Arid Canaanite Wasteland (was: Re: New contribution)

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Thu Apr 29 2004 - 22:15:17 EDT

  • Next message: John Hudson: "Re: New contribution"

    Having duly read through this entire discussion about
    Michael Everson's Phoenician encoding proposal and having
    tried to understand all the points made in the arguments here,
    I was particularly struck by one point that Michael made:

    > This Phoenician proposal is not a new proposal. Phoenician proposals
    > have been on the table for more than a decade.

    I went back to the earliest encoding proposal, which Rick
    McGowan published in UTR #3, in **1992**. Guess what? It
    had exactly the same 22 Phoenician letters, with almost
    exactly the same names. Michael reordered the alphabet to
    a more acceptable order, made prettier glyphs, added the
    four attested Phoenician numerals, and a word separator.
    That's it.

    Nothing, to my mind, illustrates the utter aridity of the
    discussion that has been going on today than the fact that
    the essential core of the encoding proposal for Phoenician
    has lain dormant for 12 years with *NO* controversy about
    the identity of the characters. And not a *SINGLE* comment
    has been made, through the 17 yards of discussion on the
    list today, about any technical detail of Michael's
    encoding proposal -- not even about the one and only possibly
    controversial aspect I can see in it, the proposal to encode a

    Yesterday I posed the question:

    > A. Does Phoenician constitute a "landmark" in the Canaanite
    > script continuum? Yes/No

    to which I got the mincingly coy, but perhaps predictable
    answer, "Maybe".

    Upon reading all the followup discussion, it seems clearly that
    the answer really is "Yes, but we don't want to concede
    the point because it would cut through the long argument
    we are having."

    The only potentially actionable new thing today that I
    have heard is that *some* people (exact identity unclear)
    *might* be mollified if the *name* of the script proposed
    for encoding were designated "Old Canaanite", instead of
    "Phoenician" -- even though the intended coverage of
    particular historical attestations and styles would be
    identical in either case -- on the chance that it would
    appear more Semito-centric and less Greek-centric in its

    My reaction to that is that such a name change would be
    a sop to those who know enough to understand the issues
    of historical range and times and style differences
    anyway, namely the Semiticists to whom the terms "Proto-Canaanite",
    "Neo-Punic", "Ammonite", "Moabite", etc., actually signify.
    And it would fail to communicate to the rest of the potential
    users of the script, who may only know the term
    "Phoenician" and not the actual script historical complexities.
    Does that really buy anything for the encoding proposal
    that cannot simply be handled by annotation in the eventual
    introductory material describing the encoding?

    Everything else discussed today boils down to a long
    argument about whether *anything* at all should be encoded,
    or whether the entire proposal is superfluous.

    Now while I grant that the higher-order question as to
    *whether* a script should be encoded is logically prior
    to worrying about the details of the characters of that
    script to be encoded, once it is determined that it
    should be encoded at all, I'm detecting a great deal
    of speciousness in the argumentation that has been presented
    so far.

    I don't believe that anyone has any realistic technical
    objection to Michael's proposal in any detail, and
    since it is clear that failing any technical flaw the
    proposal will proceed to be approved by the character
    encoding committees, the alternative is to attack on the
    basis of a failure of consensus for the *need* for encoding
    the script. And in particular, to call into question the
    identity of Phoenician *as* a script.

    Well, we can then proceed to resolve those questions.

    But keep in mind the following observation: A consensus
    among *some* people that they do not have a need for
    an encoding does not constitute a consensus (for the
    encoding committees) that there is no need for an

    Back to the desert...


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