Mamlūk Studies Review

The Middle East Documentation Center at The University of Chicago

Unicode Fonts and Keyboard Layouts

Authors of Mamlūk Studies Review articles are asked to use Unicode fonts and proper diacritics. Unfortunately, not all fonts have all the required characters. Even when a font does have everything needed, it is not always easy to enter the more obscure characters or to figure out how to get a dot under a T or Z. The fonts and keyboard layouts listed below will help to solve these issues.

While we have tested most of what follows, and we have no reason to think that any of it will cause problems, we assume no responsibility for any negative effects that might be caused to any software or hardware by downloading, installing or using any of it.


What is Unicode? The explanation at is a good place to begin. Put simply, Unicode is a method of programming fonts that assigns a unique code to every symbol in every writing system. Thus, no matter what Unicode font is being used, software will always use precisely the symbol being called for (assuming that the font has that glyph). In older font technologies, each font might designate glyphs with codes that meant something else (or nothing at all) in another font. This causes problems when a user changes or does not have a document's font and an incorrect glyph (or nothing at all) appears in the place of a specific character or symbol. Not all fonts are Unicode fonts, and not all Unicode fonts have all possible characters. (Click here for an indication of the scripts currently included, and here for those not yet included in the Unicode standard.)

Users of recent versions of Windows or Apple operating systems can use Unicode without a great deal of trouble, though not all software supports it equally (if at all). Even in software that supports Unicode, the degree of compliance can vary from one version to the next. There are several methods for entering Unicode in a document, some more complex than others. In general, the older the operating system or software, the less it will support Unicode.

Rather than attempt to cover every operating system and software version here, we suggest using a search engine to find what a given operating system or software can and cannot handle. Chances are someone else has had the same questions and there are probably answers out there that will help determine what to do.


To use Unicode, you will need to install (or find already installed) Unicode fonts on your computer. This is neither difficult nor costly. Most new fonts are in the OpenType format, which works in all current operating systems and most up-to-date software.

• The MEDOC font is a modification of Jaghbub, which is Knut Vikør's legal modification of Times. Vikør's site has a wealth of information about Unicode, transliteration and related topics. The only difference between MEDOC and Jaghbub is the shape of the ʿayn and hamzah characters. All weights (regular, italic, bold and bold italic) are included. We recommend using MEDOC when submitting to Mamlūk Studies Review.

Linux Libertine is another good, free Unicode font with all of the necessary glyphs and good small caps (though some letters with diacritics are not included in the small caps). It comes with a second font, Linux Biolinium, a sans-serif that is meant to work with Libertine for titles and headings. The font has not been updated in several years but is a good choice.

Source Sans Pro is a free sans-serif with all the necessary diacritics. It comes in 6 weights, from extra-light to Black, each with both regular and italic and seems to have true small caps. It is an open source typeface from Adobe, and is available for free from Google Fonts.
To download, visit, click "Select this font" in the upper right, then click to expand the little box that appears in the lower right. Click the download icon (an arrow with a line below it) to get a .zip file with all the font's styles and weights, unzip it, then install the weights you want.

NOTE: If you are using Google Docs, you can choose Source Sans Pro from the fonts menu (you may need to find it in "additional fonts") and use it to type transliterated Arabic with diacritics. If you have a keyboard layout installed (such as Alt-Latin), Docs will recognize the keystrokes and use the proper diacritics. If not, you can go to the Insert menu, select Special Characters, and choose Latin in the mddle drop-down on the window that pops up. (To avoid having to hunt for the characters each time, quickly go through and pick all the ones you are likely to need. You can then switch the first drop-down from Categories to Recent Characters and see only the ones you need.) The symbols used for ayn and hamza do not seem to be available in the special character picker.

Gentium is a free Unicode font with the characters necessary for transliterating Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and other languages and scripts. Gentium Plus has the most characters and OpenType support, but it lacks bold and bold italic weights. Gentium Basic and Gentium Book Basic have regular, bold, italic and bold italic weights, but lack many diacritics and special characters and do not have OpenType features.

Charis SIL is a free serif font with all the characters needed for transliteration. It includes regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic weights.

Junicode is a high-quality font with a wide variety of glyphs. Regular, bold, italic, and bold italic weights are included, along with various other forms including decent small caps.

FreeSerif, FreeMono and FreeSans are enormous, no-nonsense fonts that have thousands of glyphs, ranging from Latin and Greek to Cyrillic, Hebrew, Thaana, Devanagari, Telugu, Ethiopic, Hiragana, and so on. Aesthetically, FreeSerif is very similar to Times.

• Microsoft includes some Unicode fonts in most versions of its software, but not all included fonts are Unicode. Keep in mind that the degree to which Microsoft supports Unicode is impacted both by the operating system AND the software. For example, some older versions of their software are less able to use Unicode, even when the operating system is compliant. Likewise, older versions of Windows are less compliant. In Windows XP and Windows 7, Unicode should be fully usable, depending on the software. Apple's OSX is Unicode compliant, but some software may not be. We have not tested Unicode compliance in Windows 8 or Windows 10. As far as we know, all recent versions of Adobe software are fully compliant on Windows or Apple computers. Compliance on phones, tablets or other devices is unknown and probably varies widely.

Keyboard Layouts for entering Unicode characters and diacritics

Because operating systems change frequently, it is impossible to summarize all the ways Unicode does and does not work in OS X, Windows or Linux. When this page was first written (2012) most operating systems and software were able to use Unicode. Now, several years later, compliance has mostly improved. To determine the limitations of your own system, you will need to experiment and search the Web for information.

The most common problem users have with Unicode is figuring out how to type special characters that do not appear on a keyboard. For scholars of the Middle East, this usually has to do with transliteration of the Arabic alphabet as Roman characters.

A variety of keyboard layouts exist to facilitate this. A keyboard layout is a small piece of software that tells the computer what to do when certain keys, or combinations of keys, are pressed. In the basic US keyboard layout, holding the shift key and typing a letter results in a capital letter. The problem is that standard keyboard layouts do not have ways to type less commonly used characters.

Many specialized keyboard layouts exist to solve this problem. For example, Kino created the excellent and extremely simple Alt-Latin and LatinTL keyboards specifically for this purpose. The Alt-Latin keyboard comes in versions for either Macintosh or Windows operating systems, and is one of the simplest, most transparent methods we have found for entering special characters, diacritics, and symbols not found on the standard keyboard. These keyboard layouts are made available for download here with Kino's permission, as his site no longer exists. Installation is simple and usage even simpler.

Using the Alt-Latin keyboard does not require making any changes to the physical keyboard connected to your computer; it is simply a piece of software that tells the computer what to do when you press a key or a combination of keys. As long as you are typing in the Latin alphabet (i.e. in English or most other European languages) you will not have to change from Alt-Latin to another layout. As can be seen in the diagrams below, Alt-Latin's key layout is identical to the standard US QWERTY keyboard. If your ordinary keyboard is different from the US standard layout, it may take some effort to get used to these. Spend some time with a search engine and you may find keyboard layouts that match your usual one.


Alt-Latin for Macintosh (We have not tested this on any Mac newer than approximately 2010.)

Alt-Latin for Windows XP

Alt-Latin for Windows 7 (In our tests, this works in Windows 10. We have not tested it in Windows 8, but it should work. See Windows 10 instructions at the bottom of this page.)

LatinTL for Macintosh (Mac only) was also created by Kino and is almost identical to his Alt-Latin, with a few differences (see below).

The following diagrams illustrate the usefulness of the Alt-Latin keyboard.
To download the maps (as PDF) click HERE for color or HERE for black and white. There is also a diagram showing just the key combinations we use the most for transliterating Arabic. Get the PDF in color or black and white. Or just click the images below.


The black and white versions:
black & white


The differences between Alt-Latin (mapped above) and LatinTL:
In LatinTL option+5 is 0/00 (instead of dagger).
In LatinTL option+6 is a combining circumflex (instead of the s-over-s symbol).

In LatinTL shift+option+5 is a dagger (instead of the fi ligature).
In LatinTL shift+option+6 a non-combining circumflex (instead of the fl ligature).

In LatinTL option+i is a dotless lowercase i (instead of circumflex).
In LatinTL shift+option+i is capital I with dot (instead of circumflex).
(Because of these last two, LatinTL may be better for those who need to use Turkish.)

To type the dotless lower case i or the capital I with a dot using the Alt-Latin keyboard: type option+w followed by either i or I.

Alt-Latin Keyboard in Windows 10:

Though we can't guarantee that it will work in all versions of Windows 10, we are using it on many computers. Here are the steps we followed to enable it. (As always, we make no promise that this will work for you and we are not responsible for any problems you may cause by following these instructions.)

• After downloading the Alt-Latin .zip file and expanding it, double click on setup.exe to install it.

• Once the message appears on screen saying Alt-Latin has been installed, go to the Windows Control Panel (if you don't know how to find it, use the search box in the toolbar at the bottom of your screen). In the Clock, Language and Region section click on Change input methods.

• A list of languages will appear. It may have only one entry; ours says "English, (United States)."

• Click Options.

• In the Input Method section there should be two entries: your computer's default method (ours says "US") and Alt-Latin. The one that's at the top of the list is the default. If you'll be using Alt-Latin and want it to be the default method, follow the next few steps. If you only use it occasionally and want the default to remain unchanged, skip down a few steps to enable the language bar.

• To make Alt-Latin the default, you'll need to click Remove next to the current default method. This will make Alt-Latin the default.

• If you want the old method to remain available, you will need to click on Add an input method and select it. (Use the search bar at the top to find it if that helps.) Click on the Add button and it should reappear in the list below Alt-Latin. (We had to do this twice, as it reappeared at the top of the list the first time.)

• If you will be switching between keyboard layouts, you will need to enable the Language Bar.

• On the Control Panel's Change your language preferences page, click Advanced Settings (on the left).

• Find Use the desktop language bar when it's available and click the box so a check mark appears.

• Click Options and select Docked in the taskbar.

• A small image of a keyboard will appear in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen. Hovering over it will show what keyboard is currently active. Click on it to select from the available methods. On our computers, Alt-Latin is the default, but we could select US if we needed to.


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