Re: Ciphers (Was: Berber/Tifinagh)

From: Peter Kirk (
Date: Mon Nov 10 2003 - 07:04:12 EST

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    On 09/11/2003 19:18, John Hudson wrote:

    > ...
    > Any sign can be made a cipher by changing the signified. Writing
    > systems are collections of conventional signs, which means that there
    > is conventional agreement as to the signified. For example, the
    > signifier 'A' is conventionally agreed by users of Latin script
    > languages to signify the signified 'Latin uppercase letter A'. Users
    > of Greek, Cyrillic, etc. writing systems conventionally agree on
    > different although historically related sign relationships for the
    > same signifier: so the Greek Alpha is not a cipher of the Latin A,
    > because its principle conventional association is with a Greek letter.
    > A cipher occurs when either 1) a signifier is associated with
    > something other than its conventional signified, or 2) the signifier
    > is associated with a signified that is conventionally associated with
    > a different signifier. The Theban cipher is an example of the latter:
    > these are a collection of signifiers that are associated with
    > signified that are conventionally associated with other signifiers,
    > e.g. 'Latin uppercase letter A'.
    But when does an unconventional use become a new convention? If a
    particular community chooses to write English (for example) using e.g.
    Cyrillic or Hebrew characters, with a one to one mapping, are they using
    a cipher or are they transliterating? Does it depend on how regular the
    use is?

    This is a serious issue. Languages formerly written in Cyrillic are now
    being written in Latin script with a one to one mapping. Proposals are
    in preparation for extra Hebrew characters used by particular
    communities for western languages which are more commonly written in
    Latin script. But if these usages of the Latin and Hebrew alphabets are
    mere ciphers, should they be supported by Unicode?

    And then what about the use by Freemasons of the Samaritan script? This
    is a real living script, roadmapped by Unicode on the basis of its use
    by a very different community. The Masonic usage is usually considered a
    cipher. Should the Masonic texts be encoded with Samaritan characters,
    when they are defined, or with Latin ones?

    Also what should be done if the cipher has different bidi etc properties
    from the original writing system? This issue may make it impossible to
    render Tifinagh in Latin script just by changing font.

    Peter Kirk (personal) (work)

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