The Urdu keyboard is any keyboard layout for Urdu computer and typewriter keyboards. Since the first Urdu typewriter was made available in 1911, the layout has gone through various phases of evolution. With time, the variety of layouts introduced in the 1950s for mechanised compositions have reduced to very few that are compatible with the new digital age. Modern improvements in Urdu keyboard were pioneered by the National Language Authority (Muqtadra-e-Qaumi Zaban) in Pakistan, which standardised the linguistic aspects such as orthography and lexicography. These developments helped the keyboard layout to evolve from the typewriters to be compatible with computers, to increase the productivity and textual efficiency of the language, especially through modern electronic media.
Evolution of the Urdu keyboard
When Urdu was declared as the national language of the independent Pakistan in 1947, a variety of keyboard designs were quickly brought into the market by various individuals and organisations. However, differences remained in the order of the keys and the number of characters. This underscored an urgent need for a standard form of keyboard adaptable for diverse users.
In 1963, the newly established Central Language Board in Pakistan standardardised the typewriter keyboard. The new standard keyboard also incorporated special characters of other provincial languages, such as Sindhi and Pushto. Languages spoken in Punjab and Balochistan could be easily accommodated within the Urdu characters.
The keyboard was again modified in 1974. This time the layout was based on the frequency tables and bifurcation (balancing load on typist's fingers) techniques, and the characters relating to other languages were replaced with the numerals.
In 1980, the National Language Authority of Pakistan developed a new keyboard layout for typewriters based on Naskh script. The keyboard had 46 keys to type 71 Urdu consonants, vowels, diacritics, and punctuation marks, and 21 key symbols for arithmetic calculations and digits. However, with the arrival of the digital age, the layout became inadequate for computerised processing that required software backup to select the shape of the character appropriate to the context, and the ability to store multiple language character sets. These issues were addressed through the standardisation of keyboard for a bilingual teleprinter to use both English and Urdu. The new layout was found appropriate for use in computer-based applications and was immediately adopted with modifications for word processors.
In 1998 National Language Authority, under Dr. Attash Durrani's supervision started working on a research and development project to standardise the Urdu encoding. This resulted in the formation of Urdu Zabta Takhti (اردو ضابطہ تختی) (UZT). In July 2000, UZT 1.01 was standardised for all kinds of electronic computing, communications, and storage. Based on this version, Urdu language support was incorporated into the Versions 3.1 and 4.0 of Unicode. The Keyboard version 1 was finalized by NLA on December 14, 1999. In 2001, the National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan fully adopted this keyboard for Data Entry operations of the Computerised National Identity Cards. Microsoft included this keyboard along with Urdu Language Locale in its Windows XP operating system for personal computers. This keyboard is now standard for the Urdu language. Developments in earlier part of 2008, led to the introduction of the 'ghost character theory' at the NLA, which allows for computerised orthographic representation of Perso-Arabic script. This enables wider scope of editing with the option of switching between the languages such as Arabic, Balochi, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, and Sindhi respectively.
Along with the UZT keyboards, phonetic keyboards have been developed for Urdu. Phonetic keyboards works with the sound of the words, e.g. 'a' button of the English keyboard contain an Urdu word which is similar to the sound of 'a' and same is the case for other characters. Though less common in the past, phonetic keyboards have seen wider use recently. CRULP (Center for research for Urdu language processing) has been working on phonetic keyboard designs for URDU and other local languages of Pakistan. Their Urdu Phonetic Keyboard Layout v1.1 for Windows is widely used and considered as a standard for typing Urdu on Microsoft platform. However it has not been adopted by Microsoft for any Windows platform.
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