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A routine check of the Netscape home page on Thursday, August 1, yielded an unexpected, though not unanticipated, discovery. The latest beta version of the Netscape Navigator browser now supports the display of non-Roman characters on Mac, Windows, and Unix platforms. In other words, you can now read TC articles with Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac words in their original scripts!
Netscape has once again supplemented the HTML standard, this time with
face attribute to their non-standard
Those of us who were sorely disappointed when the original version of the
font tag included only the ability to enlarge, reduce, and
specify the vertical position of characters now have reason to sing the
praises of the developers at Netscape. While font sizes, superscripts,
and subscripts are indeed useful in an electronic journal that deals with
textual criticism, these features pale in importance in comparison with
the ability to display the languages of the biblical texts in their
For those of you who are anxious to use this tag (hopefully in submissions to TC!), this is how it works:
face attribute of the
font tag specifies
the font that will be loaded to display the following string of
characters. All of the text that follows will be displayed in the
specified font until the
/font tag is encountered. In the
example, the single word "Alfa" is displayed in Greek characters using
the SPIonic font.
While the ability to display non-Roman characters is a tremendous
advance, particularly for those of us interested in reading texts in their
original languages and not transliterated, Netscape's implementation does
not solve all of the problems faced by textual scholars. One problem that
remains is the problem of lack of standards among fonts of a particular
language. Greek fonts, for example, are plentiful, but where Greek
abounds, diversity abounds even more. There is no standard Greek
character map. In other words, while the character "b" probably
represents the Greek letter beta in most fonts, how do you
represent a smooth breathing mark combined with a circumflex accent?
There are almost as many answers to this question as there are Greek fonts
in existence. Unicode, a sixteen bit
encoding scheme, offers a possible solution to the problem just mentioned.
Because it offers a standard code point for each Greek character, accent,
and breathing mark, all Unicode fonts will share the same character map.
Unicode-compliant browsers will be able to read the HTML file, including
any non-Roman characters, and display everything in the proper script,
without the use of the
font tag. One Unicode browser, Accent
Mosaic, is currently on the market in beta form, although at present it
only works on Windows machines. To solve the problem of multiple
character maps, TC will use the public domain fonts available from the Scholars Press FTP site
for all its articles. If you want to read the articles in the original
scripts, you will have to download and install the proper fonts.
Another shortcoming with the current Netscape implementation is that
right-to-left languages like Hebrew do not display properly across line
breaks unless special precautions are taken. For example, if a two word
Hebrew phrase is broken over two lines, the second word (the one on the
left) will appear on the first line, while the first word will be on the
second line. This problem can be overcome in one of two ways. For short
phrases of only a few words, non-breaking spaces
) can be used to join words together. For
example, the first three words of Genesis would be encoded as follows:
<font face="SPTiberian">Myhl) )rb ty#)rb</font>
The non-breaking spaces force all three words to appear on the same
line. This solution works fine for short phrases, but longer selections
of Hebrew words, particularly multi-line quotations, must be handled
differently. The way to display long quotations is to use a
pre (preformatted) tag, as follows:
<pre> <font face="SPTiberian">(Hebrew quotation, with lines broken appropriately) </font> </pre>
One obvious drawback to using either non-breaking spaces or
pre tags is that long spaces may be left at the end of lines.
pre tags are particularly problematic, since all the words
between the tags appear on the screen as though they were a separate
paragraph. Again, Unicode provides at least a partial solution to this
problem, because right-to-left language processing is built into Unicode,
so any Unicode-compliant browser will display Hebrew words properly.
Unfortunately, the Unicode standard for Hebrew is not yet complete.
Unicode will solve some of the problems that remain with the display of non-Roman characters on the Web, but not all of them. SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) and Java offer other possible solutions, but there are no current implementations of either that do everything that textual scholars would like for them to do. The time is coming, however, when these and other display problems will be solved.
While awaiting Utopia, readers of TC can enjoy the benefits of Netscape's latest contribution to the Web community. For more than two years I myself have been impatiently waiting for the ability to display Hebrew and Greek (and Syriac, and Coptic) on the Web. I may not be in Eden yet, but I feel like I've at least reached the land of Nod, somewhere in the immediate vicinity.
James R. Adair, Jr. General Editor