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Report of the First Conference
Initiative for Cuneiform Encoding
November 2nd & 3rd, 2000
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
|Cuneiform: From Clay Tablet to Computer
Participants in the Initiative for Cuneiform Encoding (ICE) Conference held at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, November 2nd and 3rd, 2000, reached consensus on key points relating to the computer character encoding of Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, the world's oldest writing system.
In a series of animated discussions this international group of cuneiformists, encoding experts, software engineers, linguists, and font architects addressed the feasibility, scope, architecture, and organizational details of such an undertaking.
Consensus was reached on the following points:
1) It is both possible and desirable to devise a computer character encoding for Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform (hereafter "cuneiform").
2) Unicode is the appropriate technology for encoding cuneiform.
3) The encoding will not target the unrelated cuneiform script systems used for writing texts in the Old Persian or Ugaritic languages.
4) For various scholarly reasons, the encoding of proto-cuneiform is initially, but not necessarily ultimately, beyond the purview of the project.
5) The abstract characters of cuneiform will be encoded; information specific to the concrete glyphs of cuneiform will be conveyed by mechanisms above the plain-text encoding level (mechanisms such as text markup).
By "abstract characters" we mean those entities traditionally treated by cuneiformists as distinct signs and roughly corresponding to the sign numbers in the standard sign lists, such as those by Borger, Labat, and von Soden. By "concrete glyphs" we mean the actual, paleographic manifestations of those characters appearing on cuneiform tablets, inscriptions, etc.
6) [Provisional] Compound signs formed by the juxtaposition of two or more signs will be encoded as a sequence of two or more Unicode code points.
7) [Provisional] Compound signs formed by inscribing one or more signs inside another will be encoded as single Unicode code points, in order to keep the encoding simple, and easier to process.
8) Sign mergers and splits (of which there are expected to be 40 or so)
will be encoded using a principle of maximal distinction - when a sign has split over time, the split forms will be separately encoded; when signs have merged over time, the original antecedent forms will be separately encoded.
9) A five member working group will oversee the proposal process. Members of the group include:
Lloyd Anderson, Linguist, Font Specialist, Unicode expert contributor
Karljuergen Feuerherm, Specialist in Akkadian, Computer Scientist
John Jenkins, Unicode Consortium Technical Director (East Asian Scripts)
Rick McGowan, Unicode Consortium Vice President
Dean Snyder, Semitic and Classics Philologist, Software Engineer
The working group will be assisted by:
Simo Parpola, Prof of Assyriology, Neo-Assyrian specialist
Steve Tinney, Asst Prof, Middle Eastern Languages, Sumerian specialist
It is expected that the entire process, culminating in the formal acceptance and adoption into Unicode of a cuneiform proposal, will take approximately four years.
Members of the working group intend to make themselves available for presentations and discussion at the following conferences:
Baghdad Conference, March 2001, Baghdad, Iraq
American Oriental Society, March 2001, Toronto
RAI, July 2001, Helsinki
The full list of ICE conference participants includes:
Dr. Lloyd B. Anderson, Linguist (historical development of writing systems, Mayan hieroglyphs), Unicode expert contributor, Font Specialist, Proprietor of Ecological Linguistics, Washington D.C., USA
Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper, Professor of Assyriology and Sumerian, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
T. R. Davis, Lecturer in Bibliography & Palaeography, University of Birmingham, England
Karljuergen Feuerherm, Ph. D. Candidate in Akkadian, University of Toronto, Computer Scientist, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
John Jenkins, System Software Engineer (MacOS 9), Apple Computer, Unicode Consortium Technical Director (East Asian Scripts), Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Dr. Alasdair Livingstone, Reader in Assyriology, University of Birmingham, England
Rick McGowan, System Software Engineer (MacOS X, Unix), Apple Computer, Unicode Consortium Vice President (fluent in Japanese), San Jose, California, USA
Dr. Simo Parpola, Professor of Assyriology, University of Helsinki, Finland
Dean A. Snyder, Semitic and Classics Philologist, Software Engineer, Senior Information Technology Specialist (Humanities), Johns Hopkins University
Dr. Steve Tinney, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of Pennsylvania, Co-Director Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary project, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Dr. Kenneth Whistler, Linguist (Native American Languages), Software Engineer (Sybase), Unicode Consortium Technical Director, Managing Editor of The Unicode Standard, version 3.0
Submitted by Dean A. Snyder, November 7, 2000