How to set up your computer to handle Greek


The Greek alphabet, quite different from its Western European counterparts, poses three problems for anyone who would like to read and write Greek on a computer, problems having to do with character encoding, fonts and keyboards.

Only Unicode character encoding includes all the characters needed for polytonic ancient Greek. Recent versions of popular browsers automatically detect character encoding and no change should be necessary. If your browser is not set to UTF encoding, Greek script, unless it appears as an image, will look like gobbledygook or, possibly, a long string of question marks, each representing a character. If this is the case, you should probably just update your browser. Alternatively -- if for whatever reason you choose to keep an outdated browser version -- you will need to set your browser for Unicode, either UTF-8, UTF-16 or UTF-32. (The difference here has to do with whether one and the same large number is represented by four eight-bit chunks, two sixteen-bit chunks or one 32-bit chunk of code. The difference does not matter to you as a user.)

With encoding set to UTF-8, your browser should display Greek characters correctly. If you copy a Greek text and then paste it into a word processor or text editor, however, you may well find that many characters appear as a blank boxes or a question marks. The problem here is that the font selected has characters used in modern Greek but lacks the additional characters required for polytonic Greek, that is, characters with the diacritical marks used to represent the tones of ancient Greek. To show polytonic Greek in a word processor or text editor, you will need to set the font in the application to one that includes 'Greek extended' characters. Suitable fonts include 'Arial', which is installed on virtually all computers 'out of the box' but is somewhat inelegant in Greek; 'Palatino Linotype,' standard on Windows machines; and 'Times' on Macs. This is not an exhaustive list, even among fonts you are likely to find pre-installed in your computer. You can also install additional fonts. The Galatia SIL font, for example, can be downloaded gratis for private use and is quite attractive in Greek. You can of course experiment to see which other fonts work.

If polytonic Greek characters display correctly on your word processor, you still will not be able to type in Greek without changing your keyboard settings. It is easy enough to change system settings for your computer so as to add either standard (modern) Greek or polytonic Greek keyboard settings -- see below.

The following paragraphs walk you through how to adjust encoding on older versions of popular browsers; how to change font settings on widely used applications; and how to change keyboard settings on Windows and Mac operating systems. (The procedures are similar for Linux but vary somewhat among distributions and desktops installed. Linux users cannot but be sufficiently computer-savvy to find their way to the necessary controls on the basis of explanations for Windows and Macs.)

Browser Encoding

Recent versions of popular browsers automatically detect character encoding. No change should therefore be necessary. The following refer to older versions of Firefox and to Internet Explorer:

Firefox: On the menubar, click 'View,' then 'Character Encoding' in the drop-down menu, then 'UTF-8' in the encoding submenu.

Internet Explorer: On the menubar, click 'Page,' then 'Encoding' on the drop-down menu, then 'UTF-8' in the submenu.

Font Settings

Word Processors:Both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer have drop-down menus on the menubar. Changing the font is a easy as clicking on the 'Font' there and then choosing the font you desire. As noted earlier, 'Arial' is among the standard fonts installed in all computers and contains characters for polytonic Greek. 'Palatino Linytype' on Windows and 'Times' on Macs are more elegant choices. Be sure to select (highlight) text already in the text area for which you want to change the font.

Text Editors: WordPad has a font drop-down menu in the menubar, like word processors mentioned above. In NotePad, click 'Format' and then 'Font' to open a similar drop-down menu. On Macs, the 'Times' font is standard in the TextEdit app and handles polytonic Greek 'as is.' There is a dropdown menu to change fonts, if you wish to do so.

Keyboard Settings

  1. In the 'Control Panel,' click on 'Region and Language.' (To get to the Control Panel in Windows 10, enter 'control' into the search window on the task bar and then select 'Control Panel' in the dialog that opens.)

  2. In the window that then opens, choose the 'Keyboards and Languages' tab.

  3. In the window this opens, click the 'Keyboards' button.

  4. In the 'Text Services and Inputs' window that then opens, be sure you are in the 'General' tab. Here DO NOT change the 'Default Input Language. Instead, click on the 'Add' button and then, in the drop-down menu that appears, scroll down and click on 'Greek,' then on 'Keyboard,' and finally on 'Greek Polytonic.' Greek polytonic should then appear in the 'Installed services' subwindow in 'Text Services and Language window.

  5. Click the 'Advanced Key Settings' tab in the 'Text Services and Languages' window. Select (highlight) 'Between input languages' and then click the 'Change Key Sequence' button. You will then be given a choice, under both 'Switch Input Language' and 'Switch Keyboard Layout' between 'not assigned,' 'Ctrl + Shift,' 'Left Alt + Shift.' and 'Grave Accent('). This obviously gives you a convenient means of switching from English to Greek keyboards and, if you so choose, between 'standard Greek' and 'polytonic Greek' keyboards. If you only need to switch from English to polytonic Greek and vice-versa, under 'Switch Input Languages' choose either 'Ctrl + Shift' or "Left Alt + Shift,' as you prefer. Then click 'Okay.'

  6. Finally, in the 'Text Services and Languages' window, click 'Apply,' and then close all windows back to and including the 'Control Panel.'

Now you should be able to switch between English and polytonic Greek keyboards by clicking the keyboard shortcut you chose (Ctrl + Shift or Left Alt + Shift). A two-character code for the current language appears at the right of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, 'EN' for English, 'EL' for Greek.

Mac OSX:
  1. Click the Apple symbol at the left of the menubar and then 'System Preferences' from the drop-down menu that appears.

  2. Click 'International' and then 'Input Menu' in the window that then appears.

  3. Choose 'Greek polytonic' from the drop-down menu that appears.

  4. In the 'Input Menu' window, check 'Allow a different input source for each document.'

  5. Check 'Show Input Menu in Menubar.'

  6. Click 'Keyboard Shortcuts' and choose a combination of keys that will permit you to conveniently switch from English to Greek and vice-versa.

Now you should be able to switch between English and polytonic Greek keyboards by clicking the keyboard shortcut you chose. A small flag (Stars and Stripes for American English and the blue and white Greek national flag for Greek) appears at the right of the menubar.

Using the Polytonic Greek Keyboard

The correspondence of most Greek letters with English letters on a 'QWERTY' keyboard is intuitively obvious, but there are necessary differences.

The layout of letters is as follows:

q(see note),    w = ς (final σ)   e = ε     r = ρ     t = τ     y = υ     u = θ     i =ι     o = ο     p = π   (others see note)

     a = α           s = σ           d = δ     f = φ     g = γ     h = η     j = ξ     k = κ     l = λ  (other keys see note)

      z = ζ           x = χ           c = ψ     v = ω   b = β     n = ν     m = μ   (other keys see note)

Note: The 'q' and other keys noted are used in combination with letter keys to place diacritical marks above or below the letters. Follow this link to a webpage by John Carroll University that gives an excellent explanation of how these keys are to be used.