a very occasional diary.




Cue a key

There is a typical problem with Emacs experienced by people frequently switching between different keyboard mappings, for example, to work with non ASCII languages: fundamental Emacs keyboard shortcuts (and one has to invoke them a lot to use Emacs efficiently) all use ASCII keys. For example, when I want to save my work, while entering some Russian text, I have to do something like Alt-Space (switch to the US keyboard layout) Control-x-s (a Emacs shortcut to save buffers) Alt-Space (shift back to the Cyrillic keyboard layout). Switching out and back to a keyboard layout only to tap a short key sequence is really annoying.

Two solutions are usually proposed:
  • Duplicate standard key sequences in other keyboard layouts. For example,
    (global-set-key [(control ?ч ?ы)] 'save-some-buffers)
    expression in .emacs binds Control-ч-ы to the same command as Control-x-s is usually bound. This eliminates the need to switch layout, because ч-x (and ы-s) symbols are located on the same key (in QWERTY and JCUKEN layouts respectively).
  • Another solution employs the fact that Emacs is a complete operating system and, therefore, has its own keyboard layout switching mechanism (bound to Control-\ by default). When this mechanism is used, Emacs re-interprets normals keys according to its internal layout, so that typing s inserts ы when in internal Russian mode, while all command sequences continue to work independently of layout. The mere idea of having two independent layout switching mechanisms and two associated keyboard state indicators is clearly ugly beyond words (except for people who use Emacs as their /sbin/init).
Fortunately, there is another way:

; Map Modifier-CyrillicLetter to the underlying Modifier-LatinLetter, so that
; control sequences can be used when keyboard mapping is changed outside of
; Emacs.
; For this to work correctly, .emacs must be encoded in the default coding
; system.
 (lambda (r e) ; R and E are matching Russian and English keysyms
   ; iterate over modifiers
   (mapc (lambda (mod)
    (define-key input-decode-map 
      (vector (list mod r)) (vector (list mod e))))
  '(control meta super hyper))
   ; finally, if Russian key maps nowhere, remap it to the English key without
   ; any modifiers
   (define-key local-function-key-map (vector r) (vector e)))

(Inspired by a cryptic remark about "Translation Keymaps" in vvv's .emacs.)


  1. There's also an option to forego Russian and only use translit - very appealing for emigrants.

  2. ザイツェヴ,

    To vspryanet vdrug i, chutkim uhom
    Pripav k rasstresnutoj zemle,
    Chemu-to vnemlet zhadnym sluhom
    S dovolstvom tajnym na chele.

    I mnit, chto slyshit stryj kipene,
    Chto slyshit tok podzemnyh vod,
    I kolybelnoe ih pene,
    I shumnyj iz zemli ishod!


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