Holam, was: Umlaut and Tréma

From: Peter Kirk (peterkirk@qaya.org)
Date: Sat Jul 24 2004 - 13:56:16 CDT

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    On 24/07/2004 17:47, busmanus wrote:

    > Peter Kirk wrote:
    >> I am not actually asking for variation selectors with combining marks
    >> because I realise that the UTC has already made a decision and is
    >> unlikely to reverse it. But I am asking for some flexibility on some
    >> of the principles, of the kind which has been demonstrated with
    >> umlaut and tréma, and also in the Indic scripts proposal under
    >> review, in order to find an acceptable solution to a real problem.
    >> That flexibility might include allowing either <VAV, variation
    >> selector, HOLAM> or <VAV, ZWJ, HOLAM> to represent Holam Male
    >> although technically the VAV glyph does not (usually) change (nor
    >> does the HOLAM glyph) and the HOLAM dot does not ligate with the it,
    >> just moves relative to it.
    > I had a look at Peter Kirk's proposal
    > http://www.qaya.org/academic/hebrew/Holam2.html
    > about the Holam Male vs. Vav Haluma problem, and I find it hard to
    > understand why such complicated treatment should be preferred to
    > simply mirroring the semantic structure of Hebrew writing. Let me
    > quote from
    > the proposal:

    Dear Bushmanush,

    Thank you for looking at the proposal, which has been discussed at
    length on the Unicode Hebrew list which you might like to join. (Join by
    e-mail to ecartis@unicode.org with subscribe hebrew in the subject line;
    raw archives at http://www.unicode.org/~ecartis/hebrew/, user name and
    password as for the main list archive.) That is the proper place to
    discuss this issue, so I will make just this one brief response here.

    I agree that the version of the proposal you are looking at is far too
    long and complicated. It has in fact been replaced by a new and much
    simpler proposal, http://qaya.org/academic/hebrew/Holam3.html, which
    comes to just one conclusion - not the one you prefer. You might also
    look at the draft background material,
    http://qaya.org/academic/hebrew/Holam-background.html, which is in fact
    an edited version of the version of the proposal which you have been
    looking at.

    > "The Hebrew point HOLAM combines in two different ways with the Hebrew
    > letter VAV. In the first combination, known as Holam Male, the VAV is
    > not pronounced as a consonant, and HOLAM and VAV together serve as the
    > vowel associated with the preceding consonant. In the second
    > combination, known as Vav Haluma, the HOLAM is the vowel of a
    > consonantal VAV."
    > This clearly implies that the underlying logical order of the characters
    > is different in the two cases, viz.
    > Holam Male means: Previous Consonant+Holam+Vav(+whatever follows)
    > Vav Haluma means: (whatever's preceding+)Vav+Holam
    > In other words, in the case of Holam Male, the Holam semantically
    > combines not with the Vav, but with the consonant preceding the Vav.
    > Now, is there any rule in Unicode that would require the sequences
    > Holam+Vav and
    > Vav+Holam
    > to be treated as canonical equivalents? If there isn't, then it would
    > actually be a disservice to Hebrew users if the Unicode Consortorium
    > standardized on an encoding (like <ZWJ, VAV, HOLAM>, mentioned in the
    > proposal) that contradicts the underlying semantics, and thereby making
    > the straightforward solution deprecated. If any explicit official
    > recommendation is necessary at all, it should definitely be in
    > favour of the Holam+Vav vs. Vav+Holam scheme, once it's technically
    > possible.

    Originally I agreed with you. This was also the position of Jony
    Rosenne, John Hudson and others who have been very involved in this
    issue. However, we have been forced to change our preferences for two
    rather compelling reasons:

    1) There is a large body of existing Hebrew data which uses <VAV, HOLAM>
    for Holam Male, and not for Vav Haluma. There would be a serious
    destabilisation of existing data, and a division of Hebrew texts into
    two incompatible representations, if this representation of Holam Male
    were changed or a second one agreed.

    2) When we looked into the matter in more detail, and especially when
    John Hudson tried to implement the solution you prefer (as in his SBL
    Hebrew font), it was found to be a lot more complex than you seem to
    realise. The essential problem is that a HOLAM dot does not always move
    on to a following VAV. It usually moves when the VAV is unpointed. But
    it does not usually move when the VAV is pointed. Some of the
    exceptional cases are to do with the name of God as you mention below.
    But there are potentially other special cases such as <consonant, HOLAM,
    VAV, Holam Male> in which the VAV is a consonant although unpointed and
    so the dot does not shift on to it. A font, however smart, cannot decide
    whether a VAV is a consonant or a vowel and so whether the dot should
    move, as the font cannot access lexical information about the language
    being represented. There were also going to be some serious difficulties
    with representing isolated Holam Male, which is often found in books etc
    on Hebrew grammar.

    I really wish the issues were as simple as you make them out to be,
    Bushmanush, but unfortunately they are not. They are presented more
    simply in the new proposal, but the conclusion and recommendation there
    is that Holam Male should continue to be represented as <VAV, HOLAM>,
    and Vav Haluma should be <VAV, ZWNJ, HOLAM>. This is not theoretically
    ideal, but it has been agreed by the Hebrew users involved in the
    discussion as the best available way ahead and balance between
    theoretical neatness and practical feasibility.

    > In one of his mailings, Peter Kirk also mentions the "false Holam Male",
    > occurring in God's name. I presume that an attempt to distinuish this
    > particular case from instances of "true Holam Male" may have been one of
    > his concerns when preparing the proposal. But if it indeed was the
    > case, then the special treatment should be proposed for the the special
    > case (the "false" one), rather than for instances of standard
    > usage, paralleling the behaviour of other vowel points in a similar
    > situation. And anyway, in the Tetragrammaton (God's name), the Vav
    > following the Holam has a vowel point of its own (a Qamats), which would
    > be impossible, had it been a "mother of reading", as after a "true Holam
    > Male". This is something visible for the computer, too, so if someone
    > wants to e.g. display such instances of the Holam differently from other
    > instances of Holam Male, he can simply use this circumstance for
    > identifying the relevant places programmatically.
    > Regards,
    > bushmanush

    Peter Kirk
    peter@qaya.org (personal)
    peterkirk@qaya.org (work)

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