Re: ASCII and Unicode lifespan

From: Nick Nicholas (
Date: Sat May 21 2005 - 11:00:14 CDT

  • Next message: David Starner: "Re: ASCII and Unicode lifespan"

    from Dean Snyder:

    > The truth is, most cuneiformists do not see any need for Unicode
    > cuneiform; they are happy to continue in transliteration. But some
    > very
    > important cuneiformists DO see the need and when the rest see the
    > programmatic tools we are developing for cuneiform in Unicode the
    > prevailing laissez-faire attitude will change rather rapidly.

    Like I say on
    unicode_epichorica.html : "Don't Proliferate, Transliterate". (As
    Patrick just said, and Carl-Martin Bunz insisted in Unicode tech note
    3). Unicode may contain a whole heap of archaic scripts, but that
    will not change the fact that old texts will overwhelmingly continue
    to be published and discussed in transliteration --- both for
    practical or political reasons (
    unicode/unicode_epichorica.html#target has some ruminations on this,
    which I owe to recent discussion with John Cowan), and because of the
    real problem with normalising an insufficiently known glyph
    repertoire. Plus, of course, tradition matters a lot. Dean, you know
    your community better than I do; but I think you're being optimistic.
    (And I know that if I ever need to cite Sumerian in a paper, the
    transliteration's what I'll use.)

    As for Peter Kirk's argument for Phaistos encoding individual glyphs:

    > Of course this could be represented by an
    > in-line graphic, but then so could any character in any script.

    --- the difference is, that any script can combine its characters
    productively, so that inline graphics quickly become impractical and/
    or pointless. If all we had left of a script was abecedaries, there'd
    be no point in encoding a script: graphics would do all we would need
    to do. The Phaistos Disk (or board game: see .sig), as limited a
    corpus as it is and as utterly undeciphered, is not much further
    along than an abecedary for all we know, and hardly makes inline
    glyphs impractical. A script used exclusively in meta-discussion of
    the script, and not to transmit text in the script itself as a
    message, doesn't sound like my idea of plaintext, any more than would
    a discussion of horticulture with illustrations require us to encode
    rose cultivar illustrations as codepoints. In truth, Phaistos is in
    the same category in its text-hood for us as the Voynich manuscript,
    which at least has a non-miniscule corpus; and decipherers of Voynich
    are happy to work with transliterations. The Phaestians can live with
    "SIGN No. 1" and "SIGN No. 4", in a way that users of, say, Merotic

    (I am hoping it is obvious that Voynich is not a legitimate candidate
    for encoding, btw; but the older I get, the less I'm surprised when
    my predictions don't pan out...)

    Finally, Michael Everson [...] dismisses the character-glyph model thus:

    > Because, Patrick, the character-glyph model is not as rigid and
    > rule-bound as you would like it to be. Consider the many hundreds if
    > not thousands of Han characters which are clearly duplicates,
    > variants, or just plain unknown.

    But those Han duplicates etc. are not there because Unicode wished
    them there; they are legacy cruft, saddled both by preexisting
    encodings and by the cultural weight of CJK lexicography. Where
    Unicode is considering encodings ab initio, with no such cultural or
    legacy static, it should take its own rules seriously. The Phaistos
    Disk (or board game) is not the Han character repertoire. After all,
    just because we got saddled with oodles of precomposed codepoints
    through legacy doesn't mean we should dismiss the avoidance of new
    precomposed codepoints for being "rigid and rule-bound"; the case
    looks to me fully analogous. Moreover,

    > We don't know what they *mean* but
    > it is certainly unlikely that any one of them is a glyph variant of
    > any other one of them.

    Sez you. Unless Phaistos is deciphered, all you can say is that the
    glyphs are not the same; we simply do not know what the characters
    (or board squares) and their combinatorics are, and cannot
    responsibly encode them as anything but glyphs --- i.e. inline
    graphics --- until we do. Stranger things have happened with glyph
    variants, after all.

    It appears to be a real script (or a board game), and there are
    people who want to be able to work with the script as part of the
    decipherment process.  On the other hand, there *is* just the one
    document (or board game), so there's only so much one can do.
    (John Jenkins on the Phaistos Disk; Unicode mailing list)
    Dr Nick Nicholas.

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