From: Stephen Emmel
Date: 22 June 2004
Re: Unicode and Coptic

Those interested in this topic may consult the revised Coptic proposal
(N2744) written by Michael Everson and myself earlier this year,
click here
or go through Mr. Everson's
web site (which is interesting in his own right):
http://www.evertype.com/ --> Unicode & ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 (under the
heading "Standards") --> Formal proposal documents --> N2744: Revision of
the Coptic block under ballot for the BMP of the UCS by Michael Everson, &
Stephen Emmel. This proposal is currently being discussed by the relevant
Unicode committees, and I expect to be able to report their decision
regarding it at the IACS business meeting after the upcoming congress in

Stephen Emmel

From: Stephen Emmel Date: 29 January 2004 Re: Unicode and Coptic Dear Colleagues, I am pleased to inform you that the encoding of Coptic in the Universal Character Set (UCS) being created by "Unicode" is progressing. Near the end of last year (2003), a specific proposal was submitted by a "member body" of the Unicode consortium, specifying what characters needed to be added to the UCS in order for Coptic to be adequately represented as an alphabet distinct from Greek. Unfortunately, despite an appropriate line of communication having been opened in the previous year, the IACS was not consulted soon enough to be able to exert any direct influence on that proposal before it was considered and voted on by the appropriate Unicode committee. Although that proposal was less than satisfactory from a professional Coptologist's point of view, it is nonetheless good news that the proposal was approved by the Unicode screening committee and slated for discussion, in due course, by the appropriate joint ISO/Unicode committee in February 2004. Therefore, I (representing the IACS) submitted a set of comments on the proposal for consideration at the February meeting. My comments on the Coptic proposal that is currently under consideration are attached here for your information. If you have any comments to make on my comments, please direct them either to me personally or to this list. Although it is already too late to alter the document that I have submitted to the ISO/Unicode committee for its February meeting, it is always possible to make supplementary proposals to Unicode asking for necessary further additions to the UCS. Before you read my formal comments, I want to make a few remarks by way of introduction and explanation (those who do not know just what Unicode is may consult its web site for general information: http://www.unicode.org). First, please bear in mind that registering Coptic characters in the UCS is not the same thing as creating a definitive Coptic computer font. Increasingly, font designers will create their products on the basis of Unicode's UCS, and therefore the IACS felt it was important to try to ensure that a certain degree of support for Coptic is built into that system. But it is still hard (at least for those of us who are not trained as font-designers) to foresee just how Unicode will effect the production of scholarly fonts, especially for those of us who use a variety of related alphabets (Coptic and Greek, for example) in a single document. While it is important that every essential character we need be present somewhere in the UCS, it is not reasonable to expect things like general punctuation marks to occur there more than once. Which raises certain practical questions that font designers will have to answer if they are to produce fonts truly adequate for our needs. In the meantime, my task has been to try to ensure that all the characters (at any rate, all the essential characters) that a Coptologist needs for his or her work with Coptic are present somewhere in the UCS. See further "The Basic Coptological Character Set in Unicode's UCS" (attached here ). Second, please also bear in mind that (as Unicode repeats at the top of each of its code charts) "the shapes of the reference glyphs used in these code charts are not prescriptive. Considerable variation is to be expected in actual fonts." We are fortunate that Unicode finally saw the wisdom of not treating Coptic alpha as a mere variant ("glyph") of Greek alpha, and I think we will succeed in convincing them that Coptic requires a set of upper-case (Bohairic) alphabetic characters, but we cannot expect them to register a Bohairic small alpha alsongside a Sahidic one, and a Manichaean Lycopolitan one, and a cursive one, and so on. Just as the codepoint U+0061 stands for something like the "Platonic form" of the Latin character "a" (which must be realized in a specific shape such as Times roman, or Arial italic, or Courier bold), so the codepoint U+03E3 stands for the Platonic form of the Coptic character "lower-case (small) shai," which happens to be illustrated in Unicode's code chart in a Bohairic-like form. The fact that we might want to have a variety of Coptic fonts at our disposal (Sahidic, Bohairic, Manichaean Lycopolitan, Mesokemic), just as we like to have a choice among Times, Arial, Courier, and so on, is a problem of font design and not one of encoding characters in the UCS. Third, with regard to the names assigned to the characters in the UCS (COPTIC LETTER ALFA, COPTIC LETTER VIDA [i.e., beta], etc.), please bear in mind that these names are merely labels of no particular scientific importance. Also, Unicode has certain rules that must be followed in naming characters in the UCS. The existing names were created, I assume, by the author of the proposal that was submitted with little input from the IACS. After the proposal was approved by the initial screening committee, it seemed to me to be sensible to leave the matter of names alone and concentrate on other, more important matters. Finally, where to find the documents to which my comments refer. The Unicode document N2636, "Revised proposal to add the Coptic alphabet to the BMP of the UCS," can be seen at http://anubis.dkuug.dk/JTC1/SC2/WG2/docs/n2636.pdf, and Unicode's provisional acceptance (N2676) of this proposal (and others) can be seen at http://anubis.dkuug.dk/JTC1/SC2/WG2/docs/n2676.pdf (see pp. 46-47 for the Coptic character set). The original treatment of Coptic as a mere extension of Greek is on display at http://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U0370.pdf, which you can read also via the button labelled "Greek" at http://www.unicode.org/charts. Via the latter page you can also access all existing Unicode code charts. Sincerely yours, Stephen Emmel emmstel@nwz.uni-muenster.de