Cantillations—SimHebrew style

In light of his continued integration of SimHebrew in his system of Hebrew representation, I asked my friend Bob MacDonald if he found SimHebrew more amenable than phonetic or scholastic rendition in combination with Hebrew téamim (cantillation marks). In reply, he told me that there are several problems with it—e.g., the dots of the i could be confused with a revia mark—and of course, the font would cause problems for some technical environments.

He then followed this up with an interesting blog post on the topic, including his improvised method of representing téamim, and the issues of using the actual ones.

But in light of the SimHebrew approach of adapting standard ASCII characters instead of the traditional characters which require higher, double-byte Unicode encodings that are not available in many contexts (much like Square Hebrew itself), I wondered if it isn’t possible to use standard signs to stand in for the official téamim. This is something that has been at the back of my mind to check out at some point, so now was as good an opportunity as ever.

As I suspected, there is a plausible collection of graphically similar equivalents to virtually all the cantillation marks within the extended ASCII character set. Some—like the zarqa (~), or munaḥ legarmeh (|), are no-brainers—others (such as the acute accent for pashta, or ∞ for qarnei pharah) involve some artistic licence. This is a first stab at the idea, so subject to modifications or improvements. Also:

  1. Because of the difficulty of displaying the graphics of the cantillations, they are referred to by name, but can be seen in the Wikipedia article on Hebrew cantillations.
  2. With the exception of the acute and grave, circumflex accents, diaeresis and tilde, all of these marks can only be placed between letters, rather than above or below, as with traditional cantillations—but these can be stripped out easily when needed in a text editor by ‘zapping gremlins’.
  3. Keypresses are for the Mac keyboard. Windows or Linux users would have to use Unicode combinations.
  4. For the sake of simplicity, the cantillations are referred to by their Ashkenazi names only.
:zaqef qatanzqf q’t:n:
;zaqef gadolzqf q’t;n;
qarnei pharahqrni prhopt-5
°tlisha gdolah°tliwa gdolhopt-shift-8
|munaḥ legarmehmunk lgrmh|shift-\
¬munaḥmunk¬opt-l (lowercase L)
˚tlisha qtanahtliwa q’tnh˚opt-k
merkha kephulahmrca cpul„hopt-shift-w
˘yeraḥ ben yomoirk bn iom˘oopt-shift-.
/sof pasuqsof psuq //
Possible substitutes for traditional cantillation marks within the established extended-ASCII character set

This means that, in SimHebrew, it’s possible to convey a text such as this:


zrqa˜ sgolˆ mn¬k m¬nk rbiy◊i mhp›ç pw’tá zqf q’t:n zqf gd;ol mrc˛a tpk¸a atkntˇa pz˘r tliwa˚-q’tnh˚ °tliwa-°gdolh qdm´a vazla azla-grw grwii”m drg≤a t˛bir ‹itib psiq| mıtg sof-ps/uq wlw≥lt qrni-pr∞h mrca-cpul„h irkirk bn iom˘o.

It’s a very busy rendition, but not more than the actual cantillation signs, and the neat thing that it’s all doable on a standard (Mac) keyboard.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Cantillations—SimHebrew style

  1. Just a terminology note. For me, sof pasuq is the ‘big colon’ ׃ . The separator is Unicode 1472 | also called a paseq.
    Did you mean paseq? Or is the terminology even more confused than I figured?
    My online source is here 

    The definitive potential for confusion is the term, sof pasuq, because our best source for cantillation is the Aleppo Codex and there are no uses of the sof pasuq there at all. But the big colon is evident in every verse in the Leningrad codex. 

    Jeffrey Burns makes what is to me an error creating great confusion when he considers sof pasuq as a cantillation symbol since it is not there in the definitive copy of the text. Haïk-Vantoura attaches no musical significance to the sof pasuq or the separator | (whatever we call it). I have noted elsewhere that the gaia and the metheg are also not significant musically but they are confused with the silluq which occurs toward the end of every verse except a very small number in the WLC. Psalms 37:32 has no silluq. Numbers 25:19 is missing the second half of the verse. It ends on an atnah.

    The confusion of naming is legion.


  2. Bob—You’re right. By rights, sof pasuq (which, as you know, means ‘end of verse’), is traditionally marked by a simple colon—but I needed the colon and semi-colon to stand for zaqef qatan and gadol, respectively. Paseq is the Sephardi name for munaḥ legarmeh in the above table. And if I remember correctly from my bar-mitzvah, the téamim in the Torah are different from those in the Prophets, so between that and the three traditions, and there is lots of scope for inconsistencies.
    As I said, this is a first stab at the idea—there are several more extended-ASCII marks that could be used if one allows for greater artistic licence.


    • The two classes of téamim are (1) for the 21 books (and the narrative of Job) and (2) for the 3 books (Psalms, Proverbs, and the speeches of Job). Traditional melodies are quite varied in current traditions around the world and yes they differ in the traditions for Torah and haftarah. Haïk-Vantoura allows for some variation through the decision on which mode to use. The mode is a variation on the ‘scale’ defined by the accents under the text.

      I don’t think I will pursue any further experimentation here since the problem of making the music available to a competent musician requires transcription syllable by syllable with vowels so that a singer who is untrained in Hebrew can sing with minimal instruction. Singers are used to picking up languages this way. It was how I initially learned Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. (My favorite part of this is the Psalms 23/Psalm 2 beginning about 3:54 The men’s part is fearsome! about 7:00)


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