[b-hebrew] Hebrew transliteration

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Wed Jan 21 05:41:50 EST 2004


> In a message dated 1/20/2004 10:22:24 PM Eastern Standard Time, 
> kwrandolph at email.com writes:
> 
> > Whether I like it or not, unicode is on the way to be the new 
> > standard. I
> > see no reason to develop a new transliteration scheme.

First, it seems to me that you're confusing two distinct issues from this thread. I'm not trying to come up with a transliteration system so I don't have to use Unicode. On the contrary, I've also had off-list discussion with Peter about getting the transliteration to work using Unicode characters. I'm not going to re-hash the reasons for transliterating that I already expressed in my response to Ken. You can go back and check the archives if you missed them the first time.
> > 
> > My main computer is a 486 vintage Macintosh running OS 8.1 
> because it 
> > is a
> > notebook and at my side when I need it. But it is not 
> unicode capable. It is 
> > no longer a question of if, but when I can afford to 
> upgrade. If I am to 
> > continue the sort of research and work that I do, it will 
> have to be in unicode, 
> > and communicated in unicode so that all can understand it. 
> I am working not 
> > only in Hebrew, but also Chinese and other non-Latin based 
> writing systems.

Second, it seems to me that you're making the same mistake Peter made in his arguments. The needs of Semitists are not generally driven by the need to write in Chinese. True, an organization like SIL might work in several different languages and want a coherent system of writing all of them; but Semitists have got along for quite some time now without such devices. Their needs have not changed dramatically in recent years, either. Yes, it is sometimes most appropriate to use the native script (whether Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, or Ethiopic--but almost never the epigraphic scripts); on the other hand, some (like Peter) would argue that extraneous scripts have no place in, for instance, a Hebrew lexicon. I might personally disagree, but I think there is something to his argument, that a user can sometimes benefit to a certain degree from seeing Ethiopic evidence in transliteration without knowing Ethiopic. But my point here is that there are many situations where it still makes the most sense to transliterate. If I want to make a point that spans different Semitic languages, transliteration allows me to step outside the specific circumstances of one of them. In a field like Akkadian, transliteration is about the only way to work efficiently. Comparisons with Hebrew, where necessary, can be made using Hebrew script, but they don't have to be; and the comparison is clearer if transliteration is used throughout. Another situation where I think transliteration would be appropriate is something that pertains particularly to your habit of using unvoweled text. Since language doesn't stop containing vowels just because the writing system has none, it is often desirable to reconstruct a vocalization for unvoweled texts. It would be inconsistent to use the Tiberian voweling system for this sort of purpose, since it usually means reconstructing some other stage; so again, transliteration is the best option. As long as this is the case, transliteration will be useful for Semitists. Not that we don't need to think about how we can work with native scripts as well; but my point here was that there are actually very few situations where it matters how we encode the material. If it's simply a matter of sharing information with other scholars, there are plenty of ways to do that.
> > 
> > Already, when I see some complex transliteration scheme in 
> my mailbox 
> > that I
> > do not understand, I follow the Tanakh reference and open 
> my Bible program 
> > to read it in the Hebrew font which I understand, whereas I 
> often don’t 
> > understand the transliteration. It is only a matter of time 
> before B-Hebrew mailing 
> > list will be in unicode (unicode long ago was already able 
> to handle 
> > unpointed text like which I prefer).

I think a lot of us probably do the same thing; but that just goes to show how little difference it makes whether we're able to use Hebrew script in our messages. Besides, it would not take a great deal of effort to learn to read the transcription if you really wanted to.
> > 
> > As for file formats, when I want to make sure that all my 
> readers can 
> > open
> > it, I send it as a .pdf attachment. At this time it looks 
> as if it is easier 
> > to fix what remains of unicode than to develop a new 
> transliteration scheme 
> > used world-wide.

I'm not trying to develop anything to be used worldwide. I'm trying to develop a transliteration scheme that I like and that others should be able to understand. If it meets those criteria, it's useful, whether anyone else adopts it or not.
> > 
> _________
> 
> Hear, hear!
> 
> Who cares about transliteration schemes.  It's only a 
> stop-gap measure.  When 
> I see a discussion on b-hebrew I open my BHS and check to see 
> that we're 
> talking about the same passage.  Then I ignore the 
> transliteration.  I do the same 
> in b-greek.  That's why I am rather impatient with this 
> discussion.  It's 
> much ado about nothing.
> 
> gfsomsel

Assuming, of course, that there is no use for transliteration apart from meeting the needs of those who can't read the script or filling a mechanical gap.

Trevor Peterson
CUA/Semitics




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