Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


1 Comment

So long Genesis, hello Exodus

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.

Now imagine the same text, but in a non-Roman script, such as traditional Square Hebrew:

אין פרינקיפיו קריאביט דאוס קאלום את תראם תרא אאוטם אראט אינאניס את ואקוא את טנבראה סוּפר פאקיאם אבּיסי את ספיריטוּס דאי פרבּאטור סוּפר אקואס.

If you’re not a fluent Hebrew reader, this is an order of magnitude more difficult, isn’t it? Possibly enough to put you off even trying to deciphering it.

The SimHebrew Bible is the product of this realisation. It is a simulation of the Hebrew Bible in Roman characters, to make it accessible to people who would like to read the Hebrew Bible in the original, but cannot read traditional (“Square”) Hebrew script (or do so with difficulty). Thanks to this simulation, anyone who familiar with the Roman alphabet can see the actual language of the Hebrew Bible, in terms of its spelling, word roots, linguistic patterns, etc.  This provides insights into the biblical text that are not possible in translations (however good), in conventional quasi-phonetic transliteration, or even in linguistic transliteration.

I embarked on this project some two months ago or so—the culmination—and first serious application—of my SimHebrew development project, which I’ve worked on (on and off) for the past eighteen years.With the completion of the Book of Genesis, I feel more confident about seeing the project through.

1170816_brawit_bra_psuqim1_5.png

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Which top countries have their own alphabet but have transliteration problem in Latin characters?

I don’t know if Israel counts as a “top country” in this regard, but it does have a problem with transliteration of Hebrew into English (or in Roman characters in general).

Essentially, the problem is one of what is known in information theory as information loss: in the process of converting from Hebrew to English, information about the spelling of words (including the distinctions between letters that are essentially homophonic, such as ḥet and khaf, tet and tav, kaf and quf, samekh and sin, etc.) is lost, so if you were to try and convert back to Hebrew, you wouldn’t be able to reconstitute the original spelling—even if you were a native Hebrew speaker and recognised the words, as in the following example, from a poem of homophones titled Modern-day Ecclesiastes:

Continue reading


1 Comment

SimHebrew: Hebrew unbound (and preserved)

Ask the average Westerner what Hebrew looks like, and they would probably imagine something like this:

1170816_dg_sqrn_msorti

Ask the average Israeli, and they would probably imagine much the same, but perhaps in a more modern, more subtly serif, or non-serif font:

1170816_dg_sqrn_rynnh.png

Some might cite an example of modern Hebrew cursive writing:

1170816_dg_sqrn_ctb_rhut.png

Continue reading