Re: Writing Babylonian Numbers in Unicode

From: Ken Whistler <>
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2012 16:42:51 -0700

On 4/30/2012 3:33 PM, Richard Wordingham wrote:
>> One is not compelled to construct U+3039 (〹) ,twenty' from two U+3038
>> > (〸) ,ten', so a CUNEIFORM TWO U may well be missing.
> It looks as though it is.

No, it isn't.

> It was present in Proposal N2664
> SIGN NISH, but is missing from the next revision, Proposal N2698
> ( Between these two, the
> sign for '30' changed from CUNEIFORM NUMERIC SIGN USHU2 to CUNEIFORM
> SIGN U U U. It could be an accidental omission of *SIGN TWO U/SIGN MAN
> - the Unicode Cuneiform list does not appear to have been archived, so I
> can't work out why it should have been deliberately removed.

The document you are looking for is "Rationale for changes to N2664R",
by Steve Tinney. L2/04-080.

The basic decision of the ICE group which discussed and eventually tabled
the proposal which developed through N2664, N2664R, N2698, and N2786
was to treat complex signs (or "inscribed signs") as single characters, but
"sequential compounds would be encoded as a sequence of characters,
one per constituent element in the sequence." The reasons for that decision
were complicated and somewhat controversial, but the repertoire review by
Steve Tinney attempted to hew as consistently as possible to that principle.
I believe the removal of NISH and USHU2 from the table of Cuneiform numbers
2664R was intentional and consistent with that principle.

The addition of U U U in N2698 was likewise intentional, and was explained
explicitly in L2/04-080:

"... the pedagogical texts covering the sign list begin with a simple
a subset of about 80 signs, of which seven were not assigned code points
in N2664R. These seven simple syllabic signs are here assigned code
points without
canonical equivalency to the sequence of characters of which they are
The names of these signs are derived from their elements."

One of those 7 is CUNEIFORM SIGN U U U, which corresponds to the basic
syllable ESH.

So while there is certainly room to disagree with the decisions that
were made,
I am certain that this was not a matter of oversight by the proposal
authors and
reviewers. And a proposal to add NISH back in as an atomic character at
this stage, in an effort to make the representation of the numeric
system more
consistent, would only have the consequence of introducing ambiguity
into the
representation of existing data.

Received on Mon Apr 30 2012 - 18:46:37 CDT

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