The Danish alphabet has three more vowels than the English alphabet. And as they come in lower and upper case forms, you end up with six extra characters: æ, ø, å, Æ, Ø, Å.
On Danish typewriter and computer keyboards these letters are located in a little cluster to the right of the L and P keys (causing some rotation of the characters that are located there on other keyboards), and of course they’re completely absent from all keyboards bought anywhere outside of Denmark.
Fortunately the three letters have accepted substitutions: You can write “ae” instead of æ, “oe” instead of ø and “aa” instead of å, and most Danes will understand it. But it looks like crap. When you write an email or a blog comment in Danish, you’ll want to make a better impression than that.
Some programs (especially word processors) will allow you to “insert character” and let you pick the right character from a large character set. This works for entering the odd Greek letter, the symbol for degrees, etc., but it just doesn’t work for writing any length of text with more than a couple “special” vowels; and many of us do most of our writing in text editors and browsers anyway. So we need a more general solution.
AutoHotkey to the rescue
I’ve previously written an introduction to AutoHotkey as a part of the series a month of free software. This brilliant, free, cross-platform utility is excellent for handling everyday tasks like this.
I wanted an easy way to access the Danish letters on a non-Danish keyboard, i.e. a way to invoke for example “æ” through some key combination. It was obvious to use the accepted substitutions (e.g. ae=æ) but I didn’t want the mechanism to make the substitution every single time I use the two letter combinations as that would affect all my English writing as well. I needed some type of “hotkey” scheme so the substitution only happened when I explicitly asked for it.
I’ve seen many utility programs that pick a rarely used key as the trigger for special actions — for example one of the function keys at the top of the keyboard, or a combination of Alt or Ctrl and some other key, or the “`” key.
But I wanted something that was easy and fast to type. After all you want to trigger on the whole combination anyway, not on the trigger key itself, so there’s no need to use a key like a function key or “`”. Instead I use the comma (“,”). It’s easy and quick to type, and it’s usually only used in very specific ways in written English (it’s usually followed by a space or a digit).
So here are my six character substitution rules for AutoHotkey:
The two hotstring modifiers have the following effects:
- * (asterisk): An ending character (e.g. space, period, or enter) is not required to trigger the hotstring.
- ? (question mark): The hotstring will be triggered even when it is inside another word; that is, when the character typed immediately before it is alphanumeric.
Include the six hotstring definitions in your AutoHotkey file, and now whenever you type a comma and any of the two-letter combinations, you’ll get the correct Danish letter. This works across all programs and all windows, independently of your operating system’s regional settings, etc.
And now, in German and Swedish and French and …
No, I haven’t written substitution rules for other languages (because I’ve never needed them). But if you need them, you can make them very easily in the same way. You can make all the various accent-letter combinations for French, you can create umlaut vowels for German and Swedish (and heavy metal band names), etc.
If this was useful, please leave a comment below. Also of course if you’ve figured an even better way to make special/regional characters accessible on non-localized hardware.
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