Has this ever happened to you? You’ve spent a lot of work typing out a paper, or preparing some notes on the Bible, or posting some thoughts on a blog, and like a good little Greekling, you made sure to stick to the original languages. Now you want to share your efforts, either by distributing your paper (say, sending it to a professor by email), or publishing it on the web. Well, you might have a problem. If you did not use Unicode when typing Greek, your quotation of John 3:16 may look like this:
ou[twj ga.r hvga,phsen o` qeo.j to.n ko,smon(
Why does this happen? Well, it happens because you are using an ASCII-based font. What does that mean? Before 1997, most fonts were ASCII fonts; they were fonts that represented characters using an 8-bit system. A bit is either a 1 or a 0. An 8-bit number is a string of 8 ones and/or zeroes. When you use an ASCII font, each 8-bit number represents a different character: 00000001 is “a”, 00000010 is “b”, etc. The problem? An 8-bit number can only represent 256 characters (2 to the power of 8). Remember Zelda? He could only carry 255 coins because the NES was an 8-bit system, and could therefore only count to 255 (0 counts as a number).
So the problem is, in order to type in foreign languages we need more characters. 256 is plenty for most European languages, but when you add Mandarin, Hebrew, or Greek into the equation, you will have problems. Your ASCII Greek font gets around this by mapping Greek glyphs onto English characters. A glyph is the particular representation of a character. “A” “a” “a” and “a” are different glyphs of the same character: the first letter of the English alphabet. Since ASCII cannot represent every character in every language, it just changes the glyph to match the language in question and then maps those glyphs on English characters. So your ASCII Greek font is tricking the computer. You see θέος, but the computer sees y’eow. It thinks you are writing in English, not Greek. And the problem is: the computer is right.
Now that ASCII Greek font will work fine in a lot of cases, but what if you ever want to change the font in your paper? There are many reasons to do so. You find a font you like better. You want to distribute your paper to people that might not have access to your font. You want to post it online where is will be viewed with who knows what font. Bottom line: if reading your paper depends on a particular font, you’re in trouble. And if you ever do decide to change fonts, you’re out of look: the only way is to retype all that beautiful Greek.
Or you could use Unicode from the beginning. Unlike ASCII, Unicode supports up-to 32 bits (there are different subsets, but there’s no need to bother with that). That’s 4,294,967,296 possible slots, which is more than enough to support every character in every language. That’s the bottom line: Unicode lets us type out characters, not glyphs, so we don’t have to trick the computer. We can tell the computer from the beginning that we want to type in Greek–ancient Greek, to be precise–and the computer will respond accordingly. All major Word Processors support Unicode, as do most browsers. Its the standard, and you should use it.
So how do you set it up? Good question. The answer: if you’re using any modern Operating System (Windows 98 and after, any Mac, any Linux), it’s already running. Times New Roman is a Unicode font, and you can use it to type in Greek and Hebrew (though its not very pretty). The problem is, most of our systems assume we only want to type in English. We need to tell our system that we are smarter than it gives us credit, that we know Greek and will sometimes be typing in Greek. There is complicated, expensive, and bloated software out there on the web to help you do this, but they’re completely unnecessary. Windows (and Linux and Apple) can do it, and it’s not difficult. You just need to change a few settings, which we’ll do together (with pictures!) next post. And I’ll also provide some good open-standard font suggestions.
As a practical note, many of us simply copy and paste from our Bible software. For me, it’s Bibleworks, though the Perseus Project has the entire Greek bible online, and in Unicode. Bibleworks prior to version 7, for reasons I cannot fathom, did not support Unicode. Bibleworks 7 provides such support, but it is, for reasons I cannot fathom, not enabled by default. This is easy to change, however. Just go to “Tools” -> “Options” and click on the “Fonts” tab. Click “Export Fonts,” which will provide you with two boxes you can check. Check them, and you’re good to go. Now whenever you copy and paste from Bibleworks 7, it will export the text in Unicode. Finally, your readers will know the truth, regardless of their fonts:
οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
More to come, and hope this helps.