Why do the Hebrew Alphabetic Presentation Forms Exist

Mark E. Shoulson mark at kli.org
Wed Jun 3 20:43:34 CDT 2020

On 6/3/20 8:21 PM, abrahamgross--- via Unicode wrote:
> What about a folded lamed? How do you think a proposal for that would 
> go? I have plenty of proof of it being used in the same sentence (even 
> in the same word) as a regular lamed, so its not just an alternate 
> form of the same character like a and ɑ.
> Here are some examples:
> https://imgur.com/a/xw9Kb8Z
I think it would be a very hard sell.  Just because they're used in the 
same sentence doesn't mean they aren't alternate forms of the same 
character.  Sometimes there were scribal preferences, etc.  There's not 
*meaning* that's different between the two LAMEDs.  There isn't any text 
where it matters which one you use where, except for trying to replicate 
the exact *appearance* of a document—and that is exactly the realm of 
more sophisticated systems.  Unicode isn't publishing software; it isn't 
supposed to replace Word.  A LAMED is a LAMED.  The example in your 
picture is actually quite interesting because it looks like they either 
ran out of bent LAMEDs or made a mistake or something.  The bent LAMED 
was invented for reasons of typesetting: LAMED is the only letter with 
an ascender, and it tended to get in the way of things with Hebrew text 
being set with little or no leading and letter-height filling almost the 
entire line-height.  You can see where there are straight LAMEDs on your 
page, that their ascenders reach into places in the line above that 
happen to be open enough not to cause problems, like spaces between 
words or letters with no baseline.  Otherwise, the bent LAMED was 
pressed into service, because that's what it's for.  Except... for the 
one you show inside a blue box.  That should have been a bent LAMED, 
because a straight one would have been bumping or almost bumping into 
the TSERE above it.  But for whatever reason, they didn't use a bent 
LAMED, and made do by taking a straight LAMED and cutting off its head!

Here's another way to look at it.  If you (or the original typesetter) 
would have set this same text in the same font slightly differently, 
maybe a little wider or narrower, or maybe with an additional word or 
even footnote-mark inserted or something, would the bent LAMEDs still be 
bent and the straight LAMEDs still be straight?  No!  The text would 
flow differently, and some of the straight LAMEDs would have to be bent, 
because they no longer had space above them, while some of the bent 
LAMEDs could be straight, because in this layout there's space for them. 
So there isn't anything about the LAMED in the word כל that you have 
highlighted in red that makes it "straight."  That isn't a feature of 
the letter in the plain text.  It's a feature of the typeset page.  Just 
like there's nothing special about an "i" following an "f" (in many 
fonts) that makes it have no dot; it's just a thing that happens to i 
following f in those fonts, that they join into an fi ligature.  It isn't 
a feature of the i, it's a feature of the typesetting.  (OK, that's a 
bad example because of course fi *is* encoded, but that was due to 
round-tripping considerations and other stuff that we don't like to 
apply anymore.  But the idea is still useful.)


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