Date: Thu Jul 22 2010 - 12:17:45 CDT
This is a query I had originally sent to the Linguist List, modified
based on feedback I got there. I am hoping that someone in the Unicode
community can help resolve this.
I'm interested in knowing if there is a standard way to encode the
various Pashto yeh-characters in Unicode, and if so, what it is. This
question is a bit more complicated than it sounds, so here's the
Pashto is written using a derivative of the Arabic script. The Arabic
language uses a single character for both /j/ and /i:/ sounds. Like
many Arabic characters, this one is composed of a base form (which
changes shape based on its position in a word) and dots (in this case,
two dots below the base form). In most of the Arabic-speaking world
the dots are present with both the medial and final form, though in
Egypt (and possibly other places) the convention is to have two dots
on the medial form but leave them off the final form. The standard
arrangement of the two dots is horizontal, but they can be placed
vertically or diagonally with no change in meaning.
Persian also uses a single character for /j/ and /i:/, with the
convention of two dots on the medial form, no dots on the final form
(same as in Egypt).
The two conventions for the /j/-/i:/ character were given distinct
code points in unicode despite the fact that they do not contrast;
documentation is scarce, but presumably this was done in order to
allow writing both Arabic and Persian in the same document. Therefore,
Unicode has the following code points (I'm not giving the names, but
rather the typical visual representation of the glyphs and typical use).
U+064A two dots medially and finally (/j/-/i:/ Arabic convention)
U+06CC two dots medially, none finally (/j/-/i:/ Persian convention)
There are a few additional yeh-base code points defined, some of which
are relevant to Pashto (see below).
U+0649 no dots medially or finally (Arabic /a/ from etymological /j/)
U+0626 hamza above medially and finally (Arabic glottal stop in
U+06D0 two dots medially and finally in vertical arrangement
U+06CD tail and no dots in final position
As it so happens, there is much confusion in how these characters are
used in actual electronic documents, which is not surprising given
that U+06CC looks like U+064A in medial position but like U+0649 in
final position. There is an excellent article by Jonathan Kew that
sorts out what this means for various languages that use derivatives
of the Arabic script.
Unfortunately, this article does not discuss Pashto. I have little
knowledge of the language, but here's what I managed to understand
from the inspection of a few documents and with the help of friendly
people on the Linguist List (and please correct me if I'm wrong).
Traditionally, Pashto used a single character with the same convention
as in Persian, of two dots in the medial form and none on the final
form, and with no significance attached to the visual arrangement of
the dots. The character was 3-ways ambiguous between the sounds /j/,
/i:/ and /e/. In recent decades (probably since the 1970s or 1980s)
there has been some differentiation, partly due to changes in the
typesetting process and partly due to a deliberate effort of the
Pashto Academy at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan.
One convention that has gained fairly wide acceptance is a distinction
between a horizontal arrangement of the dots, representing /j/ or /i:/
as in Arabic and Persian, and a vertical arrangement representing the
sound /e/. This distinction is the same as in Uighur, and the
character with vertical dots has been codified as U+06D0. Additional
conventions include a hamza (U+0626) or tail (U+06CD) to represent /j/
at the end of a word in certain grammatical markers. All of these are
quite standard by now and do not pose much of a problem.
However, a further convention appears to have arisen, which as far as
I can tell is unique to Pashto in that it distinguishes between /j/
and /i:/ (though only in word-final position):
/j/ is written with two dots medially, none finally
/i:/ is written with two dots both medially and finally
I have never seen this codified explicitly, but this is the impression
I get from examining a few recent Pashto documents. Which brings me to
my original question, of how to represent these characters in Unicode.
The linguist in me notices a correspondence between sounds and Unicode
code points (which, given the history I have just described, is most
/j/ corresponds to U+06CC
/i:/ corresponds to U+064A
The wikipedia article on the Pashto alphabet
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashto_alphabet gives a different
correspondence, based on visual appearance:
forms with dots: U+064A (/i:/ and /j/ medially, /i:/ finally)
forms without dots: U+0649 (only /j/ in word-final position)
And there is yet a third convention, which I encountered in an
electronic lexicon and also appears in the following document:
U+06CC: medial forms with dots (/i:/ and /j/) and dotless final form (/j/)
U+064A: final form with dots (/i:/)
To wrap up, are my observations about the Pashto writing conventions
correct? And is there a standard for assigning the Pashto characters
representing /j/ and /i:/ to Unicode code points?
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