Avestan transcription

bpj at netg.se bpj at netg.se
Wed Feb 26 13:45:28 UTC 1997

At 22:24 25.2.1997 +0000, George Thompson wrote:
>I have recently had reason to cite a few Avestan words in an e-mail, and
>realized that I do not know of any convention for transcribing Avestan on
>the Internet.  A brief search in the Internet has not led me to a source
>for this information.  Can anyone on the List recommend one?

There is none, AFAIK. I myself have done some thinking on how to represent
both Sanskrit and Avestan on a web-page (not yet up, but will be before the
Greek Kalends ;-), helping myself only with the standard HTML
special-character and style tags. I will describe this first before
proposing a means to transcribe Avestan in e-mail and usenet. Those who are
only interested in the practical solution to this question mat scroll down
to the paragraph preceded by a row of stars (*******).

With the vowels a macron can obviously be substituted by a circumflex, and
there are also some other useful accented letters, such as a-ring. In
Avestan I decided to use a-umlaut and the ae-ligature respectively for
short and long schwa, since that is probably perspicuous for most people
familiar with the standard transcription, and c-cedilla for the sound in
asha/artha, as in Old Persian.

For the most part, however, recourse had to be taken to other means. As it
happens the Macintosh and Windows "Symbol" fonts are identical -- except
for the Apple-symbol in the Mac font --, so for the majority of
graphical-browser users Greek letters are in practice available through the
<FONT FACE> tag. For the rest recourse has to be taken to other means. I
experimented with the strikeout-tag, which has the same effect as
backspacing and typing a hyphen across a letter on a typewriter.
Unfortunately it is not as useful as one would wish. Underlining is also of
limited usefulness, since it can be confused with hypertext links.

So one has to do the best one can of digraphs. The first way that springs
to mind for making these distinguishable from true letter sequences is to
italicize the second letter of a digraph. It works, no question about it,
but it gives to the uninitiated a false impression of the italic letters
being more emphasized than the non-italic! I therefore found the <SUP> and
<SUB> tags that make letters appear above and below the line more useful --
so useful in fact that I footed the idea of incorporating actual Greek
letters! For extra elegance the rised letters may be reduced in size
through the <FONT SIZE -1> tag, though I don't find this worth the while.


How, then, to translate this system into something useable in e-mail and
Usenet? For Sanskrit it has proven rather useful to employ distinctive
capitalization, so that the caps become de-facto separate letters, but for
Avestan this is not as convenient, since here several modifications are
often applied to the same base letter. One solution is to capitalize the
first letter of a digraph, but then you have to capitalize also those
letters that are not part of a digraph, and this makes caps predominant in
an uncomfortable way.

Another method, with some precedence in earlier printed works, is to use
some marker to indicate that what follows is a digraph. It does in fact
make every digraph a trigraph, but it is practical all the same. For the
role of such a marker the obvious choice seems to be the grave
accent/inverted apostophe mark
( ` ASCII 96). In some cases non-letters (circumflex ^ comma , period . and
tilde ~ ) have been used to form digraphs. It does not seem necessary to
preceede these by the inverted apostrophe, since normal comma and period do
not come immediately before a letter without an intervening space. In those
cases where one of these non-letter diacritics is preceded by the inverted
apostrophe this means that the circumflex, comma, period, or tilde forms a
TRIGRAPH with the two following letters, the first of which is the
base-letter. For schwa the @ sign has been adopted, as usual in phonetic
transcription on the Net.

Comments and constructive criticisms invited

B.Philip Jonsson <bpj at netg.se>



a       a
^a      a-macron
`ao     a-macron-ring
,a      a-hook
`,ao    a-hook-ring
@       schwa/rotated e
^@      schwa-macron
e       e
^e      e-macron
o       o
^o      o-macron
i       i
^i      i-macron
u       u
^u      u-macron
k       k
x       x/chi
`xy     x-acute
`xv     x-v-superscript
..g      g-dot
`gh     gamma
c       c
j       j
t       t
`th     theta
d       d
`dh     delta
~t      t-tilde
p       p
f       f
b       b
`bh     beta    (alternatively: w)
~n      eng     (to allow the following trigraphs!)
`~ny    eng-acute
`~nv    eng-v-superscript
n       n
`ny     n-acute
..n      n-dot
m       m
,m      m-hook
y       y       (alternatively: {.y} y-dot)
v       v
r       r
..s      s-dot   (abbreviated for {`.sh} s-wedge-dot)
s       s
z       z
`sh     s-wedge
`zh     z-wedge
`sy     s-acute (abbreviated for s-wedge-acute)
`zy     z-acute (abbreviated for z-wedge-acute)
                (preferred to the bare {y} or {`yz})
h       h

(end of file)

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