Of browsers, keyboards, and fonts, with a focus on certain West African scripts

In previous posts I have discussed the process of encoding West African scripts into the Unicode standard.  The question that often comes up next is, how are these scripts made usable?  This is a matter known as implementation, and the level of implementation varies quite a bit from script to script and across applications and platforms, even though the script encoding is stable.  There is a good list maintained here about font (primarily Noto) and keyboard coverage for various languages: https://wiki.mozilla.org/L10n:B2G/Fonts

With regard to Adlam, Bamum, Bassa Vah, and Mende Kikakui, these scripts can all be displayed in the Chrome browser, for example, by installing the respective Noto font and selecting it under ‘Settings>Customize fonts’ in the drop-down menus for ‘Standard font’, ‘Serif font’, ‘Sans-serif font’, and ‘Fixed-width font’.  Other browsers such as Firefox can work too, depending on the browser version and the operating system platform, but support can be more uneven.

Producing content in these scripts represents a bigger challenge.  Each of them is a complex script, meaning they have diacritics, joining behavior, or in some cases, both.  Two of them read from right to left.  Implementations will vary significantly in how well they support the input and display of these features.  In some cases, support has evolved iteratively, with the display of the base characters coming through first, together with diacritics that don’t combine as well as they should, or with unjoined behavior.

There are some applications available for input, including online tools in beta for Bamum, Bassa Vah, and Mende Kikakui (many thanks to Andrew Cunningham and Jason Glavy), with a testing site and a stand-alone application available for Adlam.  Some of these will be helpful for generating content now, and for eventually designing keyboard layouts in Gboard, Keyman, and other input tools.    

Gaps in support remain.  To contribute to the effort in reporting them, the W3C has set up an Issues list at: https://github.com/w3c/afrlreq/issues.

For those interested in Medefaidrin, or Obɛri Ɔkaimɛ, this also has been encoded, but work remains to develop a font for distribution and to bring support into keyboards and browsers. 

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