Microsoft has come in behind a push to allow writers of Maori language documents to easily generate macrons, which are used as a pronunciation guide to indicate long vowels.

The company has developed a free addition to its operating system which allows typists to use the acute or tilde key to generate macrons.

Other macron-generating software has been available as shareware, but Te Taka Keegan, the Waikato University computer science lecturer who took the idea to Microsoft, said the backing from Redmond should encourage adoption of the concept.


"My push now will be to get it shipped as standard with every Microsoft operating system sold in New Zealand. Once it is in the software, users can select it under the regional settings," Keegan said.

Microsoft New Zealand managing director Ross Peat said that should happen in a future version of Windows.

"We have a proper, free end-user licence so it [the function] is integrated into the delivery and licensing processes. So it is complete, it is not ad hoc and unsupported," he said.

The function is available now by doing a keyword search for Maori at Microsoft.

Keegan said the software was easy to use: "You hit the acute key once and then the vowel. If you want the acute, you hit the key twice."

"We didn't want to upset the keyboard so people who just use it for writing English would say it detracts," he said. "It is just sitting there, and if people want to type say a Maori word or a mihi at the start of a document, it is waiting for them."

Keegan said the acute, rather than the Alt or control key, was chosen on the advice of touch typists and Microsoft engineers. They pointed out that many programs used those keys for all manner of workarounds.

Maori language experts regard macrons as the best way to indicate whether a vowel is long or short.

The late Bruce Biggs, of Auckland University, developed a system of writing double vowels but, Keegan said, this was in frustration at not being able to generate macrons on English-centric typewriters.

"We have a lot of people learning te reo, so this key will help them with correct pronunciation," he said.

"It will also assist with meaning. There can be ambiguity because readers aren't sure if a vowel is long or short," he said.

Software developer Karaitaina Taiuru warns that the Microsoft keyboard is Unicode - meaning it works on Windows 2000 or Windows XP, but perhaps not on older systems or with some non-Microsoft programs, and could affect spell checks.

Karaitiana, who has been giving away his own macron generator for two years, has resources to overcome these problems at his Te Kete Potae site.

He is working on a macron generator for Apple's Macintosh operating system, and also offers a Linux keyboard.