LINGUIST List 2.273

Thursday, 6 June 1991

Disc: Diacritics and Acronyms

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  1. bert peeters, ISO10646 and diacritical marks
  2. Daniel Radzinski, Hebrew based acronyms

Message 1: ISO10646 and diacritical marks

Date: Mon, 3 Jun 91 10:04:59 +1000
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: ISO10646 and diacritical marks
Until I read John Baima's message to LINGUIST, I had been unaware of the fact
that moves are being made (and opposed) to introduce floating diacritical
marks in those areas of the information industry (such as electronic mail, I
presume) where they are not available (yet). If I get Baima's message right,
he's saying that there are people out there who'd rather have no diacritics,
and are prepared to blame linguists for inventing writing systems that are
too complicated. This is outright appalling. It is the very first time that
I hear someone argue for the fact that technology should remain stagnant and
that all those writing systems that do use diacritics (such as French, for
instance, which is not exactly a minority language) are in need of revision.
Let me point out that French diacritics were not proposed first by modern
linguists nor by missionaries or anything of the sort. They have been for a
long time part of the French writing system (and of many other writing systems
for that matter) and it is outrageous that someone should make the suggestion
that therefore French needs a spelling reform which rids it of its diacritics.
There are probably spelling matters that are in need of more urgent revision.
I'd like to know how many native speakers of French would be happy to replace
their acute accents with a double vowel, for instance. It would render
the language unrecognizable.
Right now, people corresponding by electronic mail in a language such as
French have two possibilities: either they ignore the diacritics, hoping that
their message will be read and understood properly - or they use double
characters where the diacritic follows or precedes the character which in
normal spelling takes it. As I often send out e-mail messages in French, I
feel that neither system is completely satisfactory, and I am therefore
sympathetic to Baima's proposal to do something about it.
I'm not sure whether I am understanding all the implications of the discussion
that is going on, but I felt so weird after knowing there are people pointing
fingers at linguists who do the right thing - that is develop writing systems
that are probably not ideal but close enough so to be given the green light -
that I simply had to make a statement. If I've made myself ridiculous, so
be it.
Bert Peeters <>
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Message 2: Hebrew based acronyms

Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 01:36:55 -0400
From: Daniel Radzinski <daniel%drew.cog.brown.eduRICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: Hebrew based acronyms
Hebrew acronym based anthroponyms. I'm not sure we are looking at
the phenomena the way it ought to be seriously dealt with from
the point of view of the scientific study of natural language.

That "Katz" is an acronym for _kohen tzedek_ `priest of justice'
and "Segal" for _sgan levi_ `deputy Levite', for example, is
fairly well-known. The question is whether this is true in the
sense that it is the actual way such names were formed. I
strongly suspect that lesser-known examples such as "amen" being
an acronym for _emet muvan (ve-)naxon_ `true, understood (and)
correct', or the Aramaic based "bar" (as in Bar-Mitzvah) for _ben
rav_ `son of rabbi' (rabbi here in the sense of `respected
gentleman') and "mar" `Mr.' for _morenu (ve-)rabenu_ `our teacher
(and) rabbi' are nothing more that folk (or rabbinical)
etymologies. If so, why should we take the Katz and Segal cases
for granted? Well, an explanation might go along the lines that
it is no accident that the vast majority of Katzes are kohanim
(descendents of Aaron along paternal lineage) and Segals, leviyim
(descendents of Levi [but not Aaron] along paternal lineage). But
then, why don't we find non-Ashkenazi (i.e., from parts other
than central or east Europe) Katzes and Segals? It seems, to me
at least, far more reasonable to assume that the names Katz and
Segal derive from Germanic terms related to felines and sails,
respectively (or perhaps some other Indo-European source). It
simple just happened to be the case that the original (or
originals) Katz was a kohen, and Segal, a levi. Once the families
grew substantially, folk etymologies were sought. Any
corroboration on this? Is there anyone out there who can
enlighten us some more on this matter?

-- Daniel Radzinski

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