In a recent blog post the Belarusian programmer Ihar Makhanëk explains the challenges of writing Belarusian on a Russian keyboard. As should be known the Cyrillic Belarusian alphabet is distinguished from the Russian Cyrillic one by several letters. The “Latin” “і”, the unique “ў” (u karotkae), the obligatory “ё”, as well as the absence of the Russian letters “щ” and “ъ” (Belarusian uses the diagraph “шч” and an apostrophe respectively).

The solution for many Belarusians (and, possibly Ukrainians as well) when they need to enter the Belarusian “i”, Makhanëk suggests in his highly informative post, is to switch to an English keyboard set up. The problem, however, is that the Belarusian “і” and the Latin “i” have different positions in the Unicode system. The Belarusian “і” holds the position U+0456 (lower-case) and U+0406 (upper-case), while the Latin “i” holds positions U+0069 (lower-case) and U+0049 (upper-case).

As a result of this the use of the Latin “i” as a replacement for the Belarusian creates problems when you want to search for a word, or to make alphabetical lists, since the words you want to search for have been coded incorrectly. Makhanëk’s post shows that the challenges connected with computer-mediated communication are not only related to the available technical solutions, but also to the individual choices of the users.