1. Introduction to SERA

1.1. What is SERA?

``SERA'' is an acronym for ``System for Ethiopic Representation in ASCII''. Most simply put -SERA is a way to write in Fidel script using Latin letters. More extendedly; SERA is a convention for transliteration of Fidel script into Latin that insures the integrity of the format and content of the original document, and that it be fully transportable across all computer mediums.

As important as the preservation of the original content; the transliteration system is also designed to be as easy to read and type as possible. SERA has been under continued development since early 1993 with the aim to fill these roles naturally and intuitively.

Work on SERA originated to facilitate email exchanges. Development has occurred on and off-line of computer networks serving the Fidel script user communities. Contributors come from all walks of life; they are linguists, engineers, economists, programmers, adults, children, educators, students, Americans, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Europeans, and Japanese.

The convention for Fidel script that SERA has grown into is now capable of serving and supporting Fidel in all computer and personal requirements.

1.2. What is Ethiopic?

``Ethiopic'' is the term most familiar to the western world for the primary writing system of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Other terms that have been used for the script in the west have been ``Abyssinian'', ``Ethiopian'' and ``Abyssinic''. In Eritrea and Ethiopia the writing system is known affectionately as ``Ge'ez'', ``Fidel'', and ``Fidelat'' and the foreign names may never be heard in ones lifetime. This GIF allows for examination of the script.

Ethiopic is now a candidate for the Unicode address block U+1200 - U+138F. In the present paper several names may be used interchangeably for the script, the current choice of one term over the others should not be interpreted as any more correct or identifying as would be the choice of simply ``U+1200 - U+138F''.

1.3. What is ASCII?

ASCII \'as-(,)ke^-\
[American Standard Code for Information Interchange]
:a code for representing alphanumeric information 
ASCII uses 7-bit encoding of computer letters which means there are 128 addresses available to assign to letters that people and computers may use. Of the 128 available letters, humans are given enough for the letters on a Latin keyboard -usually the following 95:
        a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
        A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
        1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 - = ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ +
        [ ] { } \ | / < > ; : ' " , . ? `
These 95 characters are sufficient for humans to communicate with one another (in languages with a history of Latin script as a writing system) the rest computers need for communication with each other and special purposes.

ASCII is the present norm for communication on the Internet, unfortunately Fidel requires a 9-bit system for more than 360 addresses. So here lies the crux of our problem -how to squeeze Fidel, understandably, into the smaller box of letters than ASCII can hold.

1.4. What is Transliteration and Transcription?

SERA is a transliteration system for Ge'ez script. The difference is significant but not always apparent. In example: Ertra, ityoPya, and fidel are SERA transliterations for the words also transcribed in English as Ethiopia, Eritrea, and fidel. In the exceptional last case the transcription and transliteration systems arrived at the same result.

Further, John Clews of ISO/TC46/SC2 writes:

Transliteration is the process which consists of representing the characters of an alphabetical or syllabic system of writing by the characters of a conversion alphabet, this being the easiest way to ensure the complete and unambiguous reversibility of the conversion alphabet in the converted system.

In exceptional cases, e.g. when the number of characters used in the conversion system is smaller than the number of characters of the converted system, it is necessary to use digraphs or diacritical marks. In this case one must avoid as far as possible arbitrary choice and the use of purely conventional marks, and try to maintain a certain phonetic logic in order to give the system a wide acceptance.

However, it must be accepted that the graphism obtained may not always be correctly pronounced according to the phonetic habits of the language(or of all the languages) which usually use(s) the conversion alphabet. On the other hand this graphism must be such that the reader who has a knowledge of the converted language may mentally restore unequivocally the original graphism and thus pronounce it.

Transcription is the process whereby the sounds of a given language are noted by the system of signs of a conversion language.

A transcription system is of necessity based on the orthographical conventions of the conversion language. Transcription is not strictly reversible.

Transcription may be used for the conversion of all writing systems. It is the only method that can be used for systems that are not entirely alphabetical or syllabic and for all ideophonographical systems of writing like Chinese.

1.5. What is the need for SERA?

It is the need to communicate, in a simple, consistent, and unambiguous manner, in a medium that is restrictive to such communication with the script of choice.

It is the need to have Fidel script be fully transportable between computer architectures, operating systems, software, data lines, and on storage media; via the lowest common denominator of communication between all systems -ASCII.

It is the need to use Fidel script on computers systems of any kind as easily and as effortlessly as simple key strokes upon a keyboard.

1.6. What is the present version of SERA?

Refinements to the system were introduced January 1st, 1997 under the name SERA-97.

1.7. Is SERA also a typing method and font address system for Fidel?

Ease of keyboard entry is a governing consideration in the design of SERA and effects many of the character mapping choices. SERA's primary purpose is not to be a Fidel input method for computers, but may be (and has been) efficiently applied as one.

X-Windows fonts were designed recently to go with software that also applied SERA. These fonts have used SERA name identifiers for each of the characters; the algorithmic addressing scheme of the characters however is not encompassed by, nor an issue addressed by SERA.

1.8. Is SERA just for Fidel and Latin?

No. By convention it is Fidel biased, however, as the character mappings follow phonetic guidelines the same principles may be applied to other scripts. Given this, SERA developers think SERA would be a good system for other syllabaries to apply. However users of other scripts have long since had systems they are happy with. The extensions made to SERA in 1995 do allow for multi-, and not just bi-, lingualism. Existing ASCII conventions for other scripts, such as Arabic, may be applied within SERA documents in zones marked for the additional script. With the multilingual mechanism provided in SERA, SERA becomes compatible with any other 7-bit encoding convention.

1.9. What is a ``zone'' of text?

A ``zone'' or ``mode'' of text is a term used to refer to a region of text that, when transcribed, will primarily be of a single script type. In SERA zones are marked with the escape character ``\'' between which text will be primarily of either Ge'ez, Latin, or another script.
 ..latin.. \ ..fidel.. \~ar ..arabic.. \~el ..greek.. \ ..fidel..
The above shows five zones of four different scripts.