The System for Ethiopic Representation in ASCII

-1997 Standard-

Why SERA-97?

What is being called ``SERA-97'' is the accumulation of adjustments that occurred during the year 1996. More so than not, changes in ``SERA-97'' are simplifications. The new SERA standard will be compatible with the bulk of existing documents. This document describes adjustments and their rationale, a summary is also available.

The necessity for change arose when the SERA-95 multilingual mechanisms were implemented in software and found to be overly cumbersome. Further SERA was too self imposing of its escape rules within the domains of other scripts. Simplification of SERA's multilingual and punctuation escapes will make it a better citizen in multilingual transliterated documents. New escapes have also been added so that users default preferences can, optionally of course, be transported in a document.

The core of SERA remains the transliteration specification for Ethiopic text. The adjustments to escapes are superfluous to the general user with the average email software. The escape adjustment however assures developers that they can apply SERA and maintain a documents integrity while still in human readable form. SERA-97 changes are now covered in the order of importance to the Ethiopic composer writing in ASCII (See the SERA FAQ for the complete specification).

New Transliteration for e3

The 8th vowel used in Amharic was represented in SERA as e3. The sound of the character of course is ``e''. The rationale being that ``ea'' is a little easier to read and easier on the eyes than ``e3'' -associating sounds with digits is unnatural. ``ea'' is an unlikely construct in a word and should not present conflicts with literal ``e''``a'' (i.e. in Amharic or in Tigrigna). If two and not one character is truly desired the SERA separator ' may be applied as per `` e'a ''.

Transliteration for

An icon used infrequently and primarily in advertisements and not literature, is [Image]. The glyph may be found in one font marketed by Monotype since 1989. The icon is temporarily referred to as ``ornament'' (if you know a real name please send email) corresponding to its usage as decorative or ``ornamental''. The SERA assignment is \~X which applies the private use escape system. Otherwise, without using special escapes the above is treated erroneously as a punctuation and not as a glyph.

Ethiopic Numbers

Ethiopic numbers are now given by Arabic numbers, as before, but prefixed with ` rather than \ . This change has been informally documented in early 1996. The rationale is to reserve \ strictly for escapes use with the premise that all Ethiopic text should be represented in ASCII with out the use of escapes. This shift also formalizes the role of ` as an ``alternate'' modifier as it has played previously with phonically equivalent syllables (i.e. se vs `se for [Image] and [Image]).

Default Setting Escapes

SERA allows for adjustable transliteration for different writing practices applied with Ethiopic text. Such practices lead to different transliteration preferences into Roman script. Generally these preferences would be set as application defaults and transcribed into and out of Ethiopic without loss of content -given the same preference settings. To communicate these preferences between applications and to assure the character integrity of the document the default settings have thus far been defined:

      \~`:    Use : for Ge'ez Wordspace `: (The Default if Unspecified)

      \~-:    Use : for Ge'ez Colon -:

      \~?     Use  ? for Ge'ez Stylized Question Mark  (The Default)
              Use `? for Ge'ez 3-Dot Question Mark     (The Default)

      \~`|    Use  ? for Ge'ez 3-Dot Question Mark
              Use `? for Ge'ez Stylized Question Mark
Other preferences may be implicit to language selection. In example the transliterated value of ``a'' for Amharic ([Image]) vs Tigrigna. ([Image])

The Verbatim Mode Escape

SERA has defined a special purpose ``Verbatim Mode'' whereby all escapes are ignored until the closing verbatim mode escape. While little used, the verbatim mode escape does offer a convenience to authors when called upon. The verbatim mode escape is now redefined in SERA-97 as \~! where previously it had been \! . The rationale here is to avoid confusion with the punctuation escape rules and to assert more strongly that \~ be required for special text processing. The verbatim mode in SERA is recognized now as special text processing.

Multilingualism and Escapes

During 1995 and 1996 changes have been creeping into SERA to make it more language and less script based. This shift was necessary to meet the different needs of languages that use Ethiopic script for writing. Generally SERA documents are bilingual (English and Amharic for example) but the foresight is also required for multilingualism (Arabic, Amharic, and Japanese, etc). In practice however, simplification of the rules initially introduced was found to be necessary.

There remains the inherent assumption that SERA documents will be bilingual and the concept of a ``Primary'' and ``Secondary'' Languages are applied. These are the languages traditionally toggled by \ in SERA. They may now be set explicitly by:


which again sets the interpretation for an unadorned \ . languagePrimary and languageSecondary are ISO 639 two or three character language names (i.e. \~amh~eng for Amharic and English).

Example Usage:
    \~amh~eng   this is amharic        (Set Primary/Secondary)
    \~tir       this is tigrigna       (New Third Language)
    \           this is amharic        (Return To Primary)
    \           this is english        (Secondary)
    \~ar~gz     this is arabic         (Reset Primary/Secondary)
    \           this is ge'ez          (Secondary)

Undefined from SERA-95

SERA-95 introduced a number of important ideas with ultimately poor implementations. As SERA documentation has indicated throughout 1996 the concept of a ``Mode for ASCII-Glyph Based Composition of Ethiopic Punctuation'' is discarded. Though the punctuations intruded in the SERA-95 document are retained. An exception would be the definition of \? for the archaic 3-dot question mark which is now defined by `? (though configurable as a writing practice preference).

In The Future for SERA?

We hope at this point changes in the basic transliteration system will not occur -but it is impossible to rule out future adjustments. As more is learned about orthographic practices in Eritrea and Ethiopia; additions may be made albeit increasingly minor.

Ethiopic character have been found at the Academy of Ethiopian Languages that were devised for Sidamigna and related languages. More needs to be learned about their sounds and actual use in print. Possible SERA assignments for this series of 28 characters might follow:
Le or `le = [Image]
Me or `me = [Image]
Re or `re = [Image]
`ne = [Image]

Another issue that needs to be addressed is handling of the often observed writing practice where ``go'' and ``ko'' are written when for the glyphs (gWe) and (kWe) instead of the more rigorously penned (ko) and (ko). This writing practice is prevalent enough for Ethiopic that it may be useful in SERA to set the glyph preferences with \~gWe and \~kWe or something similar.