The QWERTY, QWERTZ and AZERTY keyboards are named after the first six characters along their upper rows. The main difference between them is the position of the , , , and keys, as shown in the illustrations below. The letter also has a different position depending on the keyboard, as do several other keys dedicated to special characters (ex.: , , ).
The three keyboards are used in different parts of the world:
- the QWERTY keyboard is prevalent in the Americas and in several regions of Europe;
- the QWERTZ keyboard, also called the Swiss keyboard, is used in German-speaking countries;
- the AZERTY keyboard is used predominantly in France and Belgium.
Why do these different keyboards exist?
There are several keyboard layouts to better suit different languages and their most commonly used characters.
However, did you know that the QWERTY, QWERTZ and AZERTY keyboards were designed around technical constraints rather than linguistic or even ergonomic considerations? That’s right! The letters are arranged to prevent the typing mechanisms of the first typewriters from getting stuck. The QWERTY layout made its debut in 1871 with the commercial production of Remington’s Typewriter model.
Although some have tried to redesign the position of the letters on the keyboard since (including Dvorak), QWERTY keyboards are still the most widespread in the Western world.
Some linguistic communities have made slight changes to this monolithic keyboard layout because the most commonly used characters vary from language to language. For example, since is more common in German than , their positions are switched on the QWERTY and QWERTZ keyboards. The latter also has several keys dedicated to accented characters from French, like , , and , and from German, like , , and .
The CSA (Canadian Standards Association) keyboard, also called the French Canadian keyboard, is based on the QWERTY layout, but has several keys dedicated to accented letters.
The origins of the AZERTY keyboard are more mysterious. This layout is neither more efficient nor more ergonomic for French than the QWERTY layout. One of the most plausible explanations is that the AZERTY keyboard was a test creation in the United States in the 1890s. As a result of its modest success in anglophone countries, its manufacturers may have preferred to market this keyboard to other countries, starting with France.
Discover other surprising stories in our article series Curious Keys!
Three Keyboards, One Typing Technique
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