[b-hebrew] Comparative Linguistics was Sorting Hebrew

Bryant J. Williams III bjwvmw at com-pair.net
Tue Nov 28 23:13:35 EST 2006

Dear Peter, Yitzhak, et al,

I wonder if the acrostic Psalms are early enough to indicate the separation
or non-separation of sin and shin? It is apparent that most of the Psalms
are Pre-exilic to Exilic (Post-exilic?) and that they may give some
indication of the debate on the alphabet. Besides inscriptions wouldn't
Hebrew poetry retain early grammar and syntactical features to help in this

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Peter Kirk" <peter at qaya.org>
To: "Bob MacDonald" <bobmacdonald at shaw.ca>
Cc: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 10:04 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Sorting Hebrew

> On 28/11/2006 03:20, Bob MacDonald wrote:
> > One of the technical things that makes life difficult for an English
> > is the finding of words in a lexicon.  First, some of them are spelt
> > multiple ways - with and without mater; second, of course, the prefixes
> > parsing mandatory before figuring out which initial letter to search
> > In this area Joel Hoffman's recent note on plurals and future and
> > was very helpful.
> >
> > But the worst aspect of the BDB is that several words are not in what an
> > English speaker would consider a natural order at all - loads of them
> > beginning with Mi and variations appear in almost every section of the
> > alphabet, (one gets used to a large exception) but now - for Psalm 89,
> > word TBL is listed for whatever reason under Yod!
> >
> > What is going on in the minds of those who sort the fiery letters? Any
> > clues?  Of course I won't mention the ubiquitous Strong numbering system
> > that reduced many English clerics to lunacy when teaching what little
> > learned in their three week mandatory Hebrew courses.
> >
> > I wrote a quick and dirty algorithm to derive a root from a word in the
> > psalms. This combined with a random search mechanism helps me find what
> > have already 'done'. What a magical forest! I doubt I will ever publish
> > Hebrew sort algorithm - but someone must have this trouble today in the
> > Unicode world.
> >
> > Did the ancients have a concept of sort? Or even dictionary lookup?
> >
> >
> Good question! We do know from the acrostic psalms etc that the ancient
> Hebrews had an alphabetical order. But beyond this I think we are
> guessing, at least for Hebrew.
> I have a less dirty way of finding the root of a word in the Psalms, or
> elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible: I look it up with my Bible software,
> which includes data on the root of every verb form in the Bible. Of
> course this data is not 100% because there are some ambiguities (as in
> some of the examples I just quoted for Karl), but it is more reliable
> than any purely algorithmic approach might be.
> As for sorting Hebrew in Unicode, there is a standard Unicode sorting
> algorithm with a default order for Hebrew, although I think the
> secondary sort by vowel points is somewhat arbitrary. I have been
> somewhat involved in fine tuning this. But it is designed primarily for
> modern Hebrew, which means that sin and shin are sorted together at the
> first level. This was interestingly enough the sort order used by 19th
> century dictionaries including Strong's, and so Strong's numbers are
> ordered on this basis. But 20th century dictionaries of biblical Hebrew,
> from BDB onwards, have sorted sin and shin as separate letters at the
> top level. The Unicode algorithm also provides for tailored sort orders
> for specific languages or other requirements, and one could be set up
> for biblical Hebrew as in BDB. But software will continue to sort by
> default in the modern Hebrew order as for example Microsoft Excel
> already does (which was in fact helpful to me in manually finding
> mininal pairs between sin and shin to respond to Karl), so it may be
> that the 19th century order will come back into use in the 21st century.
> -- 
> Peter Kirk
> E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
> Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
> Website: http://www.qaya.org/
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