Re: Aramaic, Samaritan, Phoenician

From: John Cowan (
Date: Tue Jul 15 2003 - 11:18:41 EDT

  • Next message: Michael Everson: "Re: Aramaic, Samaritan, Phoenician"

    Michael Everson scripsit:

    > >If I see a Gaelic-style G and fail to recognize it *as* a G, that's
    > >quite different.
    > Normally one recognizes it in context. I fail to see your point, however.

    You said that the surface unreadability of Gaelic (to the unaccustomed eye)
    did not make it a separate script, whereas the surface unreadability of
    Samaritan does. I want to know what criteria you are using to draw the line.


    If you can get a hold of _Metamagical Themas_, by Douglas Hofstadter,
    0-465-04540-5, there are two very interesting pages. On p. 243 is a chart
    of 56 LATIN CAPITAL LETTER As, in fonts ranging from mundane (Univers)
    to incomprehensible (Magnificat) to unspeakably hideous (Sinaloa, or
    even worse Stop, which combines the advantages of ugliness with those
    of unreadability, to parody a famous remark about the C programming
    language). But all obviously A.

    On the following page, there is a similar chart of 23 U+9ED1s, (hei1
    'black'), which are supposedly just as intuitive as the As, and none of
    them particularly extreme. Well, the caption says "For non-readers of
    Chinese (or even non-native readers of Chinese) it requires some conscious
    processing" to realize that they all represent the same archetype.
    Seeing the chart provides a visceral experience of the truth of this remark.

    My point is that "very different" is in the eye of the beholder, and the
    relevant kind of beholder is the native (or nearly so) user of the script.
    This was the precise point you made in your Coptic-disunification paper.
    (Though I still think you stacked the deck by comparing Coptic to Greek
    minuscules instead of small majuscules.)

    > That's a draft by Rick McGowan. It indicates that they are obviously
    > different scripts.... ;-) Anyway, look at Samaritan Yod and compare
    > it with Hebrew Yod. Not mere font style.

    How is that worse than Gaelic G vs. conventional G? The two letters share
    not a single formal feature. Or consider Fraktur I and J capitals.
    The name of Rudolf von Ihering, the great 19th-century German
    jurisprudent, is frequently transliterated (there is no other word)
    "Jhering". Yet we unify these three sub-scripts, and rightly so IMHO.
    We disunify Glagolitic, and rightly so too. But that does not mean that
    there are not intermediate cases that ought to be unified, and without
    definite criteria, it's hard to know what to do.

    Disunification of whole scripts (using that word without prejudice)
    has a cost quite different from disunification of individual letters.
    It makes transliteration a more fundamental operation than perhaps
    it needs to be, when there is one-to-one correspondence. And it adds
    additional machinery to Unicode, which is already quite rich in machinery.

    > What is this thread for? We're going to encode Phoenician. It is the
    > forerunner of Greek and Etruscan. Hebrew went its separate way. The
    > fact that there is a one-to-one correspondence isn't important.

    What, then, *is* important? In the last analysis, that's what needs to
    go on record.

    John Cowan
    If a soldier is asked why he kills people who have done him no harm, or a
    terrorist why he kills innocent people with his bombs, they can always
    reply that war has been declared, and there are no innocent people in an
    enemy country in wartime.  The answer is psychotic, but it is the answer
    that humanity has given to every act of aggression in history.  --Northrop Frye

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