Re: Palaeo-Hebrew, Phoenician, and Unicode (Phoenician Unicode proposal)

From: Dean Snyder (
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 13:44:55 CDT

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    James Kass wrote at 4:37 PM on Wednesday, May 26, 2004:
    >Shemayah Phillips of
    >>It has some
    >>differences in representing Hebrew because square script has more
    >>characters (e.g., shin/sin) than Palaeo.

    Not a relevant argument - Spanish has more characters than English.

    >>But also, as someone who has
    >>used Palaeo in an educational setting, Palaeo shows a development of the
    >>English alphabet from a non-western source. Students are often led to
    >>believe in a "Western" civilization with too little notice of its
    >>underpinnings in the ANE.
    >>If I could be in a position to say it should be represented in its own
    >>right, I definitely would to recognize its importance historically. This
    >>is quite separate from using the font to suggest religious ideas as
    >>prototypical via an archaic font as I do on my website.

    "Emphasizing historical importance" is, as far as I can recall, a new
    argument for encoding. It may be valid; that's a matter of judgement. But
    it DOES bring up the issues I mentioned earlier about the uncertainty
    surrounding the actual, historical, pre-alphabet model borrowed and
    extended by the Greeks.

    >The discussion on the Unicode list concerning Phoenician has been
    >*very* lively. It's had the most "bandwidth" and contention of any
    >topic in the several years that I've been a subscriber.

    >The people opposed to the Phoenician encoding consider that
    >Phoenician/Palaeo-Hebrew script is identical *from the standpoint
    >of abstract character identity* to the modern Hebrew script range
    >already encoded. Therefore the opposition believes that ancient
    >Phoenician texts should properly be encoded using the existing
    >modern Hebrew script range, and that the display of Phoenician
    >should be handled as a "font change". The opposition believes that
    >there is no established *need* to be able to represent/display both
    >modern Hebrew and palaeo-Hebrew in the same plain text document.

    The last point is over-stated, and leaves out any counter-arguments.

    I think all acknowledge a demonstrated desire by some to distinguish the
    two in plain text, but I and others have suggested that that desire
    should be weighed against the added complexity for text processing that a
    new encoding will introduce.

    >Those supporting the Phoenician encoding consider that Phoenician
    >has a separate script identity from modern Hebrew and requires
    >a separate Unicode range.

    Leaving out the very important issue of ANCIENT Jewish Hebrew which IS
    encoded in Unicode Hebrew.

    >The supporters say that there *is* a
    >need to be able to represent Phoenician and Hebrew in the same
    >plain text document and that the practice of some scholars to
    >represent Phoenician or palaeo-Hebrew using Unicode's modern
    >Hebrew should be regarded as straight transliteration.
    >I realize fully that opinions on this subject do differ, and,
    >whether you support one side or the other, your honest
    >opinion as somebody who is working with the ancient script
    >(which either has its own identity -or- is a stylistic variant
    >of the modern Hebrew script) will be most helpful.

    Your repeated use of the phrase "modern Hebrew" is prejudicing your case
    and calls into question the verdict rendered.

    At a bare minimum, Unicode Hebrew encodes both modern Israeli Hebrew
    script and ancient Jewish Hebrew script. One of the main issues under
    discussion is whether it should also encode Palaeo-Hebrew script.


    Dean A. Snyder

    Assistant Research Scholar
    Manager, Digital Hammurabi Project
    Computer Science Department
    Whiting School of Engineering
    218C New Engineering Building
    3400 North Charles Street
    Johns Hopkins University
    Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21218

    office: 410 516-6850
    cell: 717 817-4897

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