Re: Response to Everson Phoenician and why June 7?

From: John Hudson (
Date: Wed Jun 02 2004 - 15:17:07 CDT

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    Ted Hopp wrote:

    >>Let me rephrase the point as a question:
    >> What in the encoding of 'Phoenician' characters in Unicode
    >> obliges anyone to use those characters for ancient Canaanite
    >> texts?

    > An analogous statement can be made of any script in Unicode. We can all
    > continue to use code pages or the myriad Hebrew fonts that put the glyphs at
    > Latin-0 code points. If the proposed Phoenician block can be so easily
    > ignored in encoding ancient Canaanite texts, then is the block really
    > needed?

    Ironic to find myself arguing the other side of this debate, having been broadly
    sympathetic to the semiticist objections to the proposal, but here goes...

    Note that I was not ever suggesting using myriad codepages, font hacks or other methods to
    encode ancient Canaanite texts. My point was that *within Unicode* one would have an
    option whether to encode these texts using the Hebrew characters or 'Phoenician'
    characters. The option, of course, may be a source of confusion, as choices often are. But
    my point is that no one is forced to choose one or the other.

    There are people who do not want to distinguish the encoding of ancient Canaanite from
    square Aramaic. But there are also people who do want to distinguish them. Both groups of
    people include respected scholars and experts in their fields.

    Somehow (how?) forcing the former group of people to use Phoenician characters for their
    texts would make them unhappy.

    Not separately encoding 'Phoenician' characters, so that there was no way to distinguish
    in plain text, would make the latter group of people unhappy.

    > What was insincere about my posting? Forgive me, but it seemed to me that
    > when you claim that Semiticists will be able to ignore the Phoenician block,
    > there is an implication that they will use something else. I never said that
    > they would have to ignore Unicode altogether, but they will have to develop
    > their own standards (agreements, if you prefer) for what that "something
    > else" will be.

    But the whole basis of the discussion to that point had been that some semiticists wanted
    to use the existing Hebrew block. The 'something else' is Hebrew, already encoded in
    Unicode and supported my much existing software. As far as I could tell, no one was
    suggesting developing some 'new standard'.

    > This frames the discussion in a way that ignores the coercive power of
    > Unicode in the marketplace.

    > One could, with only a little imagination, foresee that there will be
    > software packages that will only display Palaeo-Hebrew fonts for text
    > encoded in the 'Phoenician' block...

    This frames the discussion in a way that ignores basic concepts of font and software
    interaction. A software package has no way of knowing whether the glyph encoded at U+05D4
    is Aramaic square script, stam, rashi, modern cursive or palaeo-Hebrew. If your *text* is
    encoded using Hebrew characters, you can display it in any font that supports those
    characters, regardless of the glyph shape mapped to those characters in the font. If your
    text is encoded using Phoenician characters, the same applies: any font that supports
    those characters can be used.

    > Moreover, if anyone wanted to use Phoenician in some future http protocol,
    > Unicode conformance is required (at least so says the standard).

    What does that have to do with how semiticists decide to encode *texts*? If you want to
    encode Palaeo-Hebrew texts using Hebrew characters, you are going to have a Hebrew
    document. Phoenician is only relevant at all if you decide to use Phoenician characters
    and produce a Phoenician document. This is what I mean when I say there is no reason not
    to ignore the Phoenician characters if they do not suit your purpose.

    Now, all that said, I still remain concerned that the people who want to distinguish
    'Phoenician' from Aramaic square script and other Hebrew script styles in plain text have
    not thought through the larger implications of encoding 'significant' nodes from a script
    continuum. Encoding a single 'Ancient Near-Eastern 22-letter Alphabet', whether you're one
    of the people who wants to use it or now, doesn't strike me as a significant problem.
    Encoding half a dozen of these 'nodes' might be, because with each additional structurally
    identical script the number of choices and likely confusion increase.

    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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