Thursday, 16 September 2021

Explaining a bit of project history

I am remembering the days of my infancy and the Bible I tried to learn from to read Hebrew. Look at verse 9: the verse containing the verb yod-qof-dalet, וַֽיַּעֲקֹד֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֔וֹ, in SimHebrew, viyqod at-ixkq bno. Note in this Bible how far away from the English verse 9 is in the Hebrew. I actually tried to use this Bible when listening to a reading - years ago now. It was nearly impossible to see the assumptions hidden in the translation in real time. How often, I wondered did that verb 'bind' occur?

Here is the same page from the SimHebrew Bible. There is no difficulty matching the Hebrew and the English here. They are always side by side. And you have time both to hear a different version being read, and to process the decisions in the translation you are listening to. 

I use this on my phone (a lot less heavy than the paper edition of course) and am easily able to navigate from the psalm to the lesson and even to search English or Hebrew. And I see that the word for bound (bind) - rendered trussed in the English guide on the right (my translation) is a hapax - at least as far as the word form is concerned. If I went to the built-in glossary, a click would bring me to a full concordance showing the uniqueness of the word form but a few other uses in Genesis as well. See yqd.

Searching in the SimHebrew Bible

Two of us have collaborated on this project, Jonathan Orr-Stav, a third-generation Hebrew-English translator, and Bob MacDonald, a retired programmer and musician whose translation is included as the English Guide to the Hebrew.

The two projects, SimHebrew reaching back over the last 20 years, and my translation for the music of the te'amim, over the last 15 years, converged with some rapidity during the pandemic. Jonathan completed his semi-manual transcription of the malé text, and I wrote a program to convert the text of the Aleppo Codex to equivalent SimHebrew. This convergence allowed us to automate the proof-reading process, his manual process refining my program, and my programming allowing him to find typos.

The project has been designed to allow non-Hebrew readers to see and learn Biblical Hebrew more easily. It removes the barrier of right to left reading as well as learning a strange tongue in a strange alphabet. It also yields significant technical advantages:
  1. One big advantage is a single keyboard for entering accurate search criteria. I have seen and used multiple Hebrew keyboards and they are both incompatible and inconvenient. 
  2. The compactness of SimHebrew highlights the structure of the Hebrew word forms for those who do not read square text. 
  3. I have programmed with Unicode and it would have been impossible to do what I have done to semi-automate the translation process without a Latin abbreviation for Hebrew characters. I made my own up 10 or so years ago and switched to SimHebrew in 2019 because it is a better mapping. 
SimHebrew allows and will allow many to see and hear Hebrew who otherwise would not get over the barriers of rtl processing, multiple keyboards, and square text.

To quip (again) on Qohelet: In contrast to Qohelet's view, "vain cl-kdw tkt hwmw", there is something new under the sun. It's called Simhebrew. It is a new way of reading Hebrew - complementary to but easier than the square text.

Look for The SimHebrew Bible // The Hebrew Bible in Simulated Hebrew – with English Guide, ISBN 978-0-9811338-1-2. General availability is November 11. I can't tell you the cost yet, but it will be a lot less expensive and more useful than that paper Bible from 15 years ago. 

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