Questions & Answers
The following sections answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the Accenti text input technology.
What are the main benefits of the Accenti text input system?
Writing is more intuitive and faster than with other systems, and leads to higher-quality results. Italian accents are no longer a cause of uncertainty or writing interruptions, or a challenge in relation to dictionary or keyboard limits. The system is quickly trusted as highly reliable by the user. A keyboard size reduction is also possible. Accenti can be used alone, or to enhance existing predictive and "swipe" input systems.
Can you introduce me to Italian?
Italian uses accents and apostrophe signs at the end of words. The same word may exist (with different meanings) both with and without accent. Traditional dictionary-based mechanisms cannot disambiguate between the two forms. It can further be difficult to meet the needs of more sophisticated writers (who use less common words, write poetry, or express themselves in Italian slang or dialects or in multiple languages) without interfering with average scenarios. A computer-assisted input system also needs to allow for the manual input of words that are unknown to the dictionary (e.g. accented last names).
What sets Accenti apart from everything else?
The system resolves writer uncertainties involving accents, which are the notable exception to Italian being generally easy to write. Italian writers on average may know that a vowel has "something", but they do not always know whether a grave accent, an acute accent or an apostrophe is the correct sign. The system allows the writer to trust that the first press of a key with an accent or apostrophe will result in the correct output, rather than in an error. Like other systems, it further allows expert writers to manually enter any character (to write in Italian or in other languages). With Accenti, this can be achieved while at the same time reducing the required keys (physical keyboard or on-screen).
Is it possible to automatically add Italian accents?
Not in a reliable and predictable way. Italian accent signs are not only used for pronunciation, but also to differentiate between words with different meanings and verbs in different tenses (e.g. "mangio" vs. "mangiò", i.e. "I eat" vs. "he ate"). A completely automatic accentuation system would need to understand the actual meaning of the sentence, which however is often determined by the... accent itself. This is where our solution fits in perfectly, as it is an elegant symbiosis of what the writer knows (the meaning and sound of the intended word) and of what the system knows (a reliable and intuitive set of rules to correct, remove and change word signs).
Does the system require a new keyboard layout?
No, any existing keyboard layout (US English, Italian, etc.) will work fine. On mobile devices with a compact QWERTY layout we recommend to have an apostrophe key to the right of the middle alphabetic row (e.g. near the L). This is usually easily doable, because the middle row has one letter key less than the top row. This also has benefits for languages like English, where the apostrophe itself has a higher frequency than certain letters (X, J, Q and Z). In Italian, the apostrophe is the 21st most frequent word character out of 36 (counting accented letters separately), or the 17th most frequent character out of 28 (normalized set of unaccented letters, apostrophe and hyphen, using Accenti text input).
Is the system difficult to learn or explain?
Using a standard full-featured Italian keyboard is actually more difficult, as it requires accentuation knowledge which on average is not retained well. Implementation of the system on a keyboard with no accent keys leads to self-discovery, since the apostrophe key is a natural fallback when different accents are missing. In our experience such discovery is accompanied by a feeling of pleasant surprise, followed by rapid addiction. An optional "tip" can be displayed to show the additional character variations that can be generated by repeat presses of the key that activated the system.
How is this input system faster?
On a per-character basis, other approaches (e.g. on mobile devices) require a key to be held down in order to manually select a character variation. This takes time and interrupts the flow of typing, exposing how accented letters are treated more like an annoying exception than as normal characters. The proposed system, while also allowing for "hold" implementations, works in real time at normal typing speed (as long as the keyboard has an apostrophe key and/or accented letters). By default, the system also does not require visual attention or interaction, which are further distractions from writing.
What about autocorrecting and predictive systems?
The effectiveness and reliability of both autocorrecting and predictive mechanisms can be greatly improved when accompanied by Accenti. Taken alone, a traditional autocorrection system cannot disambiguate between a word with and without a sign (as both may be valid words in Italian), therefore its behavior is perceived as unpredictable (some words are corrected, others aren't), when not entirely wrong. The prime example for this is the "e" and "è" pair (35% accented, 10% uppercase instances), which is the most frequent Italian word (the combination precedes both "di" and "il") and tops the list of "autocorrect annoyances".
Even without considering the required constant visual interaction, the "override" and "accept" mechanisms of predictive systems start to provide benefits with words longer than two characters, which for Italian means that the impact is neutral or negative for about 40% of written words. Predictive systems are more effective when the initial characters can be used to make a best guess. The accents used for disambiguation of otherwise identical Italian words appear at the end of the word, so for prediction purposes they are always a burden, and never an aid.
The intuitive mechanism of Accenti can blend correct and incorrect phonetic cues provided by the user with existing input mechanisms, resulting in a faster, more reliable and uninterrupted flow. The subtle anxiety that is induced by unpredictable autocorrect processes is dissolved as the result becomes predictable and trusted.
Does the system also work with "swipe" input?
Yes, the method can also be applied to improve swipe-like input (also known as "shape-writing" or "word flow"). This helps eliminate some of the most frequent and frustrating cases of decoding ambiguity (e.g. "e" vs. "è"). The intention to add an accent or apostrophe sign at the end of a word can for example be expressed by ending the gesture over the apostrophe key, or by resting the finger on the final vowel (duration-based interpretation). Furthermore, on larger devices where the keyboard size may lead the user to prefer non-swipe input, the system helps retain a competitive advantage across different input modes.
Does the system interfere with writing in other languages?
Generally no, but the system can be deliberately used to write accents in languages other than Italian. The system has been tested and refined for years in multilingual contexts, which are one of its strengths. Sequences that are possible in languages that use the apostrophe, like English and German, are taken into specific account also when writing in Italian.
How would the user enable the system?
The system could be enabled in the language or keyboard settings of the operating system. It could be listed as a variation of the standard Italian "keyboard", such as "Italiano (Accenti)", or it could be enabled as a separate option (similar to other options that may exist for French, German, etc.)
Can I try this system?
Yes, you can download the Accenti software implementation for Windows at accenti.it/en/. A custom keyboard for iOS 8 is in the works.
How can your technology help me?
We are experts in Italian writing and spent years studying real-world texts, uncertainties, ambiguities, errors and special cases. The resulting algorithms and tables are extremely refined and will help achieve superior results in less time. We can further advise in other keyboard and input-related areas.
How can your IP help me?
While the most obvious practical application is the input of Italian text, the granted patents cover language-specific and language-neutral claims. The 1999 priority text is both innovative in the handling of the specific text input problem, and broad in the possible application scenarios, anticipating the growing diffusion of approaches like "touch", "hold", character variation information displayed over the cursor position, etc.