Re: Phoenician, Fraktur etc

From: Peter Kirk (
Date: Thu May 27 2004 - 06:02:25 CDT

  • Next message: Peter Constable: "PH technical issues (was RE: Why Fraktur is irrelevant"

    On 26/05/2004 21:18, Dean Snyder wrote:

    >Peter Kirk wrote at 2:51 PM on Wednesday, May 26, 2004:
    >>On 26/05/2004 13:54, Michael Everson wrote:
    >>>We have heard your arguments. We have weighed them. Unification has
    >>>lost. I believe that it is a foregone conclusion that Phoenician will
    >>>be sent for ballot, though of course the UTC and WG2 could decide
    >>>As far as I'm concerned, that's about the end of the discussion.
    >>Bold words, Michael. I'm sure Custer encouraged his troops, and tried to
    >>frighten his enemies, with such assurances of victory before his last
    >>stand. But let's see who really wins this one. :-)
    >>Before you get wiped out, you have one last chance to negotiate. Dean
    >>and I are both looking for a compromise. Will you meet us half way, and
    >>accept a mediating position like interleaved collation?
    >>Or will you insist on fighting this out for death or glory? :-)
    >Let me make something clear to everyone. I have had no private
    >discussions with Peter Kirk or anyone else about the topics under
    >discussion in these threads. Actually, I do recall that Ken Whistler
    >emailed me privately, cc'ing Michael Everson, and we have discussed some
    >personal things. I can assure you there is no plotting happening there ;-)

    I can confirm this. I have had a few private discussions on this topic,
    but none with Dean.

    >I definitely do not subscribe to Peter's characterization of what is
    >going on here. I do not view this as a battle, and even if I did I most
    >definitely would not gloat over any actual or perceived victories.

    Dean, just to clarify, I was suggesting the battle analogy only with :-)
    , and because Michael's comments reminded me of a general's speech
    before a decisive battle. It is certainly not a helpful analogy if taken
    seriously. We should not be fighting our corners, but instead looking
    for a solution which is acceptable to all parties. But this requires
    some flexibility from everyone. I have yet to see any sign of any
    flexibility from Michael, rather comments like "We have won, you have
    lost" (OK, not a direct quote), plus ad hominem remarks like
    "*embarrassingly* ignorant" (that is a quote). These are not helpful to

    >I view this as an intellectual and engineering challenge that cries for a
    >good solution. I am not "looking for a compromise"; I am aiming for
    >realistic excellence, for a wise decision that is the best for all
    >concerned, and hoping that such a decision is made - whatever it is.
    >Right now, given what I know, I think unification is the lesser of two
    >"evils". But, as I said when I emailed Ken recently and suggested that
    >everybody should lighten up, "It's not the end of the world if Phoenician
    >is not encoded; it's not the end of the world if it is."

    Sorry if I misunderstood your position here. I am also looking for
    excellence, but I am also looking an excellent way which comes between
    the polar opposites which have been so controversial, and have
    encouraged the decisive battle rhetoric. I had hoped that you were also
    looking for such a middle way. I am sorry that you are not, and also
    sorry that I misrepresented you.

    The problem I find with this whole debate is that everyone apart from
    myself tries to characterise it as either black or white. Many people
    have argued for white without a trace of grey. You seem to argue for
    either black or white but nothing in between. May I make it clear to
    everyone that I have been arguing consistently for some suitable shade
    of grey, some suitable mediating position between black and white.

    >Though I agree with what Peter says sometimes, oftentimes I don't; I
    >suspect he feels the same about me. ...


    >... But I have no idea what prompted
    >these remarks of his here, and would like to disassociate myself from them.
    I return to the position of being the ONLY person in this debate who is
    clearly looking for a rational mediating position rather than a choice
    between black or white.

    On 27/05/2004 00:29, James Kass wrote:

    > ...
    >The smileys in Peter's post seem properly placed.

    Thank you, James.

    >The sentence,
    >>>>Dean and I are both looking for a compromise.
    >...may have had an infelicitous choice for one word: compromise.

    You may be right. I am indeed looking for a solution acceptable to all.
    It seems that no one else is. Most are looking only for solutions
    acceptable to themselves and reasons for ignoring other people's
    preferences. But of course any solution acceptable to all requires some
    flexibility from all.

    Ken Whistler wrote, in a message which I can so far find only in the
    archives /(Wed May 26 2004 - 16:11:10 CDT)/ because for some reason it
    has not been delivered to me:

    > ... (to Dean)
    > Your clarification amounts to an assertion that a "desire by some"
    > does not amount to a "need" to encode in plain text. It's like
    > Daddy responding to the kid who says, "I need a lollipop!",
    > "No, you don't *need* a lollipop, you just *want* a lollipop."
    > And then following up with, "Lollipops are expensive. Those of
    > us who don't need lollipops don't want to have to pay for your
    > lollipop, so you can't have one."
    > Character encoders recognize that there are often tradeoffs in the
    > difficulty
    > of implementing certain kinds of text processes, depending on
    > character encoding decisions taken. But I'm not seeing here
    > a serious assessment of the tradeoffs in this case or a countering
    > of the arguments presented by the pro-Phoenician camp that the
    > asserted difficulties are not actually all that difficult.
    > Instead, I see repeated assertions that those who *want* to
    > encode Phoenician as a script haven't demonstrated a *need* to
    > encode Phoenician.
    > If you cannot convince the "wanters" that they don't actually
    > "need" what they "want", then they will simply continue to
    > assert that they do "need" what they "want" and will continue
    > to throw tantrums when Daddy tells them they can't have a lollipop.

    I love this analogy! Although *I* would not have dared to compare the
    proposer with a child throwing a tantrum. Wise parents realise that they
    should not give their children everything that they want, but don't
    need. They recognise that such things may be bad for the child (too many
    lollipops rot the teeth), bad for the parents (when lollipops become
    computers or cars), or dangerous for others (when lollipops become
    guns). So, rather than spoiling the child by giving it everything it
    asks for, they set down rules and limits, and endure occasional tantrums
    until the child realises that they don't work.

    In this case, the proposer has failed to demonstrate a *need* and has
    simply repeated "We *want*! We *want*!" The UTC needs to act like a firm
    parent and accept only proposals for which there is a demonstrated
    *need* or at the very least a demonstrated want from an extensive
    community of users. Otherwise, if the UTC accepts proposals simply
    because the proposer asks loudly enough or throws tantrums, Unicode will
    descend into chaos. Well, the UTC has shown firmness before e.g. in
    rejecting Klingon. It should show firmness again here, in sending the
    Phoenician proposal back for further evidence that there is a real user
    community requiring it; or else by insisting on a solution which is
    acceptable to all, including professional scholars of Semitic languages.

    > /...//// /
    > /> Leaving out the very important issue of ANCIENT Jewish Hebrew which
    > IS /
    > /> encoded in Unicode Hebrew. /
    > Is *NOT*.
    > Ancient Jewish Hebrew texts can be *represented* in plain text
    > using the Unicode encoded characters for Modern Hebrew square script.

    Well, this is also not quite true. I'm not sure about the history of the
    original encoding of the Hebrew characters, whether these were
    explicitly defined as for modern Hebrew only or as for all Hebrew, at
    least in square characters. But it is indisputable that some of the
    currently encoded Hebrew characters, especially the accents, were
    encoded only for ancient and mediaeval Hebrew texts, because they are
    not used in modern Hebrew.

    > ...
    > If it is separately encoded, then clearly Palaeo-Hebrew texts
    > *can* be represented using the characters encoded for the
    > Phoenician script. But it will also remain true that:
    > Palaeo-Hebrew texts can be *represented* in plain text
    > using the Unicode encoded characters for Modern Hebrew square script.
    > The argument then devolves to a determination whether this
    > resulting situation will cause lasting damage to Semitic
    > studies and Semitic scholars.
    > One side claims yes.
    > One side claims no.

    Semitic scholars claim yes. Those who claim no are not Semitic scholars.
    Surely Semitic scholars should be the best judges of what will cause
    lasting damage to their own discipline.

    Peter Constable wrote (also from the archives):

    > ... Legibility has been one technical issue: for (at least some)
    > non-Semitic
    > paleographers, text that displayed as square Hebrew characters would
    > fail to convey the intended semantics.
    > Text-corpus queries are another concern for the same users: they do
    > *not* want PH characters folded with Hebrew characters. I realize that
    > the Semiticists would like the two folded, but it is not difficult to
    > neutralize a distinction in data, whereas it is *very* difficult to
    > infer distinctions that do not exist in the data.

    OK, another technical point to be argued. Thank you.

    My argument here would be to wonder whether these people are looking for
    text by *glyph style* or by *language*. Do they really want to match
    Hebrew texts which were transcribed from palaeo-Hebrew MSS but not those
    transcribed from square Hebrew MSS? If so, they are anyway likely to be
    disappointed because Hebraists will probably continue their existing
    practice of transcribing such texts with the existing Unicode Hebrew
    characters, so that they are readily viewable with square Hebrew glyphs.
    Or do they really want to match Phoenician *language* rather than
    Phoenician *script*? In that case the proper mechanism is language
    markup of texts. Unicode does not distinguish English plain text from
    French plain text and does not define different *scripts* for different
    *languages*; no more should it distinguish Phoenician language plain
    text from Hebrew language plain text.

    > These are at least two technical issues for non-Semiticist paleographers
    > that are a significant problem with a unified encoding. In contrast, any
    > problems faced by Semiticist paleographers can be handled without
    > difficulty if two distinct scripts are encoded.

    I take the point that there are some who have good reason for plain text
    encoding of Phoenician on the level of glyph variants. And so I have
    been arguing for a mediating position, in which a plain text distinction
    can be made by those who wish to make it, but can also be neutralised
    automatically for those who don't need it by procedures defined by
    Unicode, e.g. compatibility form normalisation or default collation.

    Curtis Clark reminded us:

    > on 2004-05-25 12:06 Dean Snyder wrote:
    > /> 3) Palaeo-Hebrew scribal redactions to Jewish Hebrew manuscripts /
    > To me, this is a convincing reason to encode palaeo-Hebrew separately:
    > it would allow such manuscripts to be encoded in plain text.

    Well, are scribal annotations plain text? I'm sure there are Fraktur and
    Suetterlin scribal annotations to Antiqua Latin texts, and vice versa,
    but I'm sure no one wants to encode that distinction as plain text. For
    that matter, many printed texts have footnotes in italic etc, but no one
    wants to encode that distinction as plain text. Why do the glyph choices
    of scribes adding annotations to Hebrew texts have to be encoded in
    plain text? These glyph choices have no semantic significance, as far as
    I know.

    Peter Kirk (personal) (work)

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