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I used to work as web developer and did the same part of the project for several decades: Making sure that our Scandinavian characters åäöÅÄÖ... will work. It was feasible and it did work, basically setting everything to utf-8.

Now I wonder if it's feasible or has already been done to make sure in hardware, perhaps design a microchip, that can never do worse than making åäöÅÄÖ work? What measures would I have to take if it's feasible? If it can't be done, why is it not possible? Would I have to omit ASCII compatibility? Can I design such a chip with my development environment Altera Quartus II + some FPGA running a primitive OS?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is probably a software problem: hardware which trapped attempts to translate versatile character formats to or from 7/8 bit ASCII probably wouldn't be very usable. You'd probably be "worked around" by compiler writers trying to support legacy source code, in the unlikely event you produced chips that weren't ignored in the marketplace. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22 '15 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem is the display of these characters and the limited character map associated with the display e.g. LCD. It hasn't really anything to do with microchips that talk to the display. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Jan 22 '15 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Microchips don't support text, firmware supports text. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22 '15 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Saw ??? In place of an apostrophe on the giant LED news crawler sign adorning a TV network corporate headquarters the other day... \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22 '15 at 14:47
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NO, you cannot 'make this sure' in hardware.

How such characters are handled (how characters are handled at all!) is determined by the software.

There can of course be a problem in hardware that prevents the software from displaying your scandinavian characters, for instance because you can only display characters that are present in a character ROM. But when you solve such problems, it is still up to the software to make correct use of the hardware facilities.

strictly personal opinion:

Maybe I am a bit simple, but couldn't at least the alphabet-based world just switch to ASCII? I know, being Dutch I don't have to give up much (the ij as a single letter seems to be almost forgotten, and IMO for the better, and I always found the accented letters confusing, so good riddance of those too). Germans seem to be do fine replacing an umlaut with an extra e, and the ringel-S with ss.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Germans do replace ü with ue or ä with ae, but they DON'T like it. This is a software problem AND a hardware problem. On a PC (or smartphone or tablet,) it is just software. On a cellphone, it can well be a hardware problem - the LCD just doesn't have the capability of displaying an umlaut or an ß. I've just recently had to deal with this - our software can send SMS messages, but the SMS standard only guarantees certain characters with all else being up to the service provider. We have to filter and rewrite messages to mathc the standard since we can't rely on the providers. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRE
    Jan 22 '15 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JRE: No, you're still misunderstanding the problem. A cellphone uses a full-graphics display, so there's no hardware reason it can't display any glyph whatsoever. SMS is a software protocol that limits the set of characters that it can transport. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Jan 22 '15 at 16:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not misunderstanding the problem. A cell phone (NOT samrtphone) can only display the characters that its LCD and driving chips can support - so that's hardware. There's also the software (and protocol side) for SMS, which may support more characters (or fewer characters) than the LCD. The protocol (in our case UCP over ISDN) only guarantees certain characters. Whether the phone can actually display those characters is a different question. So, mix of hardware and software. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRE
    Jan 22 '15 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JRE: Can you actually give an example of a cellphone in current use that doesn't use a graphic display? Even the tiny external monochrome display on my ancient (non-smart) Samsung flip-phone is bit-mapped. I have never seen a digital cellphone that uses a hardware alphanumeric-only display -- there's no economic reason to build them that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Jan 22 '15 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ To comment the last paragraph: why doesn't the alphabet-based world just switch to utf-8? Don't forget that the U stands for universal, while the A stands for American. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22 '15 at 17:36

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