Re: Fraktur Legibility (was Re: Response to Everson Phoenician)

From: Dean Snyder (
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 15:56:22 CDT

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    Mike Ayers wrote at 10:37 AM on Wednesday, May 26, 2004:

    >Dean Snyder:
    >> We also have to remember that the Siloam inscription test:
    >> * was in "handwriting" incised in stone
    > Does this mean that the form of the characters in the Siloam
    >inscription were different from those typically used in Phoenician and
    >Paleo-Hebrew texts?

    Other than taking into account palaeographic niceties, the answer is no.

    But I wasn't addressing that issue at all - I was referring to the fact
    that the glyphs presented in the Palaeo-Hebrew legibility tests exhibited
    the sorts of irregularities that handwriting does (because they were not,
    and, of course, could not be printed), which can contribute to more
    difficult legibility. I used glyphs that were all identically shaped.

    >> * was in a different orthography than modern Hebrew
    > I'm not sure quite what this means. I thought it was agreed that
    >the orthographies of Modern Hebrew and Paleo-Hebrew were different...?

    Actually, modern Hebrew includes several orthographic systems and these
    include those used by scribes writing in Palaeo-Hebrew script - it is an
    orthographic superset of Palaeo-Hebrew.

    Modern Hebrew readers are used to an orthography with lots of vowels
    (matres lectionis) and no word dividers. If I were doing the Palaeo-
    Hebrew test I would have used a modern Hebrew text rendered in a Palaeo-
    Hebrew font - less variables to account for in the outcome.

    >> * using dots to separate words
    > This.really.shouldn't.confuse.people.terribly.after.a.few.seconds.

    But if the script sample presented to you is in (1) unfamiliar glyphs of
    (2) irregular shape, and (2) spells out the words without the vowels,
    and, in addition, (4) has word dividers, I am just saying that the
    cumulative effect of the COMBINATION of all those sorts of variables can
    contribute to the illegibility.

    >> * and lacked vowel indicators (matres lectionis), very important
    >> contextual clues for reading modern Hebrew
    > Doesn't Paleo-Hebrew lack them as well?

    Palaeo-Hebrew is a "script"; matres lectionis were optionally components
    of its orthographic system.

    Matres lectionis is an orthographic convention whereby originally
    consonantal characters are also re-employed as vowel letters. As a
    SCRIPT, Palaeo-Hebrew, of course, has the characters. Over the centuries
    that Palaeo-hebrew was used the practice of writing matres lectionis
    increased - starting from zero matres lectionis in the beginning to
    extensive usage near the end.

    >P.S. I think this whole legibility test trip is irrelevant. I'm trying to
    >figure out what does and doesn't separate things.

    I concur.


    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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