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Ancient Greek and screen readers

Updated the 04/12/2024 08:00 

If you've had the need to read texts in Ancient Greek using a screen reader, you've probably asked yourself: how do I do it now?

This is the question that teachers or students usually ask themselves when faced with the difficulty of managing texts written in this Ancient language.

Already managing documents in Ancient Greek is cumbersome for sighted people, let alone for a visually impaired person, which can become an enormous task.

That's why before Biblos, blind individuals or their teachers were doing acrobatics, juggling between codes and characters, inventing some temporary solutions to make it through the school year.

Now let's get to the solution I offer you. If you like it, try it; if it convinces you, adopt it: it's free!

In the past, there were myriad character encodings for Ancient Greek, but today, when we talk about characters to be displayed on screen or printed, the universal encoding is called Unicode.

I won't delve into too many technical details, but know that Unicode contains all the characters of all the languages in the world, living and dead. This allows compatibility of the characters you write with all writing tools. In other words, if you write something with Biblos, you can open it with Microsoft Word, or with a Word processing program for Mac, and vice versa.

In Unicode, each character is assigned a unique number, independent of the language, Computer system, and Software used. Unicode has been compiled and is updated by an international consortium of companies interested in the interoperability in the Computer processing of texts in different languages.

Biblos is an advanced Word processing Software that uses the Unicode standard. It offers reading and writing tools for Ancient Greek, which are also useful for visually impaired individuals, interfacing with screen readers to allow the reading and writing of these characters.

For a sighted person, reading a document written in Ancient Greek poses no problems: they just need to open the document, and the characters appear on the screen as they were written.

For visually impaired individuals who need to enlarge the characters, easy zoom functions are available. To zoom in on the characters, simply point the Mouse at the document sheet, press the CTRL key, and scroll the Mouse wheel. Alternatively, in the View menu, there's the Zoom command, which opens a small window where you can choose the zoom percentage.

For blind individuals using a screen reader, some additional steps need to be taken. If you're using NVDA or Jaws, you need to install the Biblos add-on or scripts using the Help/Install Scripts menu. Just follow the instructions displayed on the screen.

After installing the add-on or scripts:

  • For NVDA: Press NVDAKEY+N, go to Preferences, then Settings. You'll find the Biblos Category, select it, then check the box for Text Transliteration.
  • For Jaws: Press JAWSKEY+V and enable Text Transliteration. If you're using a Braille display, set the Biblos Unicode table from the general settings of the screen reader.

From this point on, the characters, words, and sentences in Ancient Greek will be read normally. The reading is done by transliterating the Greek characters into Latin characters, so you'll notice a pronunciation that's not particularly faithful. However, it's better to have the text read aloud than to have silence. If you're using a speech synthesizer that reads Ancient Greek natively, the pronunciation will be faithful.

If you're using a Braille display, there are no particular difficulties. The Italian table of NVDA should already contain codes for Ancient Greek characters, but if something has changed over time, then you can set up a specific Braille table for this language. If you're using Jaws, as suggested earlier, just activate the Biblos table that I've prepared. You'll be able to have Ancient Greek displayed on your Braille display using the eight-dot encoding.

The writing of Greek texts is done thanks to an internal feature of Biblos, which allows writing in polytonic Greek using a keyboard map that I've specially prepared. The keyboard thus becomes a complete writing tool, not only for typing the normal lowercase or uppercase Greek letters but also for typing all the numerous vowels with diacritics of this language.

To activate or deactivate the keyboard, you need to use the command from the Help/Keyboards/Ancient Greek menu. If you prefer, assign it a hotkey and activate or deactivate it at your convenience without going into the menus.

For further support you can subscribe the Biblos Group on Facebook.