From that page, download the Keyboard Layout (Choose the one for your operating system):

    • For Mac click “MAC DOWNLOAD”
    • For Windows click “WINDOWS DOWNLOAD”


Step 5: From the same page, download the “Cree Western” keyboard map

    • On the third line of the table, Click “Keymap (pdf)”
      • Print and save a copy for future reference (you’ll be glad you did!)
      • This map will show you how the syllabic characters are laid out on your computer’s keyboard, and explain a few additional quirks and conditions.

Step 6: From the same page, open and follow the installation instructions:

    • (printing them out is a good idea!)
      • These instructions will place the Keyboard Layout file in the proper folder of your operating system, so you can select it as “Cree Western” whenever you want to type syllabics. For English typing, you will need to re-select your original Canadian or American English keyboard.

If you’re not comfortable following these steps, you may want to track down your nearest local geek (or tech support) for help, and give them a copy of these notes to follow. 

4 Responses

  1. how do I put the long vowels in spirit markers on this keyboard like the long â as in kâ? thanks in advance

    1. Wonderful you’re giving this a try! To get length marks, type the vowel as a capital, for example, type A to get ᐋ.The same goes for finals. Type P to get ᑊ, and so on.

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