Re: Transliterating ancient scripts

From: Dean Snyder (
Date: Mon May 23 2005 - 11:55:26 CDT

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    Nick Nicholas wrote at 1:52 PM on Sunday, May 22, 2005:

    >from Dean Snyder:
    >> Anyone who does original research in cuneiform knows the pedagogical
    >> value of glyph reinforcement,
    >arguably not plaintext

    Cuneiform glyphs are no less plain text than text rendered in Latin glyphs.

    See, for example, a screen shot of a plain text email containing encoded


    >> the analytical value of glyph interaction,
    >not plaintext

    Just one example - playful uses of glyphs, "glyphspiel" to coin a word,
    are meaningless in transliteration. The laughing emoticon, :-D, does
    not evoke the same imagery in Greek or Arabic transliteration.

    Transliteration is lossy.

    >> the value of programmatic script detection for text processing,
    >assuredly not plaintext

    Locating cuneiform text in mixed script environments is a trivial plain
    text process if cuneiform is encoded; it's a practically impossible
    process if not.

    Transliteration is lossy.

    >> and the
    >> importance of both glyph-based restorations and glyph-based error
    >> detection.
    >not plaintext -- if you're discussing restorations and errors, you're
    >staying close to the facsimile anyway.

    If a damaged cuneiform KUR sign (see attached} is transliterated in the
    customary way, K[U]R, what do you know from the transliteration about
    the original text?

    Hebrew dalet and resh are sometimes confused, but you would never know
    why if you were looking at them in transliterated Latin - d and r.

    Transliteration is lossy.

    >The acid test is, do publications of cuneiform routinely contain
    >slabs of normalised printed cuneiform as text, without
    >transliterations as a crutch?

    First of all, since when is "routinely" a criterion for deciding whether
    or not to encode.

    Second, there are many cuneiform textbooks that do contain printed, un-
    transliterated cuneiform signs.

    Third, there are massive numbers of cuneiform texts published in non-
    interpreted hand copies that will be of enormously greater benefit to
    scholars when they were published as encoded cuneiform - they can then
    be searched.

    Fourth, there are over 500,000 known cuneiform texts in museums around
    the world that have never been read by a modern human being - automated
    character recognition into encoded cuneiform, i.e., NOT contextual
    character interpretation (which is how the word "transliteration" is
    used in cuneiform studies) will increase scholarly access by several
    orders of magnitude.

    >... there is a distinct
    >lack of enthusiasm by a lot of scholars to normalising ancient script
    >glyph repertoires

    The operative word is "is". This will not be true in the future.


    Dean A. Snyder

    Assistant Research Scholar
    Manager, Digital Hammurabi Project
    Computer Science Department
    Whiting School of Engineering
    218C New Engineering Building
    3400 North Charles Street
    Johns Hopkins University
    Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21218

    office: 410 516-6850
    cell: 717 817-4897


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