Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Understanding Unicode Characters.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 15, 2017)
You may have heard of the term Unicode before, and wondered what it meant. Normal single-byte encoding schemes (such as ASCII and ANSI) allow only up to 256 unique individual characters to be encoded and displayed on the computer. In the global computer community, where each member is required to work in their own language, this is a problem. There are far more than 256 characters in common use throughout the world.
This is where Unicode comes into play.
Depending on the version of Unicode being used, the standard requires anywhere from two to five bytes for encoding each character. As of this writing, the current Unicode standard is 9.0.0, which uses five bytes and 128,172 characters defined. This standard, devised and promoted by the Unicode Consortium (http://www.unicode.org), allows for the display of virtually all the unique language characters in the world. A team of computer professionals, linguists, and scholars continue to work on the actual development of Unicode.
The use of multiple bytes to define each character means that Unicode can be used to encode most of the characters used in the world's major languages. There is an extension mechanism built into the standard, as well, which means it is possible to encode close to a million more characters, if necessary. This ability should be sufficient for all known language requirements, plus the encoding of all the historic scripts of the world. (This includes languages and symbols that are no longer in use.)
As presently defined, Unicode 9.0.0 (the latest version, released in June 2016) includes codes for characters used in the major written languages of the world, including Arabic, Armenian, Balinese, Bengali, Bopomofo, Buhid, Canadian Syllabics, Cherokee, Chinese, Cyrillic, Deseret, Devanagari, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Greek, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Han, Hangul, Hanun—o, Hebrew, Hiragana, Kannada, Katakana, Khmer, Lao, Latin, Malayalam, Mongolian, Myanmar, Ogham, Old Italic (Etruscan), Oriya, Phoenician, Runic, Sinhala, Syriac, Tagalog, Tagbanwa, Tamil, Telugu, Thaana, Thai, Tibetan, and Yi. Work is progressing to add more characters from lesser-known languages.
In addition, Unicode also includes many different symbols, including numbers, general diacritics, general punctuation, general symbols, dingbats, emojis, arrows, blocks, box drawing forms, geometric shapes, mathematical symbols, musical symbols (western and byzantine), technical symbols, braille patterns, and Kangxi radicals.
Unicode is supported in all modern versions of Windows and Word. Exactly what standard of Unicode that is supported depends on the version of Windows and Word in question.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11277) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Understanding Unicode Characters.
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