Although most sources would tell you that Manchu is no longer spoken, there is in fact a small community that speaks a modern variant of Manchu called Sibe within China (Chinese: Sibo). Many publications and dictionaries have also been published in this unique language. Although the script is similar to Mongolian, the two languages have little else in common.
Displaying Manchu properly requires lots of advanced typographic features. Like Mongolian, it is traditionally written vertically, from left to right, which presents the biggest challenge in most computing environments. Fortunately, it is becoming more and more common to treat Manchu (and Mongolian) as a left to right script and this particular implementation has been adopted by several different standards. While it makes reading and typing Manchu somewhat unnatural, a printed page can easily be oriented correctly by rotating the page 90° counterclockwise.
At a typographic level, the Manchu and Mongolian scripts are similar to Arabic in structure — they too require different letter forms depending on the character and its position in a word (isolated, initial, medial and final). Unfortunately some glitches in Apple’s advanced typography support have made our job even more difficult. Nevertheless, we are attempting to work around the biggest issues and hope to have a solution.
Manchu is officially included in Unicode’s Mongolian block but we have opted to treat it separately since we feel that their individual literary traditions are distinct. Although they share a related writing system, the typestyles used for each one follows different lines of development and occasionally require different shaping rules — something we think is easier to support individually.
More news about when you can expect an OS X version of the Manchu/Sibe Language Kit will be made available once we’ve addressed the remaining problem areas. Interested parties, feeling up to the challenge, can request a copy of the kit in its current implementation.
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