What is a Digital Editorial Intervention? On the primacy of syntax in digital scholarly editions, and the limits of digital editorial interventions

Joris J. van Zundert, T.L. Andrews

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperScientificpeer-review

Abstract

The classical form of a scholarly edition—a text, with an accompanying set of annotations that is expressed in the stylized form of a critical apparatus—can easily be seen as text encoding in its own right. Semantic information is encoded in a particular rarefied syntax, which expresses to the philologically literate the editor’s interpretation of, and occasional intervention in, the text. From this perspective, digital text encoding is a natural step: the same expression of editorial interpretation and intervention, already regarded as a formalised language, is translated to a syntax meant to be parsed by a machine. Yet there remains considerable resistance within philology to the adoption of digital editorial methods that move beyond what is essentially an Internet-enabled facsimile of a print edition, and our aim in this paper is to explore why that is the case. One explanation is rooted in the primacy given in machine languages to syntax, compared to the emphasis laid in human language on semantics. Abuse the grammar or rely on a double entendre in a critical apparatus, and your reader will attempt nonetheless to make sense out of what was written. To attempt the same in a computational encoding will almost inevitably produce a parsing error—an immediate and total refusal by the machine to attempt to understand what was meant—which itself removes from the digital user the possibility that the reader of a print edition would have: to perform a re-interpretation, or a second intervention, on the text. In this paper we will discuss how the shift from analogue to digital editing thus also entails a shift in the nature of, and the constraints placed upon, interventions performed by editor and by reader.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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