Re: Response to Everson Phoenician and why June 7?

From: Peter Kirk (
Date: Sat May 22 2004 - 08:46:11 CDT

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    After a day away from e-mail because I was travelling home from
    Azerbaijan, I found about 100 postings on this subject. I want to reply
    to several of them, but I will put most of my replies together into this
    one posting.

    On 20/05/2004 16:51, Kenneth Whistler wrote:

    > ...
    >John Hudson asked, again:
    >>My question, again, is whether there is a need for the plain
    >>text distinction in the first place?
    >And I claim that there is no final answer for this question. We
    >simply have irresolvable differences of opinion, with some
    >asserting that it is self-evident that there is such a need,
    >and others asserting that it is ridiculous to even consider
    >encoding Phoenician as a distinct script, and that there is
    >no such need.
    >My own take on this seemingly irreconcilable clash of opinion is
    >that if *some* people assert a need (and if they seem to be
    >reasonable people instead of crackpots with no demonstrable
    >knowledge of the standard and of plain text) then there *is*
    >a need. And that people who assert that there is *no* need
    >are really asserting that *they* have no need and are making
    >the reasonable (but fallacious) assumption that since they
    >are rational and knowledgable, the fact that *they* have no
    >need demonstrates that there *is* no need.

    Thank you, Ken, for the clear exposition. But I dispute that the need
    has been demonstrated. So far, as far as I can remember, two people (one
    Semitic scholar and one Indo-Europeanist) have stated that they have a
    requirement for a separately encoded text, and a much larger number,
    including some of the top scholars of Semitic languages, have stated
    that they do not have a need. Now I agree with what you wrote elsewhere,
    Ken, that the absolute minimum for standardisation is two users, and we
    do have this absolute minimum. And I agree that if some people do have a
    real need, and an understanding of the *script* as well as of the
    Unicode standard, then in principle the lack of need of others should
    not stand in the way. But...

    >If such is the case, then there *is* a need -- the question
    >then just devolves to whether the need is significant enough
    >for the UTC and WG2 to bother with it, and whether even if
    >the need is met by encoding of characters, anyone will actually
    >implement any relevant behavior in software or design fonts
    >for it.

    ... I cannot agree that a need expressed by just two people, working in
    very different fields (and so unlikely to use this script to communicate
    with one another!), is significant enough for the UTC and WG2 to bother

    And this is before coming back to Dean's repeated argument that encoding
    a new script, even if not many people want it or use it, messes things
    up for people who don't need and don't use the new script.

    >In my opinion, Phoenician as a script has passed a
    >reasonable need test, and has also passed a significant-enough-
    >to-bother test.

    Well, I disagree. The need is not unreasonable, but no one has
    demonstrated that it is significant enough. It is the sort of thing
    which should be in the PUA (if the PUA supported RTL scripts, but I
    won't go back to that issue!) because it is the private need of a couple
    of individuals which clashes with the need of the majority of scholars
    in the field.

    On 20/05/2004 20:16, James Kass wrote:

    >A kind list member has advised privately that CAL does now use
    >Unicode for Syriac text.
    >It's nice to see a transition to Unicode and it's comforting to
    >see that Unicode Syriac is used rather than Unicode Hebrew
    >to store and display Syriac text.
    Well, we are now being assured that people who want to encode
    Phoenician, palaeo-Hebrew etc as Unicode Hebrew will be quite free to do
    so indefinitely even if Phoenician is encoded. Does that imply an
    assurance from James and everyone else in this field that Semitic
    scholars will never have to endured barbed comments like:

    "... it's comforting to see that Unicode Phoenician is used rather than Unicode Hebrew to store and display Phoenician text."

    Or are we to expect that as soon as Phoenician is encoded separately,
    the majority of Semitic scholars who have always opposed this will come
    under all kinds of pressure to use the encoded script which was added
    just to meet the requirements of a couple of people, one of whom is not
    even a Semitic scholar?

    On 20/05/2004 19:19, James Kass wrote:

    > ...
    >But, the original question didn't concern Prof. Kaufman's credentials,
    >rather it was asked if Prof. Kaufman spoke for himself or if he claimed
    >to speak for all professionals in the field. (Not that Prof. Kaufman
    >appeared to make such a claim, rather this claim might be inferred from
    >something written by Peter Kirk.)

    I made no such claim, nor has anyone. My claim is that Kaufman is a top
    scholar of Aramaic, but not that he formally represents other scholars.
    He is not a top expert in Unicode, and so considering the confusion of
    the top experts in this area it is not surprising that the encodings on
    his website are currently confused. I am sure he would appreciate help
    in tidying it up. Instead, what he is getting is ridicule, and
    potentially a new script which will make his task much harder,
    especially if he comes under pressure to use the separate Phoenician
    script which he considers so ridiculous.

    On 20/05/2004 19:45, John Hudson wrote:

    > ... There is no reason at all why Semiticists cannot simply totally
    > ignore the proposed Phoenician block. The important question then, it
    > seems to me, is not whether to encode Phoenician or not, but how to
    > better communicate that the encoding of a particular set of characters
    > does not mean that they have to be used to encode particular texts or
    > languages.
    Would that the first sentence were true! As for the second sentence, if
    the UTC and others really agree that with this position, first this
    needs to be communicated to James Kass. Perhaps what is needed is a
    sentence somewhere in the Unicode standard making it clear that every
    encoded script in the standard is only a suggestion for how that script
    should be represented, rather than any kind of requirement. But then, is
    that in fact true?

    On 20/05/2004 21:06, James Kass wrote:

    >Dean Snyder wrote,
    >>Your seven-repeated "reasonable" analysis of this engineering issue does
    >>not even mention once, much less address, the PROBLEMS that will be
    >>caused by encoding this diascript.
    >There seems to be a fear among those opposed to the Phoenician proposal
    >that many people will welcome a separate encoding for the script and
    >begin to use it. These people will create new data from old material and
    >convert existing data to the Phoenician encoding.
    >Doesn't the idea that so many people will embrace a new Phoenician range
    >imply that it's the right thing to do?

    The fear is rather that a few people, who are not true Semitic scholars,
    will embrace the new range, and by doing so will make things much harder
    for the majority who don't need and don't want the new encoding. One of
    the original purposes of Unicode was to move away from the old situation
    in which many different incompatible encodings were used for the same
    language and script. We don't want to get back into that situation.

    On 21/05/2004 01:11, Trond Trosterud wrote:

    > 21. mai. 2004 kello 07.30, James Kass kirjoitti:
    > As a member of the Latin script user community, I'd not be threatened by
    >> a separate encoding for Fraktur. I have Fraktur books in my library.
    >> Whether I've got their titles stored in my database using Latin
    >> characters
    >> or abusing math variables is best left to speculation.
    > Well, actually, it is left to the search engine that searches through
    > your impressive library, looking for books. This means that we need
    > either good search engines, consistent librarians, or a very
    > conservative policy for encoding (the last opportunity was missed
    > already, as we all know).
    In this case, if we miss the opportunity of unifying the Semitic
    scripts, we will forever need such really good search engines to unify
    the encodings so that Hebrew and Phoenician/Palaeo-Hebrew are found by
    the same search.

    On 21/05/2004 06:22, saqqara wrote:

    > ...
    > Apparently, the majority view here and elsewhere seems to be that
    > Phoenician is a distinctive script family. If so, then the only issues
    > are those factual elements of Michaels proposal and there is no need
    > to continue the discussion here of whether it is needed at all.

    Actually, this is not the majority view, at least here. It is the
    repeatedly expressed view of one script expert, and a few others have
    supported him (although many of these know little about the script), but
    the number of those who have disagreed seems to be larger, and that
    includes most of the experts on Semitic scripts who have expressed an

    On 21/05/2004 08:14, Peter Constable wrote:

    > ...
    >I think Doug is right. The point is, the situations are *not* analogous:
    >in the Fraktur case, there is nobody that wants a distinction; in the
    >Phoenician case, there appear to be people who do.

    Yes, but very few of them. I'm sure we could find more than two or three
    supporters of separate Fraktur encoding if we looked, and without even
    going to the mathematicians.

    >Doug's point is, if there are *lot* of people that will use a separate
    >Phoenician block, then that will validate that it was a useful thing to
    >do; but if there are *not*, then the unification-camp has little cause
    >for concern about existence of distinctly-encoded data.
    And my answer to Doug's point is that it only takes a *few* people using
    a separate Phoenician block, not enough to validate its usefulness, to
    cause severe compatibility problems for the "unification-camp". Plus, as
    before, the existence of the block implies that there will be pressure
    to use it.

    On 21/05/2004 17:11, Asmus Freytag wrote:

    > ...
    >> I've never said there was a demand for it; I've only said that lot's of
    >> people would USE it if it were encoded. That is my opinion. Do you
    >> disagree that lots of people would use a Fraktur encoding?
    > For ordinary text, few people will need the separately encoded Fraktur.
    > Its much easier to enter it as Latin and apply a font shift.
    And for ordinary text, few people will need the separately encoded
    Phoenician (especially because it will be in a higher plane and so not
    so well supported). It's much easier to enter it as Hebrew and apply a
    font shift. Therefore, the proposed Phoenician encoding is not useful,
    or useful only for "few people".

    >> ... And if separate Fraktur
    >> and Roman German encodings WERE used you would face the same kinds of
    >> problems we would face with separately encoded Phoenician and Jewish
    >> Hebrew.

    Precisely. So, if separate Fraktur makes no sense, nor does separate

    Peter Kirk (personal) (work)

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