From: Kenneth Whistler (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Apr 30 2004 - 19:32:34 EDT
John Hudson said:
> but all I'm personally questioning is the one
> sentence in which he says the new Phoenician characters should be used used for
Actually, as long as we are all pretending expertise in philology ;-), we
should refer to the *original* text:
"The twenty-two letters in the Phoenician block may be used, with appropriate
changes, to express Punic, Neo-Punic, Phoenician proper, Late Phoenician cursive,
Phoenician papyrus, Siloam Hebrew, Hebrew seals, Ammonite, Moabite, and
There is a world of difference, in terms of prescriptive implications,
between a "should" and a "may" in that context.
> I'm not sure that this is the best recommendation to make to the people who
> actually work with Palaeo-Hebrew.
Palaeo-Hebrew (or what others apparently prefer to refer to as "Ancient
Hebrew language text written in the Phoenician script") is appearing
to me to be an edge case of an edge case.
And as all matters Middle East, I'm suspecting that we have stumbled
into a *religious* matter here than nobody is ever going to resolve
on technical grounds.
One side is viewing this back from the Hebrew perspective and saying
the material in question is Hebrew, we've always used Hebrew letters
for it, this is just an old form of the Hebrew script, and at that
point in time there was no significant distinction between Hebrew,
Phoenician, and Aramaic (writing). And besides, if we wanted to call
this old form of writing anything, it should be called "Canaanite",
but we're not sure we need any encoding for it anyway, because,
as we keep telling you, we've always used Hebrew letters for it.
The other side is viewing this from the Phoenician perspective and
saying the material in question is Ancient Hebrew language text
written in the Phoenician script, which is utterly evident from
the historic record, because the Ancient Hebrews (and Moabites,
and, and, ...) borrowed the Phoenician script and used it to write
their language, later further adapting and changing it for each
But we are talking edge case here, because through all the double-talk
going on, there still seems an obvious consensus that there *is*
a Phoenician script (well illustrated in the examples in the
proposal), used for an extensive period, adapted for various
languages, and precursor to many other writing systems. But the
hoo-haw seems to focus on the identity of "Palaeo-Hebrew" and
how *it* should be encoded, even though it is but one of many
varieties covered by the proposed encoding.
Michael keeps pointing out (and others, including the Johns, have
recognized) that encoding a set of Phoenician letters does not
*require* any Semitic scholar to represent Palaeo-Hebrew text
using those letters.
It does *permit* them (or anyone else) to do so -- an option that
they do not have today because, of course, no Phoenician letters
are encoded in the Unicode Standard. Today, one has no option
*except* to use Hebrew letters and choose an appropriate
(non-square-Hebrew) font to display them.
Whether anyone *should* do so is, I would think, be a determination
to be made outside the context of the Unicode Standard, if
a "Phoenician" (or "Canaanite" or "Old Western Semitic") script
is encoded in the standard. Semiticists could, if they so wish,
establish a de facto rule that they will drum anyone clear out
of the discipline if they encounter any professional Semiticist
daring to use Phoenician letters to represent Palaeo-Hebrew
text. Frankly, I doubt it will come to that. Frankly, I doubt
it will ever be much of an issue at all, any more than it is
much of an issue whether, as has been mentioned before, someone
chooses to represent the text of Wulfila's Bible using the Gothic
script (encoded in Unicode) or the Latin script (encoded in
Unicode) displayed with a Gothic font.
If there is some serious confusion here, it is less in the
details of the Phoenician encoding proposal, its historic analysis
of the scripts, or its potential usage in encoding of particular
texts, than it is in people's assumptions about what any
encoding of any script in the Unicode Standard *requires* of them.
The grand project that is the Unicode Standard should, I believe,
be viewed as an IT enabler. It makes it *possible* to represent
textual data on modern computers using original "scripts". And
it makes it possible to do so with characters identified as
belonging to those scripts, instead of with masquerading font
hacks, so that other processes have a chance to properly interpret
the text in an interoperable way.
The Unicode Standard is, however, often *misapprehended*, by
expert scholastics and by communities of script users alike,
as attempting to impose analysis of scripts upon them, as
forcing orthographic choices, as precluding their preferred
encoding, and/or as dictating spelling.
Ironically, some of the same communities which object to the
Unicode Standard forcing a particular analysis down their
throats often turn around and appeal to the Unicode Standard
to specify in more detail exactly *how* their written material
"should" be represented in the standard.
I believe most such considerations ought to be outside the context
of the character standardization per se.
In the particular case under consideration, Phoenician (or Canaanite
or Old Western Semitic), the *encoding* issues are trivial. We
have 22 letters of an abjad, their representative shapes are
not causing anyone any heartburn, there are no complications
in terms of text layout or interaction of letters (*holds up hand*
Yes, yes, I know the nitpickers can immediately set to work on that
statement, but please refrain for a moment), and it is utterly
obvious how to "spell" Phoenician text in the Phoenician script,
so we don't have to write any complicated script rendering rules
Given that, it seems to me that the case for a Phoenician
script encoding seems pretty good. And if someone needs to
write appropriate annotative material regarding the edge case
of Palaeo-Hebrew, so that well-meaning scholars will find it
easier to understand that the intent is that alternative
representations are *allowed*, *may* be encountered, and
indeed *may* be appropriate under different circumstances,
then somebody can get onto the task of writing whatever it
takes to make that clear to everyone using the standard.
Or shall we just continue debating this issue forever, trying
to decide which half of the baby to give to which party
in the dispute?
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