Re: Aramaic, Samaritan, Phoenician

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Tue Jul 15 2003 - 14:14:22 EDT

  • Next message: Peter Kirk: "Re: Aramaic, Samaritan, Phoenician"

    Peter Kirk responded to Michael Everson:

    > > 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. We
    > > have that for Coptic and Greek too and we are disunifying them. I'm
    > > pretty sure we're going to encode Samaritan too....
    > ... I have already accepted from what
    > I have seen that Samaritan should be encoded, ...
    > And I think it is reasonable also
    > that Phoenician should be encoded.

    So we seem to have consensus on those two as historic scripts
    (and in the case of Samaritan with some limited modern usage)
    deserving distinct encoding.

    Let's acknowledge that consensus, so we don't have to revisit
    that particular issue.

    Peter Kirk went on:

    > I don't consider that the same case has been made for Palmyrene Aramaic.

    and Michael Everson responded:

    > We need to do further research on the subject, but it seems to me
    > that Late Aramaic is still a candidate for encoding.

    So on the topic of Aramaic (other than Biblical Hebrew itself)
    there obviously is still disagreement, and further input from
    experts, particularly fluent users of the Hebrew script in
    modern and historic contexts, would be useful in helping the
    committees progress.

    John Cowan wrote:

    > 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.

    As I pointed out in my first response in this thread, determination
    of what constitutes an "encodable historic script" is somewhat
    of an artform. We know it shouldn't constitute every visually
    distinct "alphabet" that is scholastically documented, but on
    the other hand, in the case of a script family with the long,
    complicated history of Phoenician and Aramaic, it also isn't
    obvious or self-evident just what the "whole script" is that
    is putatively being "disunified" if a particular historic
    instance, such as Palmyrene Aramaic, is called out as a distinct
    encodable entity (and other closely related instances are treated
    as stylistic variants of *it*, instead of as variants of Hebrew
    or Syriac).

    We run into similar conundrums in abstracting out an "Old Italic"
    script, for instance, distinct from the Latin script as used to
    represent ancient Latin text or the Greek script as used to
    represent ancient Greek text.

    And yes, once you make and standardize a determination that
    some particular collection of historic periods and styles of
    Aramaic constitute a *script* separate from Hebrew or Syriac,
    then representation of texts that fall into the relevant
    basket requires separate characters. And comparison of texts
    involves transliteration-like equivalences, rather than
    font shifts. But I don't see how this is adding any
    additional machinery to Unicode. The same situation applies
    to any separation of historically related scripts, and examples
    abound among the Brahmi-derived scripts, as well as the
    Phoenician/Aramaic-derived scripts.

    The historical phenomena, as in any case of complex, cultural
    systems subject to continuous diachronic changes, are
    inherently problematical for strict, axiomatically-based
    categorization. But faced with the need to provide digital
    encodings for dynamically changing, "analog" phenomena, we
    simply have to make *some* decisions, and put the X's in
    Box X and the Y's in Box Y as best we can, admitting the
    fact that both synchronically and diachronically we are going
    to be doing some violence to the edge cases as we box things.

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

    What ultimately is important is whether the *users* of a
    Unicode encoding for Aramaic would be better served by
    treating certain historical texts across SW Asia as variants
    of Hebrew (or Syriac) and encoding them accordingly, or
    better served by having a distinct character encoding to
    represent those texts.

    I don't think you can discover that by trying to analyze the
    script characteristics axiomatically.

    The main reason for separately encoding Coptic, rather than
    maintaining what we now recognize to be a mistaken unification
    with the Greek script, is that it is less useful to people
    who want to represent Coptic texts to have it be encoded
    as a variant of Greek than it is to have it be encoded as a
    distinct script.


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