The sign processor

Why a sign processor?

Because it is clear that a computer based list of signs should contain, for each sign, an ideal form of that sign. This ideal form in other sign lists has normally been hand drawn; it is obvious that it would be better to devise a way that the computer can generate the shapes required. It would also be very desirable if the computer can express the graphic shape of any ideal sign in the form of the smallest possible set of strings of ascii characters. This would enable the computer to do all sorts of sifting and search procedures to the sign list.

I envisage that the primary operation of the signlist would involve the user asking the computer to produce matches for any unknown sign found in a tablet. Or, since many, perhaps the majority, of extant tablets are broken, to produce matches in the sign list for fragments of signs. This operation involves asking graphic questions in order to receive graphic answers, which, since graphics are usually big complicated things, is a hard thing for the computer to do. A highly stylised and compressed notation that satisfactorily generates each and every sign in the list is essential for this kind of activity, which is so useful as to be almost a sine qua non of the database.

And, finally, the sign processor would have many uses in enabling teaching and learning of cuneiform signs.

The sign processor

Here is a working prototype. I wrote it in HyperCard on the Mac, because (a) that's the ideal environment for quick prototyping, and (b) because I don't know any better. It works. It will accept simple point and click input, and generate the majority of the signs in the Ellermeier's sign list. It enables searches for whole signs and for fragments of signs.

It is limited in some respects. It doesn't do corner wedges, and its grid is rather coarse, so it can't do signs where (say) a right pointing wedge points between two adjacent right pointing wedges. It could, if it were made not much more complex; if it did, it could express pretty well all the signs in Ellermeier.

Here it is.

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