¿Y si el secreto de empezar a entender la paleografía hebrea estuviera en la tipografía hebrea?:

Note that the Hebrew script does not have true serifs. However, as it is common practice in Israel to use the term ‘serif’ to describe the small in-strokes residing on the ‘x-height’ horizontal strokes (and for lack of a better, agreed term) I retained this term here.

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Hebrew is usually thought of as a horizontally stressed script, as opposed to the Latin being a vertical stressed script. One can usually notice the two heavy horizontal bars apparent in Hebrew text, on both the upper ‘x-height’ and the lower baseline zones. It should be noted however that early inscriptions, as well as many contemporary ‘sans-serif’ typefaces show a vertical stress or no contrast at all.

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As opposed to the Latin, Hebrew is not made from any simple geometrical forms. Most significant in their absence are the circular forms so prevalent in the Latin script.

The Ashkenazic style […] with its dense texture, monotonous rhythm and contrasted letterforms, was clearly influenced by the Gothic blackletter of the time. It is noteworthy that the vertical high contrast stress present in the Latin was converted into a horizontal equivalent.

The next milestone was the influence of the Didot-Bodoni Modern style. This trend, popular from the end of the eighteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth centuries in Europe had a destructive influence on Hebrew. The adoption of this highly contrasted style in Hebrew resulted in fragile, illegible types. Similarly to the Ashkenazic style, this Hebrew style had extremely heavy horizontal strokes and hairline vertical strokes. Henri Friedlaender, the renowned typographer, said that while in Latin script it was mostly the serifs that were reduced to a minimal width, in Hebrew the exaggerated contrast of thicks and thins damaged the very basic structure of the type. A Hebrew text line of the time looked like two heavy horizontal lines with nothing between them. Moreover, this extreme slenderness of the verticals aggravated problems of letter differentiation – already present in Hebrew – and hence hindered legibility. Many of the Hebrew letters’ identifying marks are located on the joints of the horizontals and verticals. With the vanishing of the verticals, differentiation became scarcely possible.

As this Hebrew style was practically the only type style in use during the nineteenth century, one can easily recognize how dramatic this influence was.

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This issue of symmetry is crucial. Vertical axis symmetry in letterforms creates an exaggerated and overly static stability. As the Hebrew has this clear sense of horizontal continuity and leftward movement, a symmetrical letter abruptly breaks the reading flow. It puts a spoke in the wheel.

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Americanization is highly dominant in Israeli society and culture. Israelis wish to feel they belong to the western culture: they want the American (or European, for that matter) style of life. The vast majority of Israeli fashion, food and retail chains have changed their names in recent years to English brand names. The Hebrew language is absorbing more English terms, names and even verbs increasingly everyday. Thus, it is natural to find this influence diffusing into the language’s visual form, the type. Beside types that make use of Latin letters’ parts, the latest and trendiest Latin types are converted into Hebrew. Many Emigre types for instance, have distant relatives in Israel. In most cases, these are rather poor derivatives that both ignore tradition and offer inferior legibility.

Hebrew versions for international brands’ logotypes: Carlsberg, Sprite and Fanta.

Tiene que existir algo entre el exasperante impresionismo de Colette Sirat (su L’œil et la machine fue flor de un día) y la estatisticolatría ramplona de Malachi Beit-Arié. A veces la línea de Beit-Arié consigue despertar un interés notable, que se conjuga con curiosidad, pero enseguida degenera en lo cuantitativo, confundiendo lo cualitativo del examen paleográfico con una mera matemática, en lugar de una formalización. Yo no quiero ecuaciones: yo quiero resultados falsificables, métodos que sirvan la pluralidad de los seres existentes, en este caso, primero los manuscritos pero, casi ineluctablemente, la ciencia de todo lo que esté escrito (¿Schriftenkunde?). Y, de paso, tener bien claras las dos categorías principales: ausencia y presencia. La única verdad constatable de los libros es que desaparecen. ¿En qué consiste pues la masa crítica de las elucubraciones estadísticas de Beit-Arié? ¿En la ausencia transformada en necesidad por un arte de birlibirloque epistemológico que no considera siquiera digno de explicarse? 

Coda: Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos. Peor lo tienen los de árabe. Menos mal que les queda Déroche.

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