[b-hebrew] Hebrew transliteration

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Mon Jan 19 15:18:54 EST 2004


Peter wrote:

> I was just looking at version 57 of a mapping file intended for 
> converting text in just one legacy format into Unicode. This 
> is 45 KB of 
> code. I made the first draft of this more than three years ago, and 
> several others have been working on it since. It should be released 
> shortly, after going through more revisions, as part of a new 
> version of 
> the Ezra SIL package. This file is full of all kinds of mapping 
> complexities because the legacy encoding had used different 
> conventions 
> from Unicode. And this package doesn't even cover the most 
> tricky issue, 
> which is bidirectional ordering.

Why does the conversion have to be done?
> 
[snipped]

> Oh here we go, biblical Hebrew is a quite different language 
> from modern 
> Hebrew, Jewish commentators from DSS times to the present day have 
> nothing useful to tell us about the meaning of the biblical 
> text, and so 
> we can erect a barrier around biblical Hebrew to isolate it from the 
> possibly dangerous influences of degraded later Hebrew. Is 
> that what you 
> believe?

Nope. I already pointed out that there are Israeli scholars working in the same field. I wasn't trying to discount the value of their work; but there are good scholars working in several languages in several countries in several scripts. Do the needs of exchanging information with them have anything to do with how I encode the BH that I use when I write?

> Or do you think we just might have something to learn from 
> scholars like Tov and Dotan, to name a couple of moderns whose names 
> spring to mind, as well as from generations of older Jewish 
> scholars.

Yep.

> In 
> that case we need to be able to communicate with them. A good 
> start is 
> to be able to read the Bible passages which they quote, and for which 
> they will of course use the encoding that  everyone else in 
> Israel uses.

Which has nothing to do with anything when I read their work in print. It's only relevant if we're talking about direct electronic exchange. In such situations, we have to take whatever steps are necessary to communicate. But even if this were something I did regularly with Israeli scholars (right now, I don't), there would be plenty of ways to achieve intelligibility. Sure, it might be easiest to use Unicode (and I can do that without any problem); but we could always exchange pdfs if no other solution presented itself.
> 
> Plus, whether you like it or not, many non-Jewish biblical 
> scholars are 
> starting to use Unicode, so you need to be able to 
> communicate with them.

And I can, whether I use Unicode or not. The great part is that I also have the option of using Unicode if I choose. That has nothing to do with what I have to do in most of my writing.
> 
[snipped]

> Wouldn't it be a lot easier if we could just assume that everyone has 
> the same standard Hebrew setup?

It would if everyone could agree that Unicode meets all the needs we might have. Right now, not everyone does. Perhaps they never will. In any event, there are plenty of other ways to get the job done. Why can't I consider Unicode one tool among others--useful when it's right for the job, irrelevant when it's not?
> 
[snipped]

> But what if there are none for our chosen encoding which meet the 
> publisher's requirement for good quality camera-ready copy? 
> What if the 
> publisher specifies a house font, which is likely to be 
> Unicode-based, 
> at least in the near future? Mind you, I trust no publishers 
> are really 
> using cameras these days. I suppose some accept PDFs which 
> almost come 
> to the same thing.

Most of them still require hard copy, and those that don't tend to require pdf. I would hate to see them move to requiring submission in a text-based digital format, because in all likelihood it would mean requiring Word docs. If they do, I'll have to deal with that. Right now, it's not much of an issue. I don't know of any that require a particular font. If any started doing so, they would probably also start requiring a particular encoding, so the font issue still isn't the major one.
> 
> >>How about use all the nice Hebrew
> >>language support provided by OSs and standard software?
> >>    
> >>
> >
> >Like what? A spell-checker for Biblical Hebrew?
> >
> >  
> >
> I have never heard of one, but it's not a crazy idea. No, I 
> was thinking 
> more of keyboard and rendering engine support. The rendering 
> engine is 
> the really tricky one, automatically positioning the points in the 
> correct places. Legacy encodings don't do that for you, you have to 
> choose manually which of a number of holams or dageshes looks 
> best with 
> a particular consonant and/or accent. Even the best results 
> look shoddy. 

Have you looked at what real typesetting applications like TeX can do in this respect? Proponents would usually argue the other way, saying that Unicode can't produce the same quality output.

[snipped]

> OK, if you are talking about printed output

Or pdfs

> rather than ad hoc 
> communication and web publication.

I've already discussed the options for e-mail. I've also mentioned Web development as the one area where Unicode might end up being essential.

> But where can I get software using 
> transliteration input which does as good a job as OpenOffice, using 
> Unicode, for a lower price? Trick question, I know, because 
> OpenOffice 
> is free. I guess you will say Latex, which is also free. 
> Well, 20+ years 
> ago I too used this kind of batch processing (remember nroff?) to 
> produce formatted English text. Then I discovered WYSIWYG word 
> processing, and have never looked back since. I can do WYSIWYG Hebrew 
> word processing with OpenOffice and MS Office, and 
> typesetting with MS 
> Publisher. Why should I go back to the dark ages of batch processing?

I won't rehash the arguments against WYSIWYG word processing here. It shouldn't be hard to find them using Google.

Trevor Peterson
CUA/Semitics




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