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What are Unihan Variants?

"Unihan variants" are alternates of characters belonging to the "Unified Han," or "Unihan," section of the Unicode standard. So-called Han characters have been used across East Asia for milennia. Over time and across regions, different forms of the same character have arisen and persisted. As recently as the 20th century, new forms of these characters have been invented and used.

Accounting for these unihan variants has been one significant challenge for the Unicode project. The Unicode project has tried to incorporate significant variants for characters, and it maintains a list of variants for each character in the Unicode standard. This list is not exhaustive, and others have compiled more exhaustive lists.

So what's the problem?

Many variants are not simply historical forms but are used daily by users of East Asian languages. Still, today's software rarely lets users work with variants—displaying variants for a given character, replacing a given character with a variant. In fact, users have to be able to enter each character using each language's input methods. Here is one example of a character with 5 variants.

How does the Unihan Variant Dictionary help?

The Unihan Variant Dictionary allows a user to enter any character and receive a list of corresponding variants. Users can then copy any variant from the list. Holding the mouse over any variant displays its unicode value. The Dictionary is also a quick reference to other information, including characters' pronunciation in various languages and dialects, and definition. While this information is all available in various forms on the Unicode website, the official Unicode list of variants is not exhaustive. The Unihan Variant Dictionary has reached to other sources of variants to give users the widest possible selection of variants. (Please contact the author if you have suggestions for additional variants or sources of variants.)

How do I use the Unihan Variant Dictionary?

To install, drag the Unihan Variant Dictionary into your Applications folder. Then you can open the Unihan Variant Dictionary and type into the search bar, or drag and drop a character into the search bar. Hit return to begin the search. Any variant can be selected and copied.

Once the Unihan Variant Dictionary resides in the Applications folder, the Unihan Variant Dictionary becomes available from the Services menu of any application. Thus, any character can be quickly run through the Unihan Variant Dictionary by highlighting it and selecting "Unihan Variant Dictionary" from the Services menu. The keyboard shortcut for accessing this service is Command + Shift + U.

The Unihan Variant Dictionary displays three tabs: Variants, Pronunciation, and Meaning. Alternate between these tabs to display information about the character you have entered in the search bar.

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