Re: Roadmap---Mandaic, Early Aramaic, Samaritan

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Wed Aug 06 2003 - 18:09:59 EDT

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    I disagree with you.

    Just because Semitic languages *can* be represented in the Hebrew
    script does not mean that every script is just a font variant of the
    Hebrew script.

    There are genetic relationships of the development of the scripts
    which are involved in our analysis so far. There are also user
    community concerns. The Mandaic and Samaritan scripts apparently
    enjoy at least some modern liturgical use. The question of what kind
    of Aramaic script to encode has not been looked at carefully. Indeed
    we have no current proposals which are well-advanced at this time.
    But I am not disposed to removing them from the Roadmap at this time
    on foot of the reasons you give.

    >I am responding at great length to the Roadmap proposals
    >for the Semitic dialects Mandaic, Early Aramaic, and
    >Samaritan. BTW, the larger "phylum" for these dialects
    >is called Afroasiatic.

    We are proposing to encode scripts, not languages.

    >Samaritan is a Hebrew dialect, still used today in Israel
    >in worship/liturgy and probably elsewhere in the Middle East,
    >with a series of different vowel and other marks, many of
    >them derived from Arabic.

    And a set of base letter glyphs which differs strongly from Hebrew.

    >But Afroasiatic----Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Egyptian, Somali,
    >Hausa, Hebrew, Samaritan, Amorite, Yaudic, Tigrinya, Arabic,
    >Berber, Moabite, Amorite, Coptic-----has not fared as well
    >as CJKV.

    That is because CJK is a moneymaker, and resources are not available
    to those who would like to work on the scripts used by these

    >So here's the problem, which seems to me a clear
    >language engineering situation: there are VOLUMINOUS
    >amounts of material in Egyptian and Akkadian that could be
    >computerized. The Hebrew Bible has 1,000 pages of
    >Hebrew and Aramaic, the Talmud has at least 40,000 pages
    >of Aramaic and Hebrew. There's also quite a bit of Ugaritic,
    >a unique alphabet.

    Yes, we know.

    >But for the Early Aramaic, which can be perfectly
    >represented in modern "Hebrew" square script, there are maybe
    >3 pages of mostly tiny scraps of text, if that much. For many
    >of the scraps the question is: what language is this, actually?--
    >Aramaic or something else? But you are proposing a
    >completely unnecessary script for 3 pages of material, and
    >make an overworked search engine go through those 3 pages
    >in a different way than the work it does for the
    >other thousands of pages of Aramaic in the 6 other scripts.

    We are talking about the Aramaic that was enormously widespread and
    was the basis for a number of other scripts. Perhaps "Early Aramaic"
    is not what it should be called. (Indeed the Roadmap doesn't name it

    >Mandaic is easily represented by Hebrew + one extra letter.
    >There is more material here, but there is no problem in
    >seeing it as a variant font.

    There is as far as I am concerned.

    >Samaritan is a Hebrew font variant with interesting different
    >sets of vowel points. There's no reason to computerize it
    >separately, despite the exotic shapes.

    I think there is.

    >Every scrap of early alphabetic Semitic material has different
    >letter shapes. It never did become anything like a standard.

    Many of these scripts had type designed for them. Scholars did not
    always use Hebrew to represent all of it, nor should they have.

    It may be some time before proposals to encode these appear. You and
    others will have an opportunity to examine them.

    Michael Everson * * Everson Typography *  *

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