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Cuneiform Signs

Analysis and reports to support an international standard for computer encoding of the Cuneiform writing system

Research on the development of Cuneiform signs

Sign List Current revisions with Borger numbers (from his new Mesopotamisches Zeichenlexikon) and UTC Proposal Numbers (February version).


Revisions needed to the Cuneiform sign list before the Unicode Technical Committee

First priority is posting any research tools and lists which can assist the ongoing process of discovering what are the contrasting single signs of cuneiform script. The most recent ones are the three immediately below this introductory box, together with their links. Seven others are listed in the bar above, and brief comments on some of them also appear lower on this page. Others are reached via links within this site. They include some areas where we have previously lacked systematic information, some where problems lay in the draft concordance presented to the Unicode Technical Committee at the beginning of November 2003, but have been fixed in the revision of February 2004, and some where problems still exist in the revision presented this February. The revision of February did I think eliminate all unjustifiable fragments which were not signs, but that revision still falls short of what is needed in several ways and in a substantial number of signs.

Revisions needed so that the distinctive single signs of Cuneiform will be encoded, so that users and implementers will be spared the need to "fix" errors, and will not be forced to encode single signs wrongly as sequences, was presented to the Unicode Technical Committee at the beginning of February in two papers, one before the meeting, one as comments with additional illustrations at the meeting. They give a sample of omitted single signs of different types, and document some of the evidence from spacing and line breaks relevant to establishing sign boundaries. Please click here for text versions of these.

The analysis of Cuneiform Number signs is subject of a special paper also presented to the UTC. Please see just below.

Also please see the triage of ZATU signs which is in process. An Etymological Dictionary and Concordance to cuneiform signs is in preparation for publication. Sign Groups in that draft concordance.

Correlates of traditional sign identification with normal spacing in lines and indents Now with surveys of texts for typographic usage. The long assyriological tradition has carefully distinguished between single signs and sign sequences, and between single signs and components of signs. They relied on everything they knew, not on one simple criterion. Their results are overwhelmingly correct. This page gives a summary of how strongly the traditional results correlate with normal spacing between signs vs. within single signs, and with where breaks are possible across indents. There is a link to data compiled from the Gudea statues and from the Codex Hammurabi which illustrates this, for those lines or indents where there is enough space to reveal the distinctions. You can click here. For extensive surveys of other texts, please click here.
Unifying Number Signs A reasonably comprehensive treatment of Cuneiform number signs is posted here, conforming to the table of transitions (*Archaic Bookkeeping* p.140) and to the principle that signs are unified, encoded the same, if they are each other's lineal historical descendents. Questions of the use of older and newer forms in the Ur-III period are discussed, and how similar situations have been encoded for other scripts. You can click here for a text version.
Two approaches This page contrasts an approach which encodes the single signs of cuneiform with one which encodes glyphic fragments of them. Consequences of the fragment approach are many deviations from normal spacing, more complex relations between encoded characters and readings, etc. etc., unless many kludges / hacks are applied as band-aids. Probably also an inability to encode significant distinctions. You can click here.
Concordance to all major sign lists; development and origins of cuneiform signs A study of the origin and development of the repertoire of cuneiform signs is in preparation, and will be published with the year. It is intended as a tool both for studies of cuneiform and for comparison with ways writing develops in other parts of the world. With luck, it will be completed by the end of February, 2004. Sign Groups in that draft concordance.
  Items lower on this page contain older analyses, much of which is still useful.
Container Sign Types Signs describable as having components "container sign" x "infixed sign" are of several types. The total of securely known signs of these types is 905 by a preliminary count. For a list of the "container" component signs, please click here.
Sort Order Reasoning in favor of an ordering of signs based on the usual or default names of the signs, or in effect based on the well-recognized components of signs (entailing much renaming as in the current draft proposal) . Elaborated based on presentation by Steve Tinney at the Unicode meeting of 4 November 2003, with added comments. [Small added notes on related questions regarding sign names and analysis as single signs vs. as sequences of signs (compounds) have been superseded by extensive analysis of those questions now on other pages.]

Container Signs with Infixes vs. External Parts

Productivity of Container Signs

Some signs with an infixed component also appear with that component outside its container, but are are in other respects the identical sign. Our principles urge us to encode such mere variants the same way, but other decisions seem at cross purposes with that, by separating the two. This can perhaps lead to a re-examination of what we thought we can do, or which of our goals we really prefer.

The Container-with-Infixed-Sign structure is very productive. Of our additions to the list of distinct signs, the greater part are of this kind. Various ways of accomodating these facts are discussed.

Decomposition of signs into parts

In initial feedback on our lists, several of us believe that we should not fragment signs in computer encoding into artificial parts which do not exist independently, and linked to this, that we should prefer to name signs in ways that will be traditionally recognized when it is practical to do so. This section surveys data from the repertoire of signs relevant to these questions. How productive are various patterns of sign creation, how did the creators of signs think of their parts, and how do some possible decompositions appear in the light of these findings.

Splits and Mergers

Distinctions to Maintain

Sign Names

A list of known cases of splits and mergers. Can we clearly see how implementation guidelines would be written for each of these? [So far available, only a description of four different ways of handling these situations. Please suggest additional ways.]

A lists including some less obvious distinctions made in various lists or treatments, which we probably or certainly want to maintain.

A list of sign names which we need to distinguish, which may be alternate names for the same signs, and related matters.

Hittite Cuneiform Signs not in standard lists

This list is simply those signs which need to be included, as a check for completeness.
Fara Signs not yet identified After diligent work, I have not yet been able to identify these signs in the Fara list (LAK) with signs in other standard lists. Assistance is welcome from any quarter. I will update this list as signs are either identified or clearly established as new, not known elsewhere.

Traditional High Cultures

Ecological Linguistics promotes the recovery and understanding of traditional high cultures of the Americas ("Pre-Columbian", before the arrival of Europeans) through a number of activities, and by making available modern study aids, reproductions of ancient books, etc. Please click on the link to our web site at the left. To contact us, please email Lloyd Anderson.
Copyright © 2003. All Rights Reserved. Much of the analytical material on this web site will be included in an etymological study and concordance to cuneiform signs, to be published shortly, and may be used to validate the sign list, but should not be cited in any detail until it is published (guaranteed 2004 probably spring). Permission is granted for others to use the information on these web pages for preparation of a proposal to Unicode for a standard encoding of Cuneiform. The proposed sign list itself will be completed by the end of February, 2004, and is free of any restrictions.
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