Classification; Phoenician

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Mon May 24 2004 - 17:32:39 CDT

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    At 11:26 -0700 2004-05-24, John Hudson wrote:

    >Classification is an arbitrary process in which one produces useful
    >categories into which to arrange an otherwise unwieldy body of

    I dispute this. It is not arbitrary. Sometimes the cuts are difficult
    to make, because there is messiness in the data, but classification
    puts like with like and separates like from unlike. If it were
    arbitrary, we would not be able to distinguish abugidas from
    syllabaries, or trace the relationships between scripts and name the
    nodes on the tree.

    >The classification of scripts in the general history of the world's
    >writing systems is useful for writing general histories of writing
    >systems. It does not necessarily represent the truth.

    It is not just useful for "general" work. It has been, and will be,
    useful in my own work in analyzing and encoding scripts.

    >Unicode also classifies scripts and seeks to do so in a way that is
    >useful for text processing. This is well and good. What I have found
    >problematic in your defence of the Phoenician proposal, Michael, is
    >your assumption that the classification of script used in histories
    >of writing systems naturally corresponds to the classification of
    >scripts in Unicode, such that the fact that a number of books call
    >something a script means that it should have a separate code block
    >in Unicode.

    I don't make the determinations that I make randomly, John, nor do I
    study the history of writing system for the pleasure of it, or to get
    publish to get tenure at a university. I study them to learn about
    the different scripts in the world, so that we can encode them. We
    have used these classifications in the past to determine the origin
    of letters and to encode different scripts. It simply doesn't make
    sense to me that we should do different things for Semitic than we do
    for Indic.

    >When non-generalists state that this historical classification is
    >not useful for text processing purposes, and indeed that they
    >disagree, from a specialist perspective, with that generalist
    >history, they deserve better than 'Of course it is a separate
    >script, I have a lot of books that say it is'.

    I have said better than that, and I have given other arguments as
    well. And so have others. The Universal Character Set is a cultural
    artifact, for generalists and specialists alike. Therefore, it is
    proper to use the history of the world's writing systems -- as we
    have done for many years -- to determine the blocks which we wish to

    Lumping all the Semitic scripts into Hebrew font variants on foot of
    a few specialists' desire to have a pan-Semitic Hebrew-encoded
    archive is misguided.

    Michael Everson * * Everson Typography *  *

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