Archaic scripts (was: Re: New version: draft-ietf-idna-tables-01.txt)

Kenneth Whistler kenw at
Thu May 8 02:37:40 CEST 2008

> These scripts may be "historical".  They may be "archaic".  They
> may belong in a script museum somewhere.   The people who used
> them as their primary writing system may be long dead.  But the
> scripts themselves are not "extinct".   Indeed,  the very fact
> that someone felt motivated to get them into Unicode is strong
> evidence against "extinct".

This quibbling is heading complete off the rails.

The scripts simply *are*, of course, in some historical
sense. They are either documented and deciphered or they are not.

But the writing systems which used those scripts are obsolete
and, yes, "extinct". If nobody uses a writing system,
it is extinct.

And by "nobody uses" a writing system, I am talking
about no contemporary community making contemporary
use of the writing system. It won't do to talk about
the meta-usage of examples from a dead writing system
in scholarly discussion.

And yes, I know scholars who can *write* Sumero-Akkadian.
I've seen it done, live, on placemats in restaurants.
That still doesn't mean that it is a live writing system.
Sumero-Akkadian is extinct. And it does *not* belong
in IDNs.

And that has nothing to do with how "uncertain" it is.
The sub-repertoire of Sumero-Akkadian that was encoded
in Unicode is, au contraire, rather *certain* in
interpretation. The stuff that isn't encoded yet, like
early Sumerian pictographs, is precisely the part of
cuneiform where there is much more uncertainty.

The characters for archaic scripts which have been
encoded in Unicode are those for which there is rather
a great deal of consensus among relevant scholars as
to the identity of the characters per se -- even if
not in all cases are specific readings known (as for
some Linear B characters, for example).

So I'm not buying the whole "uncertain" versus
"certain" argument. If you start down that road, there
are plenty of uncertain and archaic characters in
the *modern* scripts that people here seem to think
are well-understood and certain, including Latin,
Greek, and Cyrillic. Once you try to introduce that
distinction, the whole enterprise is likely to
unravel into the chaos of re-examining thousands
of characters, one-by-one, for their usage status
and usefulness.


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