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Hebrew in an English Open Office paper

November 30, 2008

I use Open Office for all of my seminary papers.  We have an old version of Word on our desktop, but no Microsoft Office for the laptop.  So Open Office it is.  I enjoy it very much.  Great alternative.  And the price is fantastic ($0).  It’s done everything I’ve needed it to do.  Been going with it strong since version 1.0.  Yeah for Open Office 3.

I am in my first Hebrew exegesis class, Kingship Narratives.  I’m currently working the final paper for it.  Prior to this paper, I’ve been able to insert a word or two of Hebrew in other papers (namely Greek exegesis papers) and it’s worked fine.

But for this paper, I need chunks of Hebrew.  Multiple lines even at one point.  And OpenOffice straight from the download doesn’t handle it well.  Cause Hebrew is written right to left.

After a little bit of searching on the ol’ interweb, it turns out that a tucked-away-in-a-corner feature of Open Office is Complex Text Layout (CTL).  This function allows you to switch back and forth from Left-to-Right and Right-to-Left.

Now the good stuff – how to turn on CTL in Open Office.

From the OpenOffice Writer (the program comparable to Word) menu:

Tools > Options… > ‘Language Settings’ (expand it by hitting the plus sign next to it)

> Highlight ‘Languages’ right underneath ‘Language Settings’

> check the box next to Enabled for complex text layout (CTL).  This will activate the CTL menu box above it.  Select Hebrew as your CTL language.  Click OK.

> Tools > Options… > ‘Language Settings’ > ‘Complex Text Layout’

This screen will give you a few options.  I have no idea what Sequence checking is.  Might be a way for the computer to check that you’re writing actual words in the CTL language and not just gibberish.  Regardless, the big deal to me is Cursor Control.  Logical vs Visual.

‘Logical’ allows your cursor to follow the flow of text when you press an arrow key.  So when writing in Hebrew, if you press the right arrow key, the cursor moves to the left on the screen.  Good idea for those that are wired to follow that.  I am not.  So…

‘Visual’… woo hoo!  Select the Visual option and hit ok.  Now, even if you’re typing in Hebrew, you can hit the right arrow key and it will move the cursor to the right.  Very helpful if your trying to put in verse numbers or get your footnotes to appear in the right place.

Side note: Turning on the CTL function will also put RtL and LtR icons in your Toolbar.  Sweet.  For those that prefer the keyboard variety of doing that, there are keyboard shortcuts too:

CRTL + Shift + D =  Switch to RtL

CRTL + Shift + A = Switch to LtR

For the sake of information: I’m using Times New Roman for English text and the unicode version of Ezra SIL for Hebrew.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Fogey permalink
    December 1, 2008 2:02 am

    How useful/obscure/nerdy of you to post this.

    I approve.

  2. December 3, 2008 10:16 am

    Thanks Fogey. It was disconcerting struggling with getting the Hebrew in there. If I can make it easier for the next seminary student (or whoever) to get their program working, then it’s worth the ten minutes it took me to type all that out.

  3. Fogey permalink
    December 3, 2008 8:20 pm

    Considered a job in tech support/IT?

  4. December 4, 2008 1:31 am

    You’re funny… 🙂 (Did you know I’m working for the seminary’s Help Desk?)

  5. March 10, 2009 3:50 pm

    I am having similar problems, and this solution did not help completely. Can you email me at jason.gile -at- . Perhaps you can help!


  6. March 10, 2009 8:07 pm

    JG, just sent you an email. What’s the trouble? If your Hebrew vowels aren’t printing out correctly using the PDF export function in OpenOffice, then install the free program, CutePDF, and it properly displays the vowels in Hebrew.

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