RE: Zhuang tones three and four

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Tue Apr 29 2008 - 18:16:01 CDT

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    > John H. Jenkins said:
    > > So are you looking to foster discussion on the subject? Or are you
    > > trying to get the UTC to make the addition?
    > I'm trying to foster discussion to get an idea of whether the
    > disunification is appropriate. I'm pretty sure it is, but someone on
    > the Unicode mailing list may have some good reason it isn't.

    Well, I'll take the counterpoint and speak against it, then.

    1. All of the old Zhuang orthography tone letters have
    been in the standard and identified as such since
    Unicode *1.0* in 1991. I see little reason to disturb
    such existing character identities 17 years later (or
    actually it will be more likely 19 years, by the time
    a proposal is tabled and goes through the ballotting

    2. The old Zhuang orthography was in use for a relatively
    short period of time (created 1955, official ~1957,
    replaced by a new, all regular Latin letter orthography
    in 1981). "Fixing" an encoding for a disused orthography
    like that, which is now primarily of archival interest
    only, is much less of a priority than if such an
    orthography were in current widespread use. Note that
    the 1981 revision was deliberately aimed at making
    the Zhuang orthography widely usable for computers --
    the old orthography had been aimed primarily at typewriters
    and printing in the pre-digital age, when identity of
    "characters" was different than it is now.

    3. The old Zhuang orthography deliberately borrowed some
    Cyrillic letters, including for the fanciful "shaped like
    digits but not" tone mark system -- in part because Russian
    was in vogue in the early PRC. I don't see a strong case
    now more than 50 years later to decide after the fact that
    these weren't in fact Cyrillic letters, because of some
    ideological insistence that orthographies have to have
    all their letters identified with a single script -- even
    when they are manifestly just borrowed adaptations from
    something other than the Latin script.

    4. If, contrary to the actual history of Unicode, the
    old Cyrillic character U+A645 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER REVERSED DZE
    has been encoded along with the rest of Cyrillic in the
    main Cyrillic block in 1991, I think to a moral certainty that
    the Zhuang tone 2 would have been identified with that Cyrillic
    character, much as tone 3 was with ze and tone 4 with che,
    rather than being encoded as the novel 01A8 LATIN SMALL LETTER
    TONE TWO. I think the original intent for these was to
    unify where possible for these forms -- which is the
    opposite of where Benjamin Scarborough is suggesting we
    should take the Zhuang tone letters now.

    5. In general, disunification of existing characters is
    bad news unless you can demonstrate that there is a real
    need for distinguishing entities, and where an existing
    unification is causing real problems for implementations.
    The case would be strongest if one could demonstrate
    significant property differences between the entities
    proposed to be disunified. I don't see that here, other
    than the implicit claim that the *Script* difference is

    6. Changing the Script of existing Latin or Cyrillic characters
    (or disunifying between the two, which is tantamount to
    the same thing) is inordinately disturbing in some other
    venues trying to adapt standards to the moving target
    which is Unicode. In particular this kind of change bothers
    the IETF, and has interfered in the past (and likely will
    again) with the development of important specifications
    such as IDNA. I consider the potential for mischief and FUD
    in such forums resulting from such kinds of changes, which
    involve issues both of property changes, text representation
    changes, and character lookalike issues, to clearly outweigh
    the potential benefits claimed for regularizing a
    disused, historic Latin orthography.


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