After all this I guess I have to maintain my own PHP branch and hope for
PHP6 to address some of my issues. Or switch to another language at some
point, because a language to me is a tool, not a religion.
This is exactly the point. Why waste so much energy on deciding how to
spell out your array definitions. The decision has been made a long time
ago to use the array() syntax. Adding alternatives adds nothing but the
ability to save a few key strokes. (Personally, I would have preferred
the  syntax, BTW)
Try/catch however are a fundamental extension to the functionality of
the language. Adding these was a good idea in my opinion. Borrowing the
syntax from Java/C++ was an obvious choice.
I can't believe you would seriously consider maintaining your own PHP
branch, only to be able to use dangling commas and  array syntax.
-1 on both the array syntax and dangling comma issues.