History

Published on November 7th, 2017 | by Molly Montgomery

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What are the differences between the QWERTY and AZERTY keyboards?

The first time I used a keyboard on a computer at the French high school where I worked last year, I didn’t notice the keyboard was different until I began to make typos. Instead of an “A,” I typed “Q” and instead of a “W,” I typed “Z.” Thus I was introduced to the “AZERTY” keyboard, a slight variation on the “QWERTY” keyboard that Americans use. The “AZERTY” keyboard is like many differences between the U.S. and France. It’s small enough of a difference that you don’t notice it at first, but it can nonetheless cause some frustration and minor culture shock.

Sholes

Christopher Lattam Sholes. Photo by Wikipedia.

France adopted the “AZERTY” keyboard over 100 years ago when typewriters began to proliferate widely. No one knows who invented the “AZERTY” version of the keyboard or the exact reason for its layout. It is a modified version of the “QWERTY” keyboard common in Anglophone countries. The inventor of the “QWERTY” keyboard, Christopher Lattam Sholes, placed letters on the board strategically in order to avoid typewriter jams. He put letters that often go together in English such as “s” and “t” in different areas to keep the keys from jamming together. No doubt the “AZERTY” keyboard was designed with a similar principle in mind.

The French keyboard also has special keys for certain accented letters such as the lowercase “é” and “à,” making it easier to type words in French.
However, despite the addition of these characters and its widespread use in France, the “AZERTY” keyboard is not well suited to the French language. In fact, it is so inadequate that the French Ministry of Culture has commissioned the standardization organization AFNOR (Association Française
de Normalisation) to design a new keyboard. Some of the common characters in French that are missing from AZERTY and must be created from a sequence of keystrokes include all capital accented letters and the French ligatures “æ” and “œ.”

220px-QWERTY_1878

Latham Sholes’s 1878 QWERTY keyboard layout. Photo by Wikipedia.

Soon, French and Americans alike may have a simpler way of typing these common characters in the French language. Until the new keyboard’s release, here are some strategies for bilingual speakers who are combatting typing difficulties:

For Americans or French who live in the United States and who need to type in French, download French as a language on your computer. This will allow you to switch between “QWERTY” and “AZERTY” keyboards if you wish, and it will also make it possible to use spell check in French. Spell check will catch most of your missing accents. Still, you must be careful since an accent on a letter can sometimes change the entire meaning of a word in French. It is also handy to learn the keyboard shortcuts for different accents on your computer, which differ depending on whether you use a Mac or a PC.

On smartphones, typing accents is even easier. You can set your phone to “QWERTY” or “AZERTY,” whichever keyboard you prefer. To find the accented letters that don’t have keys, simply hold down on the letter that is accented. On most phone keyboards, the accented versions of the letter such as “à” or “á” will pop up for you to select.


About the Author

is an English teaching assistant at a high school in France and a recent graduate of UCLA, where she studied English and French. Her writing has been published in *TravelAge West Magazine* and in various literary journals including *Westwind* and the *Blue Lake Review*.



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