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Cannot write Greek Polytonic in Linux

For up to date instructions for Greek and Greek Polytonic see How to type Greek, Greek Polytonic in Linux.

The following text is kept for historical purposes. Greek and Greek Polytonic now works in Linux, using the default Greek layout.

General Update: If you have Ubuntu 8.10, Fedora 10 or a similarly new distribution, then Greek Polytonic works out-of-the-box. Simply select the Greek Polytonic layout. For more information, see the recent Greek Polytonic post.

Update 3rd May 2008: If you have Ubuntu 8.04 (probably applies to other recent Linux distributions as well), you simply need to add GTK_IM_MODULE=xim to /etc/environment. Start a Terminal (Applications/Accessories/Terminal) and type the commands (the first command makes a backup copy of the configuration file, and the second opens the configuration file with administrative priviliges, so that you can edit and save):

$ gksudo cp /etc/environment /etc/environment.ORIGINAL
$ gksudo gedit /etc/environment

then append


save, and restart your computer. It should work now. Try to test with the standard Text editor, found in Accessories.

In Ubuntu 8.10 (autumn 2008), it should work out of the box, just by enabling the Greek Polytonic layout.

Update 20th June 2008: If still some accents/breathings/aspirations do not work, then this is probably related to your system locale (whether it is Greek or not). It works better when it is Greek. If you are affected and you do not use the Greek locale, there is one more thing to do.

$ gksudo cp /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose.ORIGINAL
$ gksudo cp /usr/share/X11/locale/el_GR.UTF-8/Compose /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose

The first command makes a backup copy of your original en_US Compose file (assuming you run an English locale; if in doubt, read /usr/share/X11/locale/locale.dir). The second command copies the Greek compose file over the English one. You then logout and login again.

End of updates

To write Greek Polytonic in Linux, a special file is used, which is called the compose file. There is a bit of complication here in the sense that the compose file depends on the current system locale.

To find out which compose file is active on your system, have a look at


Let's assume your system locale is en_US.UTF-8 (Start Applications/Accessories/Terminal and type locale).

In the compose.dir file it says

en_US.UTF-8/Compose: en_US.UTF-8

Note that the locale is the second field. If you have a different system locale, match on the second field. Many people make a mistake here. Actually, I think be faster for the system to locate the entry if the compose.dir file was sorted by locale.

Therefore, the compose file is


So, what's the problem then?

Well, for the Greek locale (el_GR.UTF-8) we have a different compose file, a compose file in which Greek Polytonic actually works ;-).

Therefore, there are numerous workarounds here to get Greek Polytonic working.

For example,

  • If you speak modern Greek, you can install the Greek locale.
  • You can edit /usr/share/X11/locale/compose.dir so that for your locale, the compose file is the Greek one, /usr/share/X11/locale/el_GR.UTF-8/Compose.
  • You can edit the Greek compose file, take the Greek Polytonic section and update the Greek Polytonic section of en_US.UTF-8/Compose.
  • You can copy the Greek compose file in your home directory under the name .XCompose. I did not try this one, and also you may be affected by this bug. (not tested)

Of course the proper solution is to update en_US.UTF-8/Compose with the updated Greek Polytonic compose sequences. There is a tendency to add the compose sequences of all languages to en_US.UTF-8/Compose, and this actually is happening now. In this respect, it would make sense to rename en_US.UTF-8/Compose into something like general/Compose.

Comments (60) Trackbacks (0)
  1. So, to make sure I understood :
    1. Anyone interested to help should make some space on their disks to test upcoming debian-based distributions and make sure that polytonic support works. If it does not, we report to the maintainers of the distributions and on this blog.
    2. This blog is a fine place to do “promotion/dissemination of information on how to write polytonic.” We post elsewhere, of course, but we can point here, too.

    Regarding the merger of the Greek Polytonic and Greek Extended keyboard variants, I see no problem, as long as we are only concerned with the keyboard as an input device. One should check, however, that search for text strings is not adversely affected. For example, would Google search report both onotonic, polytonic and atonic variants of the same word ?

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  2. 1. That’s correct. You can use VirtualBox, or install in a separate partition.
    2. I have added a polytonic category to my relevant posts,

    When «joining» the Polytonic and Extended variants into a comprehensive and usable single layout, the characters typed will still be the same Unicode ones. In technical terms, in this additional layout, a user would have to press AltGr + + letter to get polytonic characters. It’s AltGr that makes the difference, and will allow the majority of users not to get confused and produce weird documents.
    This type of layout would not be unique to the Greek layouts; if you notice the default GB (UK English) layout, it allows you to type all sort of accents relating to latin characters, with AltGr + ;’#[]:@~{}.

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  3. Σε opensuse γράφω σε πολυτονικό εδώ και ένα χρόνο περίπου με LANG=en_US.UTF-8 στο KDE. Υπήρχαν προβλήματα με το keyboard layout στο X, τα οποία έχουν διορθωθεί, και ένα πρόβλημα με την αναζήτηση στη Qt 3, το οποίο έχει διορθωθεί στην 4. Το δυσκολότερο είναι μέχρι στιγμής να βρω γραμματοσειρά που να διαβάζεται εύκολα, να έχει πολυτονικούς χαρακτήρες και να μην έχει πρόβλημα με το μέγεθος στο web. Μέχρι στιγμής χρησιμοποιώ την Arev Sans.

    Παρεμπιπτόντως, μήπως γνωρίζετε ποια είναι η έκδοση της Αγίας Γραφής που διανέμετε;

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  4. @auxsvr: Οι πολυτονικοί χαρακτήρες τις Arev Sans έχουν περάσει στην DejaVu Sans. Γενικά, αν δοκιμάσεις τη DejaVu Sans, θα έχει μεγαλύτερη πληρότητα, όπως για παράδειγμα νέους αρχαίους χαρακτήρες που μπήκαν από το Unicode 5.

    Η έκδοση της Αγίας Γραφής είνα αυτή που αναφέρω στην εγγραφή του ιστολογίου. Δεν γνωρίζω πως προέκυψε. Από την πλευρά μου έκανα μικρές βελτιώσεις για το DTP και δημιούργησα εκδόσεις σε ODT και PDF.

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  5. Simos,

    εὐχαριστῶ πολύ! I just followed your steps for enabling the Polytonic Greek keyboard in Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) and they worked perfectly. Thanks for sharing your expertise and simplifying a topic which is more complicated than I anticipated.

    I also use Fedora 9 (Sulphur) and would like to mention that its Polytonic Greek keyboard can be made to work by following the instructions here:

    (Valid for the GNOME version of Fedora 7, 8 [and 9])

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  6. Ἂν δὲν εἶναι παραπλανητικὸς ὁ τίτλος (Greek Polytonic in Linux), θὰ ἤθελα νὰ θυμίσω ὅτι ὑπάρχουν καὶ ἄλλες διανομὲς στὰ πέριξ, γιὰ τὶς ὁποῖες δὲν εἶναι αὐτονόητη ἡ ὕπαρξη GTK, πόσο μᾶλλον τὸ ἀρχεῖο /etc/environment. Ἀκόμη καὶ στὴν οἰκογένεια Ubuntu, τὸ Fluxbuntu ξεφεύγει ἀπὸ τὶς παραπάνω προδιαγραφές. Τὸ πρόβλημά μου παραμένει, λοιπόν: Στὸ πανάρχαιο laptop μου, τὸ ὁποῖο ὅμως δὲν μοῦ πάει καρδιὰ νὰ τὸ στείλω στὰ σκουπίδια, θέλω νὰ φορέσω κάτι ἐλαφρύ (π.χ. Antix, Zenwalk, Puppel, Fluxbuntu στὴν ἔσχατη ἀνάγκη). Παράλληλα, ὅμως, θέλω νὰ συνεχίσω νὰ γράφω πολυτονικά (πεῖτε με λοξό ἢ κολλημένο). Τί κάνω;
    Κάθε βοήθεια δεκτή, ἀρκεῖ νὰ εἶναι κατανοητή ἀπὸ ἕναν ἡμιαρχάριο, σὰν ἐμένα!

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  7. @Αὐγουστῖνος: Στην περίπτωση διανομής που δε χρησιμοποιεί εφαρμογές GTK+, τότε αρκεί να ενεργοποιήσει κάποιος την πολυτονική διάταξη.
    Δηλαδή, επιλέγουμε την ελληνική διάταξη πληκτρολογίου με την παραλλαγή (variant) ‘polytonic’.

    Δεν γνωρίζω τις ιδιαιτερότητες κάθε διανομής όπως Fluxbuntu, οπότε θα χρειαστεί να δω τι επιλογές έχει για τη ρύθμιση διάταξης. Αν είναι Fluxbuntu 9.04, τότε απλά με τη ρύθμιση ελληνικών μπορείς να γράφεις και πολυτονικό με τις παρακάτω οδηγίες.

    Σε νεώτερες διανομές (από την άνοιξη του 2009 και νεώτερες), έχουμε αλλάξει τη βασική διάταξη πληκτρολογίου για τα ελληνικά ώστε να μπορεί να γράψει κάποιος και πολυτονικό.
    Υπάρχει τεκμηρίωση (διανομές Fedora, Ubuntu και άλλες) στα
    http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dccdrjqk_4cqjn9zcj (αγγλικά)
    http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dccdrjqk_3gx3bq5f9 (ελληνικά)
    Μέχρι στιγμής δεν είχαμε προσφορά για οδηγίες για άλλα γραφικά περιβάλλοντα.

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  8. Κατ᾿ ἀρχὴν εὐχαριστῶ γιὰ τὴν ἄμεση ἀνταπόκριση. Γιὰ μιὰ ἀκόμα φορά – καὶ σὲ «γνωρίζω» ἀρκετὸ καιρὸ, τουλάχιστον ὅσο ἀσχολοῦμαι μὲ τὸ Λίνουξ – ἔδειξες ὅτι σέβεσαι τὴν κοινότητα καὶ νοιάζεσαι. Νά ᾿σαι καλά.
    Κατὰ δεύτερον, ἐπειδὴ δοκίμασα τὶς πιὸ πρόσφατες ἐκδόσεις Antix, Puppel καὶ Vector Linux, ἀλλὰ ἀποτέλεσμα δὲν εἶδα – στὸ AbiWord δὲν βγαίνει ἐπιλογὴ μεθόδου εἰσαγωγῆς πέρα ἀπὸ ἕνα ξερὸ default – ἐξ οὗ καὶ ἡ ἀπογοήτευσή μου, θὰ συνεχίσω τὶς ἀναζητήσεις, ἀλλὰ θὰ ἤθελα καὶ νὰ ἀπευθύνω ἔκκληση πρὸς ὅποιον ἀσχολεῖται μὲ ἐναλλακτικὰ περιβάλλοντα ἐργασίας (IceWM, Fluxbox, Blackbox, Xfce) νὰ προτείνει ἰδέες σχετικὰ μὲ τὴν πολυτονικὴ ἑλληνικὴ γραφή.
    Καὶ πάλι εὐχαριστῶ.

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  9. I use an English Dvorak layout primarily. However, I am now learning Koine Greek. I need to combine Dvorak layout keys (English) and Greek Polytonic. Will it work? Will this be difficult? Thanks for your time!

    ~pphhiilliipp dduuttttoonn
    Columbia, SC, USA

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  10. Hi Phillip,

    Have a look at my most recent post on Greek, Greek Polytonic, etc, at

    For your case you simply add the Greek keyboard layout (not ‘Polytonic’ or something else). The fact that your default layout is a Dvorak layout makes no difference.

    The current Greek layout (that supports Greek Polytonic as well) follows the polytonic layout that is common for Greeks in Greece. You need to read the instructions for the placement of the accents, etc.
    If you are used to a different layout for Greek (such as one of the ‘biblical’ layouts found at http://www.ntresources.com/unicode.htm), you may have to do a few more steps. If you can invest the time to get used to the standard Greek Polytonic Linux layout, I think you will find it reasonable.

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