Khoekhoegowab Keyboard Layout

As far as I can tell, there is no readily-available Khoekhoegowab keyboard layout. As such, I decided to roll my own.

Khoekhoegowab Keyboard Layout

The Khoekhoegowab orthography uses a number of symbols not found in English orthography. Most notably, of course, are the very high-frequency click symbols (ǀ, ǁ, ǂ). I’ve been looking for a while for a keyboard layout that would make these easy to type — even the IPA layout puts them in pretty inconvenient places.

This layout is only really intended for my own personal use — I don’t know enough about digraph frequencies, code-switching, or other use-case considerations to design a layout for intensive use. I’ve just worked to put everything in easy reach so I can type example sentences quickly. That said, since at present there don’t seem to be any Khoekhoe layouts available, I thought I should at least make this available!


I’ve developed this on a Mac and know nothing about PC keyboard layouts. If you want to help me make this work for Windows / Linux, be in touch!

Installation on a Mac is simple:

  1. Download and decompress the above file.
  2. Copy the resulting file to ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts/. (Or, if you want to install it for all users, to /Library/Keyboard Layouts/.)
  3. Open System Preferences > Keyboard > Input Sources, press +, and select the keyboard under the language “Nama”. (See note below!)
  4. If you don’t see the layout there, you may need to reboot your computer. (I didn’t, but I’ve read that older versions of macOS do.)

How it works

In brief, this is a Mac US English QWERTY layout with the four clicks substituted for four of the letters not used in Khoekhoegowab:

  1. z/Z — ǃ
  2. c/C — ǀ
  3. v/V — ǁ
  4. y/Y — ǂ

In addition, Khoekhoegowab makes extensive use of the circumflex and macron diacritics, to indicate nasality and length respectively. As such, I’ve mapped the remaining letter not used by Khoekhoe, q/Q, as a dead key: q followed by a vowel produces a circumflex, and Q followed by a vowel produces a macron.

In addition to the standard Khoekhoegowab orthography, my work will require me to mark tones rather extensively. Khoekhoegowab has a four-level tone system, plus one single-mora contour (a fall), requiring a total of five diacritics. For the four level tones, I’ve adopted the notation used by Haacke (see, e.g. Haacke 1999:

  1. Alt + Shift + L: ȁ (superlow)
  2. Alt + l: à (low)
  3. Alt + h: á (high)
  4. Alt + Shift + H: a̋ (superhigh)

This doesn’t leave me many options for notating the (rare) monomoraic fall. Haacke’s solution is to reuse the circumflex; I prefer something unambiguous. For the moment, I’m going with a comma above (i.e. a̓), which is mapped to Alt + f. (If anyone has any clever suggestions, let me know!

All of the shadowed English characters are available via Alt — so Alt + ǂ produces y, for example. Furthermore, Command + letter should always map to the appropriate QWERTY hotkey, so muscle memory for e.g. Command + c should work fine.

How it was built

I designed and implemented this using Ukelele v3.2.5.

A note about the name

Apple’s list of languages only includes “Khoekhoegowab — Nama”, which apparently gets shorted to “Nama” in the keyboard menu. The Nama are one of two different ethnic groups that speak Khoekhoegowab, the other being the Damara. The language used to be known as “Nama / Damara”, but more recently language activists and planners have converged on “Khoekhoegowab” as a consensus name to avoid privileging one group over the other. I’m really sorry that Apple doesn’t seem to have caught up!

Update 5 July 2017: Fixed the broken link, and also updated the keyboard so that dead keys have terminators.