Re: Phoenician & Kharoṣṭhī proposals

From: John Hudson (
Date: Sat May 29 2004 - 22:46:01 CDT

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    Christopher Fynn wrote:

    > I find it interesting to compare the furore over the Phoenician
    > proposal with the total calm over the Kharoṣṭhī proposal [N2732] - an
    > archaic script in which some Sanskrit and Sanskritized Gāndhārī texts
    > occur.

    > Couldn't the same arguments the Semiticists who would unify Phoenician
    > with Hebrew are making be just as easily made by Sanskritists to say that
    > Kharoṣṭhī should be unified with Devanagri? After all ancient Sanskrit
    > texts in whatever script are traditionally written and published in
    > Devanagri or Latin transliteration by scholars that deal with them,
    > just as it is claimed that Phoenician texts are written and published in
    > modern Hebrew characters or transliteration by scholars.

    I don't think this is a helpful comparison, Chris. The point has been made several times
    is that the Phoenician/Palaeo-Hebrew/Hebrew issue not about transliteration but about how
    semiticists -- for a long time -- have viewed the ancient semitic writing system, i.e. as
    a script continuum, not as separate scripts. It is clear from the discussions that some
    semticists consider this to be more fundamentally important than others, and think this
    view should be reflected in the encoding, while others may share the view but not agree
    that it necessarily be reflected in the encoding, and still others might share the view
    but have a desire or need to distinguish parts of the continuum in plain text. Comparisons
    to other writing systems -- whether they be fraktur or Kharoṣṭhī -- are not helpful
    because they do not necessarily share a comparable 'view' of the identity of the writing
    systems. I have been thinking today that part of the reason for the debate is that Unicode
    has a singular concept of 'script', a bucket into which variously shaped concepts of
    writing systems must be put or rejected. I don't think there is anything conceptually
    wrong with the idea that specific instances of a single script might be separately encoded
    if there is a need or desire to distinguish them in plain text. It just happens that
    Unicode has only one word that can be applied to such instances, and that is 'script'. It
    seems clear to me now that what Unicode calls a script needn't necessarily be what
    semiticists, or anyone else, calls a script. A functional Unicode definition of script
    might be formed as: a finite collection of characters that can be distinguished in plain
    text from other collections of characters.

    There are very real issues of software implementation, font development, collation, text
    indexing and searching, etc. that arise from encoding multiple instances of what some
    users consider a single script, whether users in general opt to make the distinction in
    plain text or not, by using the separate character collections or unifying text in a
    single character collection and making the distinction at a higher level. I'm beginning to
    think that our time would be better spent thinking about those issues.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC
    Currently reading:
    Typespaces, by Peter Burnhill
    White Mughals, by William Dalrymple
    Hebrew manuscripts of the Middle Ages, by Colette Sirat

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