Re: Response to Everson Phoenician and why June 7?

From: Peter Kirk (
Date: Mon May 24 2004 - 05:08:25 CDT

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    On 22/05/2004 16:49, James Kass wrote:

    >Peter Kirk wrote,
    >>As I understand it, what at least a number of Semitic scholars want to
    >>do is not to transliterate, but to represent Phoenician texts with
    >>Phoenician letters with the Unicode Hebrew characters, and fonts with
    >>Phoenician glyphs at the Hebrew character code points. In other words,
    >>to treat the difference between Hebrew and Phoenician as a font change,
    >>like the difference between Fraktur and normal Latin script. Will they
    >>be allowed to do that after a Phoenician block is defined, or will they
    >They'd simply use what's been called a "transliteration font" for this
    >In order to effect the change, they'd probably have to "click" a
    >"button" or two. Indeed, if they wanted to transliterate *and*
    >"trans-code", they'd have to click a button or two, too.
    >In other words, the end-user's burden for either approach would
    >be about the same, a couple of clicks.
    >>From a programming point of view, it's about as easy to re-map
    >an existing font for masquerade/transliteration purposes as it is
    >to write a character set conversion routine.
    >Once again, for the end-user, the trouble involved should be about
    >the same. In one case they install a font (font program), in the
    >other case they install a character set conversion program.
    OK. And you agree that this is a proper thing to do, and that it should
    not be considered a "cavalierly" and "antiquarian" action, "a throwback
    to the past century"?

    > ...
    >(English is slippery. Whether the use of "cavalierly" above
    >should be interpreted as 'like a gentleman' or 'with arrogance'
    >would be a matter of opinion.)
    Ah, well, Unicode has some great cavaliers!

    >>If a few people encode a significant number of texts according to their
    >>preferences, this implies a corpus in mixed encodings, which is what I
    >>am trying to avoid.
    >As others have pointed out, the very situation you wish to avoid
    >already exists. Some work is transliterated into Latin, some into
    >Hebrew. It wouldn't surprise if Greek and Cyrillic transliteration
    >wasn't practiced, as well. Also, there are conflicting code pages
    >for Hebrew still in use, apparently.

    Of course. And the point of Unicode is to move away from this situation
    of multiple encodings for the same script, by providing a single defined
    encoding for each one and properly defined conversion paths from legacy
    encodings. With Unicode, there will be no need to continue to encode
    Phoenician or Hebrew with 8-bit masquerading fonts and visual ordering
    (and yes, Michael, such things are a big problem and I agree that we
    should try to eradicate them), and it will be possible to convert texts
    to proper Unicode encoding. But if there are two competing Unicode
    encodings for the same text, and no defined mappings between them (as
    both compatibility equivalence and interleaved collation seem to have
    been ruled out), the advantages of going to Unicode are lost.

    >Either way things end up, the end-user just has to click a
    >couple of buttons. Where's the problem?

    Well, it's a lot more complex than this for searches, that's where the
    basic problem will be. Plus people don't particularly like being
    labelled "cavalierly" and "antiquarian", when in fact it is the
    "cavalierly" (proposed) actions of Unicode which are ignoring what they
    want to continue to do.

    On 22/05/2004 16:20, Michael Everson wrote:

    > At 15:47 -0700 2004-05-22, Peter Kirk wrote:
    >> As I understand it, what at least a number of Semitic scholars want
    >> to do is not to transliterate, but to represent Phoenician texts with
    >> Phoenician letters with the Unicode Hebrew characters, and fonts with
    >> Phoenician glyphs at the Hebrew character code points. In other
    >> words, to treat the difference between Hebrew and Phoenician as a
    >> font change, like the difference between Fraktur and normal Latin
    >> script.
    > More hearsay! Who has offered any evidence of this? No one. ...

    Well, Dean Snyder has been saying for some time that he wants the
    difference between Hebrew and Phoenician to be a font change, and it is
    certainly what Dr Kaufman has in mind. If you don't accept evidence from
    top scholars in this field, whose evidence will you accept?

    And if you want evidence of use of corresponding glyph to code point
    mappings for Phoenician/palaeo-Hebrew and square Hebrew fonts, looks at
    the following: palaeo-Hebrew mapped as
    "Web Hebrew", which is basically ISO 8859-8 visual. set of various Semitic fonts
    including Phoenician with the same mappings.


    > ...
    >> Will they be allowed to do that after a Phoenician block is defined,
    >> or will they not? If the answer is that they will not, this justifies
    >> the objection that a new Phoenician block interferes with the work of
    >> the real experts in the field, in order to meet the not very clearly
    >> defined requirements of a few non-experts.
    > I consider this to be a theoretical construct on your part. Most
    > Semiticists use Square Hebrew because they read Hebrew. I don't
    > believe they are making Phoenican fonts to view the Phoenician data in
    > their databases. They are just writing the stuff with Hebrew letters.
    > I have yet to see a Phoenician font of the kind that you posit here.

    I listed a number of Phoenician/palaeo-Hebrew fonts above, and there are
    several others. They are not Unicode-based, but many of them are based
    on masquerading of encodings originally defined for Hebrew.

    There also seems to be a sub-culture of people who like to read the
    Hebrew Bible with palaeo-Hebrew glyphs, see e.g. (yes, these people are
    currently using an 8-bit visual order encoding). I'm not sure why they
    do this, but their needs deserve to be considered.

    > And Dean's suggestion that "most people use Hebrew and Phoenician
    > alike in ASCII clones" is not worth consideration as a reason to
    > "unify" Hebrew and Phoenician.

    Why not?

    >> If a few people encode a significant number of texts according to
    >> their preferences, this implies a corpus in mixed encodings, which is
    >> what I am trying to avoid.
    > FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME, Anyone working in the field is going to have
    > to deal with the corpus being available for searching in LATIN
    > transliteration ANYWAY.

    And FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME, this is what we all want to move away from
    and this is why Unicode was defined.

    On 22/05/2004 19:41, Mark E. Shoulson wrote:

    > Peter Kirk wrote:
    >> 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.
    > That's awfully elitist, isn't it? "Some *non*-scholars want it (if
    > they'll embrace it, it follows that they'd want it if offered), but we
    > can't be swayed by the desires of the hoi polloi." Non-scholars get
    > to use Unicode too, and have a right to influence what gets in it.
    > Just because the userbase isn't the people you thought it would be
    > doesn't mean they don't count.

    My intention here is not elitist but democratic, to consider the
    requirements of the majority of people who actually use the scripts in
    question. Hoi polloi (Greek: the majority) don't actually use Phoenician
    script. Semitic scholars do. A rather small number of other people do. I
    am suggesting that we look for the views of the majority of those who
    actually use the script. And of the views expressed on this list by
    actual users, or reported here with specific names and details, I see a
    majority for unifying Phoenician with Hebrew. In fact I think only two
    actual users have favoured non-unification, Deborah Anderson and George
    Khalaf, plus Michael if he is really a user himself. But several users,
    Semitic scholars, have favoured unification.

    > ...
    > I don't think the "majority vs. one or two malcontents" picture that
    > you're drawing here is even vaguely reminiscent of reality.

    I don't claim an overwhelming majority. But even if it is only four to
    three, that is still a majority.

    On 22/05/2004 21:02, Curtis Clark wrote:

    > It's hard for me to believe that the world community of Semitic
    > scholars is so small or monolithic that there aren't differences of
    > opinion among them. I have been almost automatically suspicious of the
    > posts by the Semiticists opposed to encoding Phoenician; after
    > thirty-four years in academia (longer if I count that my father was a
    > professor when I was a youth), I have yet to see a field in which
    > there were not differences of opinion. Admittedly, all Semiticists
    > might agree on the nature of Phoenician (just as all chemists accept
    > the periodic table), but the fervor exhibited here makes me wonder
    > what the issues *really* are. I am used to seeing such fervor among
    > academics only when there has been some unstated agenda at work. And
    > so I wonder, are we in this list reading only one side of an internal
    > squabble among Semiticists?
    If so, please give us some evidence for another side. But maybe it is
    something else. For example, if you read evolutionary biologists
    strongly defending Darwinian evolution against creationist theories,
    does that imply an internal squabble among evoutionary biologists and
    therefore that some support creationism? Or does it rather imply a
    closing of ranks against outsiders who are attacking their discipline, a
    defence against (what they perceive as) unscientific attacks from those
    who don't know what they are talking about?

    On 23/05/2004 09:14, saqqara wrote:

    >Elaine, it would be interesting to read Prof. Kaufman's opinion of why
    >Phoenician should not be regarded as a distinct script (family). Can he be
    >persuaded to publish his reasoning for UTC to consider?

    See also
    for an article on Aramaic by Kaufman.

    >However despite the discussion of current techniques and preferences among
    >scholars, the ONLY question here is whether 'Phoenician' counts as a
    >distinct script as far as Unicode principles are concerned. If the proposal
    >on the table is accurate and silence seems to imply it is

    Silence?? Is that what you call 1000 or so objections and
    counter-objections on this list? There is no point in objecting to the
    details of a proposal if the principle of it is not acceptable.

    >If it does and is then standardise it as such and we can move on to the far
    >more interesting and challenging question of how better to use computers to
    >work with multilingual texts and source materials in ancient scripts and
    >For Unicode, implementation of Phoenician as a font switch for Hebrew as an
    >alternative proposal fails at the first hurdle if, as is claimed by some
    >here, modern Hebrew readers do not regard Phoenician fonts as valid Hebrew
    >fonts (in the sense that an English/Latin reader would acknowledge older
    >cursive and type styles as valid and readable, if sometimes odd and
    >unfamiliar). At least thats how I read the arguments about unification. So
    >this is an important issue to address in a counter-proposal, although not
    >the only one.

    This is indeed a good argument, much better than the argument that two
    or three users support the proposal. The counter-argument is that in
    other cases (such as Suetterlin) lack of legibility is not considered a
    clear criterion for separate encoding of a script, when the illegible
    form is part of a script continuum.

    A lot more than two or three people wanted Klingon to be encoded, but it
    wasn't because actual use as a separate script could not be
    demonstrated. Surely the same is true of Phoenician.

    On 23/05/2004 10:54, Philippe Verdy wrote:

    > ...
    >My opinion here is that Phoenician would unify more easily with Greek or Coptic
    >than with Hebrew... What is unique in Phoenician is that it has a weak
    >directionality (can be written in either direction, although RTL is probably
    >more common and corresponds to the most important sources of usage in old sacred
    >texts from which semitic script familiess for Aramaic or Early Hebrew have
    >genetic relations).
    Do you have any evidence for this? Are there actual Phoenician
    inscriptions in LTR or boustrophedon? I understood that such things
    started when the Greeks borrowed the Canaanite alphabet and started
    playing around with it.

    Unfication with Coptic is of course ridiculous, because Coptic is
    derived from much later Greek, plus a few Demotic letters. Unification
    with Greek, or for that matter Coptic, is anyway impossible because
    these scripts are already defined as strong LTR, and Phoenician is
    certainly not that.

    Peter Kirk (personal) (work)

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