[b-hebrew] A threat to the integrity of the Hebrew language?

Peter Kirk peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com
Sat Jul 19 06:01:48 EDT 2003

On 18/07/2003 10:47, Dave Washburn wrote:

>On Friday 18 July 2003 09:49, Peter Kirk wrote:
>>No, I am not making allegations of another anti-Semitic or anti-Israel
>>plot. There are no Hamans to be unmasked and hanged. The people involved
>>have the best of intentions, to provide proper computer support for
>>biblical Hebrew. But what they propose has the effect of requiring
>>biblical Hebrew to be encoded on computers in a different and
>>incompatible way from modern Hebrew. That is, they are proposing to
>>erect an artificial barrier between biblical and modern Hebrew. The
>>proposal will also disable existing Hebrew software from handling the
>>biblical text.
>The problem passages you mentioned strike me as not only trivial, but the kind 
>that should be encoded differently in the first place (with the possible 
>exception of yerushalaim and perhaps a couple of others).  Most of the 
>instances of varied metheg placement, for example, look a lot like scribal 
>errors to me.  Perhaps the proposers should keep in mind that BHS is based on 
>a single medieval manuscript and includes all of that manuscript's freckles 
>and warts.  If we airbrush those blemishes away, most of the basis for this 
>suggestion vanishes with them. ...
Good point. But there are those who, for good reasons or bad, may want 
to encode the text as it stands in real MSS rather than a cleaned up 
version. Unicode needs to take their needs into account. That doesn't 
mean that their proposed way of doing it is a good one.

>...  Since BH, MishH and ModH all use the same 
>script, it's counterproductive to encode them differently, not to say silly.
>When it comes to words like yerushalaim, I have typed this word dozens of 
>times in a regular TTF simply by a little creative use of the furtive patah.  
>Most fonts that I know of include variations on the vowel points in order to 
>align with narrow letters and such, and I would hope that Unicode fonts do 
>something similar. ...
The problem is that they don't. To use good quality legacy fonts all 
sorts of odd spacing letters have to be encoded into the text, which 
confuses encoding and layout and means that a particular text is good 
only in one font, and is not easily searchable. In Unicode such layout 
matters are separated from the text and become a matter for the font 
rendering software. It's not quite so easy to fool this software in the 
way you suggest. Well, my alternative proposal is in effect a way of 
telling the software how to lay things out, and as such the Unicode 
purists don't like it much. But at least it works, and gets them out of 
a hole they have dug themselves into by declaring their previous 
decisions, including known mistakes, as irreversibly set in stone. It is 
all very like the Ketiv-Qere problem, where the consonants could not be 
changed so the vowels had to be kludged in around them.

>...  So I suspect that the means to resolve these minor issues 
>already exists without creating a whole new set.
>Somehow it doesn't surprise me that Microsoft supports further proprietary 

Peter Kirk
peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com

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