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German keyboard layout

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German keyboard layout

The German keyboard layout is a QWERTZ keyboard layout commonly used in Germany and Austria. It is based on one defined in a former edition (October 1988) of the German standard DIN 2137-2. The current edition DIN 2137-1:2012-06 standardizes it as the first (basic) one of three layouts, calling it “T1” (“Tastaturbelegung 1” = “keyboard layout 1”).

The German layout differs from the English (US and UK) layouts in four major ways:

  • The positions of the "Z" and "Y" keys are switched, this change being made for two major reasons:
  • "Z" is a much more common letter than "Y" in German; the latter rarely appears outside words whose spellings reflect either their importation from a foreign language or the Hellenization of an older German form under the influence of Ludwig I of Bavaria.
  • "T" and "Z" often appear next to each other in the German orthography, and placing the two keys next to each other minimizes the effort needed for typing the two characters in sequence (cf. the use of a single-block tz ligature in many early mechanical printing presses using fraktur typefaces).
  • Part of the keyboard is adapted to include umlauted vowels (ä, ö, ü).
  • The placements of some special symbols are changed, some of special key inscriptions are changed from an abbreviation to a graphical symbol (for example "Caps Lock" becomes a hollow arrow pointing down, "Backspace" becomes a left-pointing arrow), and most of the other abbreviations are replaced by German abbreviations (thus e.g. "Ctrl" for "control" is translated to its German equivalent "Strg" for "Steuerung"). "Esc" for "escape" is not translated however.
  • Like many other non-American keyboards, German keyboards change the right Alt key into an Alt Gr key to access a third level of key assignments. This is necessary because the umlauts and some other special characters leave no room to have all the special symbols of ASCII, needed by programmers among others, available on the first or second (shifted) levels without unduly increasing the size of the keyboard.

General information

Computer keyboard with German keyboard layout T2 according to DIN 2137-1:2012-06
German keyboard layout “T1” according to DIN 2137-1:2012-06
German keyboard layout “T2” according to DIN 2137-1:2012-06.
Click on any symbol to call the WorldHeritage article on that symbol.

The characters ², ³, {, [, ], }, \, @, €, |, µ, and ~ are accessed by holding the AltGr key and tapping the other key. The Alt key on the left will not access these additional characters. Alternatively Ctrl+Alt and pressing the respective key also produce the alternative characters on some operating systems.

The accent keys ^, `, ´ are dead keys: press and release an accent key, then press a letter key to produce accented characters (ô, á, ù, etc.; the current DIN 2137-1:2012-06 extends this for e.g. ń, ś etc.). If the entered combination is not encoded in Unicode by a single code point (precomposed character), most current implementations cause the display of a free-standing (spacing) version of the accent followed by the unaccented base letter. This behavior (which is explicitly not compliant with the current DIN 2137-1:2012-06) leads some users suffering from insufficient typing skills to mistype a spacing accent instead of an apostrophe (e.g., it´s or it`s instead of correctly it's).[1]

Note that the semicolon and colon are accessed by using the Shift key.

The “T1” layout lacks some important characters like the German style quotation marks („ and “ and ‚ ‘ respectively). As a consequence, these are seldom used in Internet communication, " and ' are used instead.

The “T2” layout newly defined in DIN 2137-1:2012-06 was designed to overcome such restrictions, but in first line to enable the writing of all primary languages of all countries of the world, as long as these use the Latin script. Therefore, it contains several additional diacritical marks and punctuation characters, including the full set of German, English, and French style quotation marks in addition to the typographic apostrophe, the prime, the double prime, and the ʻokina.

The image shows characters to be entered using AltGr in the lower left corner of each key depiction (characters not contained in the “T1” layout are marked red). Diacritical marks are marked by a flat rectangle which also indicates the position of the diacritical mark relative to the base letter. The characters in shown at the right border of a keytop are accessed by pressing a special key combination before; for those marked green the corresponding capital letter is available by pressing the Shift key simultaneously.

In addition, DIN 2137-1:2012-06 defines a layout “T3”, which is a superset of “T2” incorporating the whole “secondary group” as defined in ISO/IEC 9995-3:2010. Thus, it enables to write several minority languages (e.g. Sami) and transliterations, but is more difficult to comprehend than the “T2” layout, and therefore not expected to be accepted by a broad audience beyond experts who need this functionality.

Contrary to many other languages, German keyboards are usually not labeled in English (in fact, DIN 2137-1:2012-06 requires either the symbol according to ISO/IEC 9995-7 or the German abbreviation is to be used, with “ESC” as an exception). The abbreviations used on German keyboards are:
German label English equivalent
Steuerung (Strg) Control (Ctrl)
Alternate Graphic (Alt Gr) Alt Gr key
Einfügen (Einfg) Insert (Ins)
Entfernen (Entf) Delete (Del)
Bild auf (Bild↑) Page up (PgUp)
Bild ab (Bild↓) Page down (PgDn)
Position eins (Pos1) Home ("Position one")
Ende (Ende) End (end)
Drucken / Systemabfrage (Druck/S-Abf) Print Screen/SysRq
Rollen Scroll Lock ("to roll")
Pause/Unterbrechen (Pause/Untbr) Pause/Break

On some keyboards, the asterisk (*) key on the numeric keypad is instead labeled with the multiplication sign (×) and the divide-key is labeled with the division sign (÷) instead of slash (/).

The behaviour of Caps Lock according to former editions of the DIN 2137 standard is inherited from mechanical typewriters: Pressing it once shifts all keys including numbers and special characters until the Caps Lock key is pressed again. Holding Shift while Caps Lock is active unshifts all keys. Both Shift and Caps Lock lack any textual labels. The Caps Lock key is simply labeled with a large down-arrow (on newer designs pointing to an uppercase A letter) and Shift is labeled with a large up-arrow. The current DIN 2137-1:2012-06 simply requests the presence of a “capitals lock” key (which is the name used in the ISO/IEC 9995 series), without any description of its function.

In IT, an alternative behaviour is often preferred, usually described as "IBM", which is the same as Caps Lock on English keyboards – only letters are shifted, and hitting Caps Lock again releases it.


Keyboard of an Adler typewriter Modell № 7 (Frankfurt a.M./Germany), produced about 1899–1920
Keyboard of a mechanical typewriter, produced 1964 by Olympia Werke, Germany. The key with four dots is the margin release.[2] The arrow key under TAB is the backspace key,[3] which is pointing in the direction the paper would move rather than the way a cursor would move (as on a modern computer keyboard).
Detail of a keyboard of a German IBM Portable PC 5155, produced about 1984-85

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Markus Kuhn: Apostrophe and acute accent confusion, 2001.
  2. ^ "That’s the margin release. When you near the margin on the right side of the page, a little bell will ring to let you know that you’re about five to seven characters away from the margin stop. If you end up hitting the margin anyway, and you still have a letter or two to type, you can press the key with the four dots to override the hard margin for the current line, and squeeze in those extra letters." "monday search term safari LXXVIII.". 2009-12-07. Retrieved 2013-05-29. 
  3. ^
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