Re: mixed-script writing systems

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Tue Nov 26 2002 - 18:15:01 EST

  • Next message: Amélie DELTOUR: "Arabic lam-alef ligature in vocalized texts"

    Dean Snyder asked:

    > > ...
    > >What it comes down to is the fact that for historic scripts in
    > >particular, there are no defined criteria that would enable us
    > >to simply *discover* the right answer regarding the identity of
    > >scripts. To a certain extent, the encoding committees need to
    > >make arbitrary partitions of historic alphabets through time
    > >and space, reflecting scholarly praxis as far as feasible, and
    > >then live with the results. At least this procedure makes it
    > >*possible* to represent the texts reliably, once the scripts
    > >and their variants have been standardized.
    > What are the criteria used to make these "arbitrary partitions"?

    I have to return to my statement above. There are no defined
    criteria -- at least not in the sense of some formally defined
    set of criteria which could be objectively applied by
    graphologists to come up with the right answer.

    As for many issues, particularly regarding ancient systems,
    there are a lot of historical contingencies which intervene --
    what attestations managed to survive and what kinds of material
    they consist of. And equally important may be the particular
    twists and turns that analysis of the materials took.
    Writing systems which require long, problematical, and in
    some cases uncertain decipherments may end up with different
    encoding needs than systems where the nature of the units
    may not be at issue. And answers may depend on the nature of
    the historic *successors* of the attestations as well,
    since boundaries between systems and the nature of the
    encoding decided upon may then be influenced by the encoding
    of the successor systems.

    > What is
    > determinative of "scholarly praxis"?

    Consensus among the expert practitioners.

    The character encoding committees make an effort to ensure
    that there is some evidence of such consensus, when expert
    opinion is available. Otherwise there would be little
    point in attempting to standardize character encoding.

    In the case of Sumero-Akkadian, it seems to me that there
    was, for example, some evident consensus among experts that
    it made sense to specify that as a "script" for encoding,
    leaving open the question of where to draw the boundary
    for early Sumerian on the one hand, and differentiating
    later adaptations of cuneiform which were clearly
    not Sumero-Akkadian per se, such as Ugaritic.

    But if that is *not* the consensus among Assyriologists,
    then any determination as to where to draw the boundaries
    would have to await the emergence of such consensus.

    > And would not some or all of the
    > examples I give above be governed by such criteria?

    I think your examples were seeking formal logical criteria.

    But my point is that writing systems and scripts are
    both holistic systems and fuzzy around the edges. The
    best way to find them is not to seek formal logical
    criteria, but instead to find *experts* who know them
    and ask them to point them out.

    If I am a novice wondering through a new forest, and
    need to tell the trees in the forest apart (as opposed
    to the forest from the trees :-) ), it is much easier
    *and* more accurate to get an expert to tell me,
    "That's a madrone, that's a bay laurel, that's a
    coastal live oak, that's a big leaf maple, ..." than
    it is to ask the expert (or anyone else) to draw
    up a foolproof set of taxonomic criteria whereby I
    can deal with all the edge cases (including the hybrids).


    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue Nov 26 2002 - 18:55:27 EST