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27.3 Language Environments

All supported character sets are supported in Emacs buffers whenever multibyte characters are enabled; there is no need to select a particular language in order to display its characters in an Emacs buffer. However, it is important to select a language environment in order to set various defaults. The language environment really represents a choice of preferred script (more or less) rather than a choice of language.

The language environment controls which coding systems to recognize when reading text (see section Recognizing Coding Systems). This applies to files, incoming mail, netnews, and any other text you read into Emacs. It may also specify the default coding system to use when you create a file. Each language environment also specifies a default input method.

To select a language environment, you can customize the variable current-language-environment or use the command M-x set-language-environment. It makes no difference which buffer is current when you use this command, because the effects apply globally to the Emacs session. The supported language environments include:

ASCII, Belarusian, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Chinese-BIG5, Chinese-CNS, Chinese-EUC-TW, Chinese-GB, Croatian, Cyrillic-ALT, Cyrillic-ISO, Cyrillic-KOI8, Czech, Devanagari, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Ethiopic, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hebrew, IPA, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Lao, Latin-1, Latin-2, Latin-3, Latin-4, Latin-5, Latin-6, Latin-7, Latin-8 (Celtic), Latin-9 (updated Latin-1 with the Euro sign), Latvian, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tajik, Tamil, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, UTF-8 (for a setup which prefers Unicode characters and files encoded in UTF-8), Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Windows-1255 (for a setup which prefers Cyrillic characters and files encoded in Windows-1255).

To display the script(s) used by your language environment on a graphical display, you need to have a suitable font. If some of the characters appear as empty boxes, you should install the GNU Intlfonts package, which includes fonts for most supported scripts.(6) See section Fontsets, for more details about setting up your fonts.

Some operating systems let you specify the character-set locale you are using by setting the locale environment variables LC_ALL, LC_CTYPE, or LANG.(7) During startup, Emacs looks up your character-set locale's name in the system locale alias table, matches its canonical name against entries in the value of the variables locale-charset-language-names and locale-language-names, and selects the corresponding language environment if a match is found. (The former variable overrides the latter.) It also adjusts the display table and terminal coding system, the locale coding system, the preferred coding system as needed for the locale, and—last but not least—the way Emacs decodes non-ASCII characters sent by your keyboard.

If you modify the LC_ALL, LC_CTYPE, or LANG environment variables while running Emacs, you may want to invoke the set-locale-environment function afterwards to readjust the language environment from the new locale.

The set-locale-environment function normally uses the preferred coding system established by the language environment to decode system messages. But if your locale matches an entry in the variable locale-preferred-coding-systems, Emacs uses the corresponding coding system instead. For example, if the locale ‘ja_JP.PCK’ matches japanese-shift-jis in locale-preferred-coding-systems, Emacs uses that encoding even though it might normally use japanese-iso-8bit.

You can override the language environment chosen at startup with explicit use of the command set-language-environment, or with customization of current-language-environment in your init file.

To display information about the effects of a certain language environment lang-env, use the command C-h L lang-env <RET> (describe-language-environment). This tells you which languages this language environment is useful for, and lists the character sets, coding systems, and input methods that go with it. It also shows some sample text to illustrate scripts used in this language environment. If you give an empty input for lang-env, this command describes the chosen language environment.

You can customize any language environment with the normal hook set-language-environment-hook. The command set-language-environment runs that hook after setting up the new language environment. The hook functions can test for a specific language environment by checking the variable current-language-environment. This hook is where you should put non-default settings for specific language environment, such as coding systems for keyboard input and terminal output, the default input method, etc.

Before it starts to set up the new language environment, set-language-environment first runs the hook exit-language-environment-hook. This hook is useful for undoing customizations that were made with set-language-environment-hook. For instance, if you set up a special key binding in a specific language environment using set-language-environment-hook, you should set up exit-language-environment-hook to restore the normal binding for that key.


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