Creating you own hyphenation dictionary

Two approaches are possible to construct your hyphenation dictionary. An automated approach, and a manual approach. Which one is best for your needs, will depend on the characteristics of your language, and the existing information you have at your disposal.

If you have a list of correctly hyphenated words that is representative of your language, the automated approach might be best. If you don’t have such a list, or it is not high quality, or the rules of your language is very simple, the manual approach might be best.

Take note of which programs and descriptions here refer to TeX format and OpenOffice.org format.


FIXME this is the process as I understand it now. It might be wrong!

You use patgen to create the initial hyphenation file.



  • dictionary – is the input hyphenation list
  • patterns – is the existing hyphenation pattern file
  • output – is the new hyphenation pattern file
  • translate – is a configuration style file (it is explained in some places but not that well)

When you run the command you will be asked various questions, again not sure of what these are about.

At the end you will have a pattern file that can be used in TeX.

By hand

This section explains the format of the hyphanation file required by OpenOffice.org. You might still be interested to understand how this works if you need to fix mistakes caused by another approach.

You need

Patterns are specified which describe patterns where hyphenation can occur and where hyphenation cannot occur. The priorities of breaking or non-breaking points are set by numbers (about 1-6). Odd numbers (1,3,5) indicate places where hyphenation can occur. Even numbers (2,4,6) indicate places where hyphenation are not allowed. All patterns that match a particular word are applied to a word. Higher numbers overrule the lower numbers. The places with odd numbers left indicate possible hyphenation points. A full stop can be used to indicate a word boundary (either beginning or end).

Consider the word “example”. The word is prepared by putting a full stop in front and at the back. Therefore we now have “.example.”. The hyphenation software searches the file for patterns that match any part of the prepared word. Lets say the following patterns match:


This is how they are applied:

. e x a m p l e .
    x a m3
. e x1a4m3p2l2e .
     ^ - ^ - -

Now we can hyphenate at the points of the odd numbers. Note how the even numbers overrule certain hyphenation points that otherwise might have caused wrong hyphenation. Therefore, “ex-am-ple”. The software can now choose the hyphenation point that results in the best layout. There will usually be settings in the software that prohibits hyphenation in the very first and very last characters of a word, in order to avoid having just one or two characters left on the beginning or end of a line. (OpenOffice.org 2.0: Tools ‣ Options ‣ Language settings ‣ Language aids ‣ Options)

To encode exceptions, simply make sure that the pattern is surrounded by full stops. It might be necessary to encode exceptions in cases where a word doesn’t follow normal spelling rules, for example with brand names, person names, etc. (.Kin1sa1s6ha.)

A confusing problem with the hyphenation patterns is the way they interact. Consider the following hyphenation file:


Now consider the words “print”, “printable”, and “printer”. Run “example” from altlinuxHyph as follows (each pair of lines contain both what was typed in, and the output):

./example printer.test /dev/stdin

“Print” won’t be hyphenated, because the hyphenation point specified by the first hyphenation pattern (“n1t”) occurs to close to the end of the word. “printable” is hyphenated as we expect: “print-able”. If we now input “printer”, we are surprised: it doesn’t hyphenate at all. This happens because the second pattern (“print2t1able”) is matched first (from the “p” up to the “t”), but then discarded when the “e” in “printer” doesn’t match the pattern. At that stage it doesn’t go back to consider all patterns from the second character, but only continues from the last character that matched, “t”. To solve this, edit the file as follows (add the last pattern):


For the word “printer”, the second and third patterns will both match up to the “t”, but the second pattern will not be considered. The first rule therefore has to be “repeated” for the case where the second rule will mask it out.

It is important to remember that the beginning of word marker (“.”) will be handled like a normal character, and therefore the same masking problem can be obtained.


ALTLinux make changes to the TeX hyphenation file that relate to optimisation and performance.

perl substrings.pl <tex hyphen file> <alt linux hyphen file>

Now add your languages encoding to the top of alt linux hyphen file. Now you are ready to include this in OpenOffice.org.

Including your hyphenation in OpenOffice.org

FIXME need to check this but this is just anecdotal based on my experience with MySpell

Your hypenations dictionary need to be included in dictionarl.lst the format is something like:

HYPH xh ZA hyph_xh


  • HYPH – indicates its a hyphenation dictionary as apposed to a spelling DICTionary
  • xh and ZA – the language and country
  • hyph_xh – the name of the dictionary file without the .dic suffix

FIXME once again please check this :)