UNICODE, NORMALIZATION, AND GREEK.

Via a John Cowan comment to this post at Stæfcræft & Vyākaraṇa, I found this essay, “Don’t Proliferate; Transliterate!” by Nick Nicholas, aka opoudjis (of Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος). It’s a fascinating look at what Unicode takes account of and what it doesn’t, what kinds of script will probably never be included (Akkadian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphic) and why (“standardisation for such scripts is hard, and the people who would do the standardisation don’t need it”), how Greek epichoric scripts have been handled traditionally in various contexts (“Epichoric is Greek for ‘local’ (ἐπιχώριος), and the fact that epigraphers call local alphabets epichoric instead of local is the kind of turf practice you might expect from the industry”), and finally the issue of target transliteration script:

The choice of script to transliterate-not-proliferate into for Western scholarship was dictated by two principles: patrimony and accessibility. If you were a Slavonicist writing for other Slavonicists, or an Arabists writing for other Arabists, you would be expected to leave your Cyrillic and Arabic (or Syriac or Hebrew) untransliterated: that was the patrimony you were discussing, after all. Your target audience would be sure to already know Cyrillic and Arabic….
If on the other hand you were discussing material in a script which did not make it to print, but was present only in the original sources (accessible to the scholarly republic only with difficulty), then it was your business to transliterate it out of the original script, into a script you deemed accessible—and which corresponded to your notion of the script’s patrimony. Gothic was deemed part of the Germanic patrimony; so it was transliterated out of the long extinct and unfamiliar, Greek-like Gothic script, into the same alphabet used for Old English and Old Norse (with an addition or two). Slavicists rejected Glagolitic in favor of Cyrillic, as Glagolitic was not regarded as accessible enough, being restricted in printed use to a corner of Dalmatia….
In the late 20th century, the abandonment of Classical education means that you cannot expect a general linguist to have any fluency in reading Greek, and Greek is universally transliterated in generalist contexts (outside of traditional historical linguistics).

It’s fascinating stuff, and I urge anyone intrigued by the excerpts to go read the whole thing.

Comments

  1. There is actually an assigned Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform unicode range (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform_%28Unicode_block%29). It’s just hellishly impractical.

  2. Unicode standardization was a serious issue in east Asia originally, although efforts have been made to assuage the angry mobs.
    http://goo.gl/fF5r

  3. The Japanese and Chinese Mongolists/Manchurists in the latter half of the 20th century were quite happy to use Latin transcriptions. I wonder if this explains why Classical Mongolian Unicode has so many utter inanities (count me as a member of the “angry mobs” mentioned above) …

  4. So hieroglyphics are too hard and unneeded, as opposed to this?

  5. I gather there is still no single entity that combines a macron and a circumflex over o or e, needed in transliterations of ῶ and ῆ respectively (capitals also).

  6. It’s not a matter of “hard and unneeded,” it’s a matter of knowing what the necessary characters are; the only people who could deliver a verdict on that, the specialists in the relevant fields, don’t see the need for it and aren’t going to devote their time and effort to it.

  7. Jongseong Park says:

    Noetica, it makes little sense to encode every combination of base letters and diacritics, and Unicode will not add any new combinations. The only reason Unicode provides single codepoints for base letters composed with diacritics is that they were encoded as characters in previous standards that Unicode inherited. If we were to build Unicode from scratch without having to worry about backwards compatibility, there would be no single codepoints for é, ä, and other such combinations of base letters and diacritics; these would always be encoded as ‘e + combining acute accent’, ‘a + combining diaeresis’, etc. Each of these would be a character composed of two codepoints. You’ll find this point argued in more detail in Nick Nicholas’s pages.
    I wish we could indeed rebuild Unicode from scratch using a much more logical system. Currently, for example, lots of letters used in Arabic-based Ajami scripts cannot be encoded in Unicode because of the way Unicode deals with Arabic. These letters are merely Arabic base letters used with dots and other markings, but Unicode doesn’t allow Arabic letters to be encoded as such compositions; each attested combination would have to be encoded separately into Unicode, and I am not aware of any proposals to encode these Ajami letters.
    Also, as Nick Nicholas points out, if Unicode were designed from scratch, it would not be stuck with 11,000 Korean codepoints; a few dozen would suffice.

  8. Years ago I had a manual typewriter for Spanish with two extra “dead” keys, an accent and a tilde, that did not advance to the next letter when they were typed. You typed the accent first, then the letter the accent was over. The “outdated” technology seems so easy compared to the current need for ferreting out the character map and searching for the letter with the desired marking.

  9. Nijma, many keyboard layouts allow exactly that. And the keyboard layouts are software, not hardware, so you don’t need a literal ~ key, you can repurpose AltGr + n, if you want. I believe the US International layout, most used in Brazil, would probably be the most convenient layout for someone used to the US layout who wanted to use dead keys.

  10. Although my native language of Texan couldn’t be further from Greek, it sure would be easier for those of us failing miserably at studying Homeric Greek alone at home to experience some success if there were more Internet resources in that language. Downloading weird transcription systems is beyond me.

  11. no single entity that combines a macron and a circumflex over o or e
    on a Mac, you open keyboard viewer and have an option of typing ‘tô bach’ by pressing the option key (alt). Or mãcrõn, but not all letters are available.
    is that what you are looking for?

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I gather there is still no single entity that combines a macron and a circumflex over o or e

    There have been for a long time, and with graves, too.
    ḔḕḖḗṐṑṒṓ
    U+1E14, U+1E15, U+1E16, U+1E17, U+1E50, U+1E51, U+1E52, U+1E53.
    Bizarrely, however, this is not available for a.

    Nijma, many keyboard layouts allow exactly that.

    With truly bizarre limitations. Next to backspace, there’s a key on my (German, QWERTZUIOPÜ) keyboard that makes the acute accent (lowercase) and the grave one (uppercase). This way I can type áéíóúý and àèìòù (capitals, too); but that’s it! It doesn’t allow me to type my name! (…which does, interestingly enough, work on a Czech keyboard. The letter does not occur in Czech.) And on Macs, even ý isn’t allowed. Conversely, on the German Mac keyboard layout (which exists twice, “German” and “Austrian” – they’re identical), ç, æ, œ and ø are accessible as AltGr+C, AltGr+Ä, AltGr+Ö and AltGr+O (and I forgot what å is – AltGr+A maybe), but here in Windows I have to open the character table.
    To the left of the 1 key, there’s a key that makes the circumflex (lowercase) and the degree sign (° – not a dead key, not available for å or ů) (uppercase).
    The tilde (AltGr++) used to be a dead key and work with n, a and o, and still is on the Mac, but is no longer in Windows; presumably that’s because it was briefly common in URLs.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    mãcrõn

    Tilde. Mācrōn.

  14. Jongseong Park:
    Yes, I understand the legacy problem for Unicode, involving an overall principle never to strike out what has once been incorporated. Nevertheless, where there are a few particular absences in an otherwise useful and complete set, it is folly not to fill the gaps. That is the case for transliteration of standardised polytonic Ancient (and Modern) Greek. You can render everything easily in transliteration except ῶ and ῆ, and their capitals. It makes as least as much sense to plug these gaps as it does to service the needs of approximately two scholars by preserving “LATIN SMALL LETTER I WITH TILDE, Greenlandic (old orthography)”. Surely that could have been achieved by ad hoc combination.
    Sashura:

    on a Mac, you open keyboard viewer and have an option of typing ‘tô bach’ by pressing the option key (alt). Or mãcrõn, but not all letters are available.
    is that what you are looking for?

    No. I want single codes that can be put into a document (for reading by any standard browser, or for MS Word, etc.). How the codes are to be input is a separate issue.
    David M:
        … no single entity that combines a macron and a circumflex over o or e
    There have been for a long time, and with graves, too.
    An elementary slip, I think. None of the examples you show includes a circumflex:
    ḔḕḖḗṐṑṒṓ
    I am familiar with these characters of course, and have used them and similar ones with a, i, and u in transliteration of Greek.
    From Nick Nicholas’s article, linked in the original post:

    In the late 20th century, the abandonment of Classical education means that you cannot expect a general linguist to have any fluency in reading Greek, and Greek is universally transliterated in generalist contexts (outside of traditional historical linguistics).

    Quite so! Those of us who want to do that transliteration – straightforwardly, and for text that is universally readable – are frustrated by the absence of just four items in Unicode. No “politically correct” argument against such an easy fix will impress us.

  15. I should clarify this:

    … similar ones with a, i, and u in transliteration of Greek.

    Forms that combine a macron and an acute or grave for a, i, and u are not needed in transliterating normal Greek, but may be called upon when the original is marked up with macrons to show a long vowel. I do not claim that I find all such recherché characters in Unicode, only that I have once or twice had a need for them and have had to make some kludge solution.
    Meanwhile let us marvel at the fact that Unicode provides handsomely for the undeciphered characters on the Phaistos Disc (including such adjuncts to scholarship as “101EB PHAISTOS DISC SIGN BULLS LEG”), the humorous and never-used Shavian alphabet, Tolkien’s Cirth script, and combinations (yes, how about that?) of Cambodian letters and numbers that are used in lunar dates.
    While the nerds fanatically extend the fences, the main gate swings open in the breeze of a new millennium. If transliterated Greek is now important for mainstream scholarship (as Nick’s article observes), surely it can be adequately provided for.
    We only ask for coverage equal to Unicode’s admirable accommodation of Tagbanwa, Buginese, and Limbu. O, and did I mention that Unicode already encompasses Phags-pa (invented by a Tibetan lama in 1269, and disused since 1352)?

  16. Jongseong Park says:

    Noetica, the point is that these are not gaps to be filled. The Unicode ideal is that a single character composed of a base letter and diacritics be encoded with multiple codepoints, one for the base letter and one for each diacritic. They can still be handled as single characters; a keyboard can be configured to input a composed character with a single stroke, and fonts can provide single glyphs that represent a composed character. There is no advantage to encoding a composed character as a single codepoint. The only reason that é, ä and other common composed characters have their own codepoints is because of the huge amount of legacy data where they are encoded as such.
    Your complaint should be directed not against Unicode but against those who create fonts and keyboard layouts so they can adequately provide for the characters you need. Regrettably, the confusion between character and codepoints is often shared by these developers as well, so typeface designers will often neglect composed characters that don’t have their own codepoints. Let them know you need them.
    It makes as least as much sense to plug these gaps as it does to service the needs of approximately two scholars by preserving “LATIN SMALL LETTER I WITH TILDE, Greenlandic (old orthography)”.
    Unicode may only cite old Greenlandic orthography, but my Kenyan friends who speak Kikuyu (Gĩkũyũ) use the latin small letter I with tilde all the time on Facebook, some even to spell their names. This is also used in IPA to represent a nasalized [i], and I used it recently to talk about certain Sinitic languages (Hokkien in particular) on my Korean blog.
    The point however is that Unicode is not a character set. The issue of which composed characters are needed belongs to the discussion of character sets to be supported by keyboard layouts and fonts, not to the discussion of Unicode itself. If font support is a problem, get in contact with foundries and typeface designers. You would be surprised to find how many of them would be happy to have input from users. It happens all the time that foundries (particularly the smaller ones) and typeface designers update their fonts to add missing glyphs upon demand from users.

  17. Jongseong Park:
    … the point is that these are not gaps to be filled.
    That may be your point, but it is not mine. In practice, great prestige is bestowed by recognition in the Unicode standard. Those who make fonts are guided or goaded by Unicode. If the four missing characters were incorporated, undoubtedly the foundries would take note of Unicode’s imprimatur. As I have said, we who actually do transliteration are not impressed by the political niceties.
    The makers of printed books have it all sorted out well enough (see below, though). But what about the volunteers on Wikipedia, for example? Or self-publishers on the web? Or bloggers who want to cite material that uses combined forms, without the fuss of unfamiliar coding or the lurking fear that some browsers will not render them accurately? At least with an unrecognised single character, input according to its single Unicode codepoint, a failed coding should yield something like a blank square. That’s a good thing! A combined character such as a+macron+acute is rendered well in some environments, but in others with the macron and acute intersecting. That can be worse than a complete failure, since it can easily be misread and perpetuated as an error. Such a calamity is averted by Unicode for combinations in Cambodian calendars; why should we put up with messy and complex solutions for polytonic Greek, whose accurate transliteration is a central need in Western scholarship?
    Often in fact authors, editors, and typesetters of current printed books do poorly with their transliterations. Gerard Naddaf’s The Greek Concept of Nature (2005) uses transliteration alone for its ubiquitous Greek, but does not represent diacritical markings (“in order to lighten the text”, p. ix) and messes up enough of what remains to annoy anyone wanting to reconstitute and examine his sources.
    Even Nick Ostler’s wonderful Empires of the Word (2005) is marred by inconsistencies and inaccuracies in transliterating Greek (page locations available on request), and the odd inconsistency with Sanskrit and Latin. The author has a first-class degree in classics and a PhD in Sanskrit, but this is obviously no guarantee of getting things right in transliteration.
    If scholarly standards are to be maintained, let’s at least help things along with a smooth, uniform system that has Unicode support.
    Myself, I will not be waging any sort of campaign with the Unicode Consortium or with the foundries. It is already clear to me that appeals meet with stony indifference from those who are technically adept but distracted by pet concerns. And life is short.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    An elementary slip, I think. None of the examples you show includes a circumflex

    <headdesk> And I already wondered why ῶ and ῆ would be transliterated with acutes… One of the more spectacular misreadings I’ve managed to commit.

    This is also used in IPA to represent a nasalized [i]

    …which, BTW, isn’t a particularly rare sound the world over. My German dialect has it: the sentence hin ist es (“[well, that's simple –] it’s [simply] broken”) comes out as [ˈhĩisː].

  19. J. W. Brewer says:

    I have a very parochial bias: since the Greek alphabet is the one non-Latin one I can manage with any degree of fluency, Greek need not and should not be transliterated in any book I myself might happen to read. (Scholarly presses can email me in advance if they need guidance as to whether or not to treat me as their ideal/median reader for a particular work being typeset.)
    But beyond that, Noetica’s call for a standard transliteration seems to implicitly take sides on the recurrent and, frankly, usually unsolvable issue of the goal of transliteration. Do you want a set of conventions which make it possible to accurately reverse-engineer the spelling in the original alphabet, or do you want a set of conventions that cue you as to the pronunciation of the words? And of course for Greek, the latter means you have to decide what timeframe you’re talking about (should beta come out as b or as v, for example).
    (I have my own mental list of unfortunate copyediting lapses in Empires of the Word, which I recall only because it was such a wonderful book.)

  20. J.W. Brewer:
    I have a very parochial bias: since the Greek alphabet is the one non-Latin one I can manage with any degree of fluency, Greek need not and should not be transliterated in any book I myself might happen to read.
    My own knowledge of Greek is not profound, but I hate having to read it in transliteration, especially when the job is done inconsistently, or with errors or loss of information.
    We have to concede though, JWB: most highly educated readers cannot manage Greek script these days. Others of us are shaky with Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, or Devanagari. It is less reasonable now to privilege one non-Latin alphabetic or syllabic script over these or the myriad others.
    Noetica’s call for a standard transliteration …
    My theme has been the need to add just four characters, to the many already defined in Unicode, necessary for transliteration of Greek. Let me put it all together, here.
    Among the many characters already available to transliterators of Greek we have Ḕ, ḕ, Ṑ, ṑ (to represent Ὴ, ὴ, Ὼ, ὼ) and the equivalents with acutes. But we have nothing to transliterate ῆ, ῶ and their capitals, where a circumflex is needed over the macron. This is probably because the circumflex has often been taken as a mere variant of the macron (see Ostler’s inconsistent “Achîvî” instead of the expected “Achīvī”, for Latin; p. 231n.), just as Ostler has used a tilde glyph instead of a standard circumflex glyph throughout his transliterations.
    I touched incidentally earlier on standardisation, and the related problem of consistency in a single text. None of that is too hard. Ostler, for example, needs to watch not to use ch, instead of his usual standard kh, for χ (both occur in the Herodotus on p. 227). He would need to rethink the strange phonetic and error-laden representation of a text from c. 1708 (p. 265) given without its original, which is bound to confuse the attentive beginner. Then there is the mixed-up treatment of Cavafy (p. 228), whose original follows the pre-reform polytonic conventions, with x used to render χ despite the rational y for γ, and an unexplained reduction to the monotonic norm throughout. Again, though we might understand what’s going on, other readers will be discouraged. All of this would be helped along if Unicode enabled and facilitated rational transcription practice in the first place.
    Do you want a set of conventions which make it possible to accurately reverse-engineer the spelling in the original alphabet, or do you want a set of conventions that cue you as to the pronunciation of the words? And of course for Greek, the latter means you have to decide what timeframe you’re talking about (should beta come out as b or as v, for example).
    The former: reverse-engineering-enabling, which is pretty easy for a standardised Ancient Greek. The very term transliteration suggests substitutions letter for letter, sign for sign; and the norms approach that with only minor exceptions that are simple to codify.
    As for all languages to a greater or lesser degree, Greek does not represent its own sounds at all accurately anyway. In Modern, β always goes to v; in both Ancient and Modern, γγ always goes to ng, yes? But all of that hides a hydra of phonetic and phonological complexity that no native use of Greek script provides for.
    Full provision in Unicode for the needs of Greek transliteration would be technically trivial. (We can exclude the rarer desiderata, like highly compounded characters with a diaeresis.) It would greatly simplify the task of writers, editors, transliterators, and those citing text online, because codes would be easy to input and uniform across formats. Makers of major fonts would implement the added characters as perfectly natural additions.

  21. so you don’t need a literal ~ key, you can repurpose AltGr + n, if you want. I believe the US International layout, most used in Brazil, would probably be the most convenient layout for someone used to the US layout who wanted to use dead keys.
    Teh google tells me AltGr is actually Ctrl Alt on windows keyboards, but this “repurposing” sounds even harder than just installing a Spanish keyboard. Anyhow I can see it’s not a simple thing.

  22. If transliterated Greek is now important for mainstream scholarship (as Nick’s article observes), surely it can be adequately provided for.
    I have never run into Tagbanwa, Buginese, Limbu, Phags-paold, Greenlandic, Kikuyu, or Hokkien, but in my undergraduate days I sure ran into enough Greek and German footnotes. Words like “Sein” and “praxis” weren’t too bad, but the Greek letters are a bit much for causal reading that isn’t really about your major. The Greek does seem to come up in the context of a liberal arts course of study, even if it’s far away from your main field of interest.
    I’m currently reading Empires of the World, I’m only up to about page 50 so far–it’s in the bag I use for commuting–but now I’m wondering what confusion might be in store for me.

  23. I’m currently reading Empires of the World, …
    Um, of the Word, ugye? An easy slip that any of us can fall prey to. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll find it more engaging than enraging.
    As I have previously hinted, we might use Umpires of the Word to refer to prescriptivists. But I would not waste such a gem on the newly released 16th edition of Chicago Manual of Style, whose coverage of “new media” is not worth a bagful of spraints. What are they dreaming of? I have a good mind to write a full-blown noetic-strength review in condemnation of it.

  24. I stand by all that I wrote above concerning Ancient Greek, understood as narrowed to its Classical (Attic) normalisation. But I was too quick in dealing with Modern Greek, and with J.W. Brewer’s mention of two possible goals for transliteration. Let me be clearer.
    Transliteration is, etymologically and by tradition, a matter of substituting one written alphabetic encoding for another. There is a Classical standard for encoding Greek. And there is a standard for transliterating, sensu stricto, texts that conform to that encoding into a Latin-based encoding. This is a one-for-one régime, with a few straightforward exceptions: for example, θ, φ, χ, and ψ (the “Palamedean” letters) become th, ph, kh, ps. In reconstructing the source, th, ph, kh, ps always go back to θ, φ, χ, and ψ. And the rough breathing becomes h, and so on. All of this can go on without regard for the sounds themselves: this is transliteration, remember.
    For Modern Greek, strictly speaking transliteration is not much used. Instead, there is a transcription that aims to represent phonemes of a standardised form of the language. This, against the grain of Modern Greek spelling which is arch-conservative and rife with redundancies, except in the matter of diacritics. And standard transcription does not record the wide variation even within “standard” spoken Greek, just as the original script, quite understandably, also does not. Like English, ugye? Many of us would be surprised to see how wide the divergence from expected norms is in spoken Greek. It is well, therefore, to use our terms more carefully. I should not have sought to embrace Modern along with Ancient in what I wrote above; and my primary concern is certainly with Ancient Greek, which is the locus of the central transliteration problem for Western scholarship.
    So we should not call what Ostler essays for Cavafy, or for that 18th-century source, “transliteration” at all. For example, Cavafy wrote in Alexandria, early in the 20th century when Greek was even less settled than it is now. His literary usage is an idiosyncratic mix of Katharevousa and one kind of Demotic; and I am not at all qualified to comment on his pronunciation. One question Nick Nicholas poses – “What to transliterate into?” – is hardly apt in considering such an author, and his piece is admittedly not focused on this Modern problem. The prior and more pressing question for Cavafy and his kind is perhaps “What broad kind of transcription to use?” It would be a trivial matter to transliterate Cavafy according to the Classical protocols (perhaps with one or two fixes), and the result would be reverse-engineerable. But scholarship finds scarcely any need to do that for Cavafy, while it does for Callimachus. That is not a judgement on relative merits, but an indication of the methods and emphases of scholarship.
    While I have recently translated a little Cavafy, my interest in the Modern problem was sharpened more by my experience with a living Greek poet who also still cleaves to the old polytonic ways. Four of the resulting translations are to be included in a forthcoming collection in the UK, and I had (shall we say) lively discussion about metrical propriety with one of the editors, some of which turned on the precise sounds our poet intended for certain proper nouns.
    (But enough about me! Let’s talk about Palamedes.)

  25. He would need to rethink the strange phonetic and error-laden representation of a text from c. 1708 (p. 265) given without its original, which is bound to confuse the attentive beginner.
    Could you elaborate? Here’s the original (the last few lines of “Εις την Ελλάδα”):
    Ξυπνώ, και βλέπω ευθύς άνω νά μένη
    η ίδια η Αθηνά μέ παρρησίαν
    κί έτζι από ψηλά μού συντυχαίνει.
    Τής Ελλάδος τής πρίν τήν ευδοξίαν
    Χρόνος τινάς ποτέ δέν τήν μαραίνει,
    Γιατ’ αμάραντος είναι η σοφία.
    I see one clear error (tin brin for tis prin). Do you have other problems with his version?
    with x used to render χ despite the rational y for γ
    I don’t understand the distinction here. He used kh for χ in Classical Greek because it was pronounced that way (aspirated /k/), but for the modern fricative pronunciation x is a common transliteration; I don’t see what it has to do with the y, which is simply rendering the sound of γ before a front vowel.
    It would be a trivial matter to transliterate Cavafy according to the Classical protocols (perhaps with one or two fixes), and the result would be reverse-engineerable. But scholarship finds scarcely any need to do that for Cavafy, while it does for Callimachus. That is not a judgement on relative merits, but an indication of the methods and emphases of scholarship.
    It’s not just “scholarship”; nobody has a use for transliteration of Modern Greek according to the Classical protocols. What on earth would be the point?

  26. I see one clear error (tin brin for tis prin). Do you have other problems with his version?
    Yes. Using / / notation loosely, given the prevailing conflation of the orthographic, phonetic, and the phonological aspects of our text:

    Ξυπνώ, και βλέπω ευθύς άνω νά μένη

    ksipnó ke vlépō efθís áno na méni

    1. ω is represented inconsistently, with or without a macron. It is unlikely that any difference in pronunciation is marked here. Why would no other vowels be shown with a macron?

    η ίδια η Αθηνά μέ παρρησίαν
    κί έτζι από ψηλά μού συντυχαίνει.

    i íðia _ Aθiná me parrisían
    ky étsi apo psilá mú sindiχéni:

    2. The article “η” in “η Αθηνά” is omitted.
    3. If the sound /j/ is marked by y for “κί”, why are there no other such representations where /j/ would be pronounced, such as perhaps the very first “η” here, or in “έτζι από”, or elsewhere?
    4. The accent in “μού”” is preserved, but not the accent in “μέ” or most other monosyllables. (From the reduction of “κί” to ky we assume that the intention is to show real stress, not anything about some Greek standard practice with diacritics.)
    5. The accent in “από” is not marked.
    6. I don’t know: it may be that rr is good for “παρρησίαν” (contrast a single l for Ελλάδος, below), because the word is composite. But normally ρρ is pronounced the same as ρ (e.g., “ορρός” is /oˈros/).
    7. Something non-Greek and IPA-like is used for ξ and δ (/ks/ and /ð/), so why is the Greek letter χ used to represent the χ in “συντυχαίνει” and elsewhere? Consistency would require /x/. Presumably the letter x could have no place in the scheme used for this transcription, though you deem its use unexceptionable for the Cavafy rendering, LH.
    8. The punctuation apt for the English translation is imposed also on the transcription. This is a questionable practice, suggesting that the original has that punctuation also.

    Τής Ελλάδος τής πρίν τήν ευδοξίαν

    Tis Eláðos tin brín din evðoksían

    9. There are anomalies of capitalisation in the source. Even bearing these in mind, the transcription is unjustified in capitalising “Tis”, since “τής Ελλάδος” would be standard, and we have lower case even at the start of the passage: “ksipnó”.
    10. As LH has noted, the letters themselves are wrongly given as “tin brin”. I think we agree that “tis prin” is better.
    11. A full standard representation of external sandhi would in any case yield “tim brin”.
    12. The accent in “πρίν” is preserved: “brín”. Why?
    For others who might be interested, here is the whole text provided by LH followed by all that is relevant from Ostler (p. 265) – the unascribed transcription and translation (his own?):

    Ξυπνώ, και βλέπω ευθύς άνω νά μένη
    η ίδια η Αθηνά μέ παρρησίαν
    κί έτζι από ψηλά μού συντυχαίνει.
    Τής Ελλάδος τής πρίν τήν ευδοξίαν
    Χρόνος τινάς ποτέ δέν τήν μαραίνει,
    Γιατ’ αμάραντος είναι η σοφία.

    Consolations in age

    ksipnó ke vlépō efθís áno na méni
    i íðia Aθiná me parrisían
    ky étsi apo psilá mú sindiχéni:
    ‘Tis Eláðos tin brín din evðoksían
    χrónos tinás poté ðen din maréni
    yat’ amárandos íne i sofía.’

    I awake and see at once above me
    The same Athena is waiting candidly,
    And with these words from on high she talks to me:
    ‘The renown of Greece of old
    No time will ever efface:
    For wisdom is imperishable.’

          Andreas Myiares (c. 1708)

    LH, you say this about my remarks on Ostler’s transcription of Cavafy:
    I don’t understand the distinction here. He used kh for χ in Classical Greek because it was pronounced that way (aspirated /k/), but for the modern fricative pronunciation x is a common transliteration; I don’t see what it has to do with the y, which is simply rendering the sound of γ before a front vowel.
    See first of all my point 7 above, where I comment on the use of χ to transcribe χ. I agree that x would be fine, or indeed kh. In fact h is standard in anglicising Modern Greek, is it not? So why not use it instead? But if x is indeed used (following the IPA lead, but misleading to novices), it is inconsistent to use y for γ rather than the IPA-like j.
    You then wonder about my discussing transliteration (per se) at all, for Modern Greek. I agree with you! But I was responding in detail to this from J.W. Brewer, which clearly introduces Modern Greek into a discussion of transliteration and which presented an opportunity to make principled distinctions:
    And of course for Greek, the latter means you have to decide what timeframe you’re talking about (should beta come out as b or as v, for example).
    As for “scholarship”, I mean to make a distinction between serious linguistic discussion (whether of Cavafy, Callimachus, or Courtney) and the horrors of phrasebook pronunciation cribs. Unfortunately Ostler’s Wunderbuch is not entirely free of the latter.

  27. Empires of the Word, heh, sure enough, but in black letters on a dark blue background, while A Language History of the World screams across the cover in unmissable bright yellow letters. At least I didn’t miss my train stop, chasing down a Sony MD MZ-NHF800 I saw on Craigslist, but I was disappointed when the first chapter about Motecuhzoma and Cortés led me to believe Nahuatl was still spoken — my Mexican students say no.

  28. Sony MD MZ-NHF800
    Nice catch! Has some pretty advanced features, for those of us still in love with that technology.
    This confusion of word and world is certainly understandable. I have in mind a title for my magnum opus in metaphysics (loooong-awaited) that will work creatively with their similarity.
    My copy of Ralph Penny’s coruscatingly learnèd A History of the Spanish Language, 2nd edition 2002, has a pretty cover, unlike the one shown at Amazon. The spine has the title correct, but the front cover truncates it to “A History of the Spanish”, bold as a bull’s leg. Covers, title pages, acknowledgement sections, spines … these are vulnerable points that a copyeditor often has no chance to rectify. (Right, LH?) A friend of mine, a fine and resplendently eccentric volunteer editor for community projects, rejoices in the fact that Birthdays appears as Brithdays on the gilt-leather spine of an archival tome in his local library’s history room. (Apparently that can be überfunny if you’re Jewish and a pedant.)
    There’s a lesson of great epistemological import in all of this. Seriously.
    But let’s talk about Palamedes …

  29. Ah, here‘s the cover of that Penny book, except that mine is missing the word language.

  30. Yes.
    Wow! You should be a proofreader/copyeditor; you’ve got the eye for it.
    these are vulnerable points that a copyeditor often has no chance to rectify. (Right, LH?)
    Right, nor the author neither.

  31. Wow! You should be a proofreader/copyeditor; you’ve got the eye for it.
    Um, recalI that I am an editor. Fiercest eye in the south, some have said. Not by philosophy alone! Like Palamedes … but that’s another story.

  32. J.W. Brewer says:

    Callimachus or Kallimakhos (or some third possibility)? Turns out maybe we don’t actually have a single completely agreed set of conventions for transliterating ancient Greek after all. (The chaos introduced by those who obstinately prefer kh to ch for chi is I think of fairly recent origin and could well have been avoided – although c versus k for kappa may have already been a muddle for quite some time.)

  33. Ok, I’ll bite. What is this Palamedes of which you speak? Probably not the asteroid, the video game, or the Arthurian legend, must be this dude from Greek mythology credited with “discoveries in the field of wine making and the supplementary letters”…yes, I see now, the Fates created five vowels and the letters b and t, then Palamedes created eleven more consonants. But they were sounds only until Hermes put them in written form. But I also see Palamedes met an untimely end, martyred as it were. I think there is a cautionary tale in here somewhere about dealings with the Unicode Gods.

  34. Um, recalI that I am an editor.
    I grow old, I grow old.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    Nahuatl is still spoken, it has become a whole language family, and there’s a Wikipedia in it…

  36. recalI
    I grow old
    Don’t we all? My last contribution was from an iPhone, on which my agèd fingers move with the grace and precision of a wounded wildebeest.
    … must be this dude from Greek mythology …
    You have grasped it, Nijma. I have not checked the Nahuatl version, but the English Wikipedia article is a woefully inadequate entrée to the myth of this nootechnically engaging hero. He was also ill-served by the ancient mythographers, who scramble the details of his career just as others brought it to an untimely end, through envy of his wisdom and cunning.
    But speaking of iPhones, suitably equipped LHards must be alerted to the fact that the full American Heritage Dictionary is available as an app. I paid just $18 (AUD), and was delighted to find the implementation utterly complete – including both the PIE and Semitic root appendices, with explanatory adjuncts and links from the main entries. Wow, as LH would say. (Recalḹ that these essential resources are no longer available chez Bartleby.)

  37. A handy little utility for inputting single Unicode characters by hex number is downloadable from the top of this page. Recommended.
    The Titus project at University of Frankfurt has a deep interest in Unicode. The site is counterintuitive to navigate, but worth the effort. Their downloadable 1.1 MB page of Unicode tables is a fine thing. I note that Titus associates are looking at new characters of exactly the sort I propose; but I can’t find where exactly, right now. It’s all dispersed.
    J.W. Brewer:
    Callimachus or Kallimakhos (or some third possibility)? Turns out maybe we don’t actually have a single completely agreed set of conventions for transliterating ancient Greek after all.
    And we will not get it, until the thinking and the flow of information on these issues are improved. Meanwhile, note that Ostler has ch and kh for χ in the same paragraph of transliteration (p. 227). This means that he uses ch, kh, x, and χ for χ in transcriptions. (He may also use h; I haven’t checked for that.) Local consistency is not too much to ask for.
    Finally, the fact that χ originally represented /kh/ does not settle a clear difference for transcriptions of “Ancient” and “Modern” source material (as if these were well defined and exhaustive terms). The /x/ pronunciation is of very early date, yet affected sources are still transliterated with kh, by well-established convention.

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