Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blinding with science ...

In a discussion about SignWriting it became apparent that people did not use the same definitions. One reasonable reaction was to point to a glossary of the terminology used and invoke its authority. The glossary in question has considerable authority; it is the glossary on the Unicode website. The implication for me was; shut up and first learn what you are talking about. As I do not have the paper qualifications that prove that I have spend a lot of time successfully mastering esoterica so I did just that.

To me it proved quickly that this Unicode glossary is written without any consideration of non-spoken languages. The definition for alphabet; "A writing system in which both consonants and vowels are indicated." makes it impossible for SignWriting to be an alphabet but it seems to me this is equally true for any of the alternatives given. Unicode does provide the standard for writing systems, but their definitions do not really matter as long as they use the right terminology for character, glyph and all the other concepts applicable to writing itself.

An alternate definition for alphabet has it as: "An ordered set of letters used in a language." This definition is possibly overly broad as it would fit an abugida equally well. To be fair to the Unicode literature and its glossary, it has not considered SignWriting because SignWriting is not mentioned and it is not yet included in Unicode. Then again, Unicode did recognise SignWriting as Sgnw in the ISO 15924 in 2004.


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