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.

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Q&A: Is it possible to design Scrabble in languages that are not fully alphabetic, such as Hebrew?

There is a Hebrew version of Scrabble, because Hebrew has an alphabet (shucks—who do you think invented it?).

However, the Hebrew version is not always readily available—especially when one is abroad (i.e., outside Israel). For those situations (as in many others), SimHebrew (simulated Hebrew) comes in handy, as evident from this example of a Hebrew Scrabble game that we played in the family:

Scrabble in SimHebrew

Q&A: Why are the Hebrew words melakh, melekh, & malakh so similar?

Misapprehensions like this are precisely why conventional transliteration of Hebrew is so flawed.

In SimHebrew (simulated Hebrew in Latin characters), the spelling distinctions between those three words are clear, and preserved:

  • melakh’: in Hebrew מלח, in SimHebrew mlk
  • melekh’: in Hebrew מלך, in SimHebrew mlç
  • malakh’: in Hebrew מלאך, in SimHebrew mlaç

See Modern-day Ecclesiastes for more examples.

SimHebrew Torah complete

Part I of the SimHebrew Bible project is complete.

What began last September with the conversion of one chapter a day, starting with Genesis 1 (based on the Masoretic version in ktiv malé), the SimHebrew Torah (Pentateuch) is now, with the conversion of Deut. 34, has been concluded:

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Q&A: How are line breaks handled in bidirectional messages containing both English and Hebrew?

This is a very good question, as it relates to one of several unresolved problems in using traditional (‘Square’) Hebrew text in computer environments:

Mixing RTL (right-to-left) text such as Hebrew or Arabic with LTR text such as English usually wreaks havoc on the display order of the text. One reason is the conflict between two competing standards of encoding in Hebrew—Logical, and Visual:

The bi-directional way (logical method) and the visual method. In the logical method characters are stored in the electronic document in the order that a normal person would type, and in the visual method the characters are ordered assuming that the display device will order them left-to-right. In HTML, only the logical method is a real standard.[1]

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Q&A: Which letters of the Canaanite alphabet were used with the lowest letter frequency?

[A2A] Fun exercise.

In biblical (Old Testament) times, the Canaanite alphabet was common to all Canaanite nations—from Moab and Edom in the southeast to Phoenicia in the northwest. The language was substantially the same, as well, throughout that period, with dialectal differences that widened over the centuries, so that by the time of the late First Temple period (750–580 BCE) mutual comprehension was only partial.

There are plenty of references to letter frequency in modern Hebrew (one good English-language one is Stefan Trost’s Character Frequency: Hebrew). However, although linguistically modern Hebrew is very similar to biblical Hebrew, it does contain many words of foreign origin, and tends to use ‘full spelling’ (i.e. use the letters vav and yod to indicate the vowels /o/u/ and /i/, respectively), which can skew the results somewhat.

So a better test would be a certified ancient text of sufficient length to be indicative.


The Mesha Stele—a commemoration by King Mesha of Moab of the liberation of his people from the “yoke” of Israelite rule—is a good candidate in that regard, as it dates to around 840 BCE, and is written in the Moabite language, in the Canaanite script (see right).

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Is there any specific set of instructions on how to Romanize Hebrew?

The Square Hebrew / SimHebrew™ Converter will convert any Square Hebrew text into Roman characters (and back again), with full fidelity with regard to spelling and distinction between seemingly homophonous characters:

As with French, German, Italian, or any other Roman-based language, however, you would have to bear in mind that certain characters have different phonetic values compared with English:

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So long Genesis, hello Exodus: the SimHebrew Bible

Imagine a Latin text—e.g. the first verse of the Latin Vulgate Bible:

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram Terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas.
Most of us don’t know Latin, but at least we can read it, and guess at the meaning of some words—or look them up.

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