Parallel witnesses are in many ways a luxury: several instances of a textual source mean fewer problems due to lacunae or lost material, a chance to compare for meaningful differences and less vulnerability to idiosyncrasies or errors in one manuscript. At the same time, they present both technical and methodological challenges in the evaluation of their contents. Much research and software development related to parallel witnesses has been interested in textual criticism, stemmatology and the construction of a critical apparatus, see for example Bakker 1996, Clement 2011; and for software see Juxta, Wheeles 2014, as well as the Versioning Machine (http://v-machine.org/), and TEICHI (see Pape et al. 2012 for discussion). This paper will be concerned with a different aspect of work with parallel witnesses and textual criticism – their consequences for encoding redundancy and subsequent behavior in quantitative analysis.
The case of Coptic SCRIPTORIUM
As a case study on the issue of corpora containing diplomatic transcriptions of parallel witnesses, we will consider the guidelines currently used in Coptic SCRIPTORIUM, a collaborative project publishing open access diplomatic transcriptions of Coptic manuscripts online (http://copticscriptorium.org/). The diplomatic transcriptions are available from the project website in several formats, including Epidoc TEI following Cayless et al. (2009), and are made searchable and visualized using ANNIS, a browser based corpus search tool (Krause & Zeldes, to appear). Figure 1 illustrates an excerpt from a document body in TEI, and a corresponding visualization from ANNIS (the word diabolos ‘devil’ has been highlighted in Greek script in both views to show the same position).
Figure 1: The word diabolos in code and visualization
One of the advantages of publishing diplomatic transcriptions is that, unlike
editions which remain under copyright, materials can be offered over an open access
license. At the same time, we do not have the luxury of an edited, authoritative text:
for documents that have multiple witnesses, witness encoding becomes an issue, rather
than encoding facilities for a critical apparatus. Luckily, metadata standards are
generally capable of handling witness information, which we encode in the header to
fragment above as follows, using the TEI
<listWit> element as part of
<sourceDesc> specification, shown in Figure 2
for a manuscript abbreviated GL, which parallels another manuscript known as XJ.
Figure 2: Parallel witness encoding
The problem begins when we consider that parallel witnesses do not cover the exact same span of text (there are parts in witness GL which do and do not correspond to witness XJ), and ask how we can search through our corpus for quantitative research.
The ANNIS platform allows us to search for the categories annotated in the corpus and get frequency breakdowns for items, such as a ranked frequency list for words of Greek origin (notice the xml:lang attribute in Figure 1). A search for Greek words in all data from the work I See Your Eagerness gives the frequency list in Figure 3, which shows ‘diabolos’ appearing twice. However, this is a direct result of the parallel witness to the section mentioning the Devil, thus skewing the quantitative results.
Figure 3: Frequency breakdown
In order to deal with this issue, we require a mechanism to ‘count things only once’. The problem is that we cannot simply exclude entire manuscripts as redundant, since in the current case, each manuscript contains some parts that are not found in any other manuscript. We therefore decided to divide each manuscript into minimal portions that correspond to the parts that do and do not have parallel witnesses, annotating each portion with parallel witness information. We consider only the most complete witness of every section to be the ‘primary’ source in answering queries such as the frequency list above, whereas parallel portions are considered ‘redundant’. This is illustrated in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Partitioning parallel witnesses
In the ANNIS interface, the user can choose to limit queries to non-redundant information, or to search through all the data, including duplicates.
The approach outlined above has been implemented in the ANNIS database and interface for Coptic SCRIPTORIUM corpora, but it is a point for open discussion what the best way is to encode parallel witness information in TEI XML markup, and how to designate information about ‘redundant’ copies. What is the best way to mark up a part of a document as having other witnesses? How should we mark up the privileged ‘primary’ witness portions and the ‘non-primary’ ones? Can we ‘mix and match’ in multiple documents? Is this a type of metadata or inline annotation? Methodologically too, the issue of choosing what to call redundant is non-trivial, as are alternative solutions we might have chosen. A possible alternative for quantitative evaluation is to consider all witnesses in every search and normalizing frequencies by number of witnesses, such that frequencies from a passage attested twice are weighted to be ‘worth half as much quantity’. This will produce different results if passages are marked as parallel which contain small differences. We hope that further discussion of these and other strategies will draw attention to, and improve the handling of, parallel witnesses in quantitative research.
I would like to thank Caroline T. Schroeder for contributing to the data model and markup decisions in this dataset and David Brakke and Rebecca S. Krawiec for providing the data and annotations described in this paper. I am also grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for their continuing support of this project.
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