Hidden Markup – The Digital Work Environment of the Digital Dictionary of Surnames in Germany

Franziska Horn

Technische Universität Darmstadt

Jörg Hambuch

Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz

Sandra Reker

Technische Universität Darmstadt

Copyright © 2016 by the authors.

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Hidden Markup – The Digital Work Environment of the Digital Dictionary of Surnames in Germany

Balisage: The Markup Conference 2016
August 2 - 5, 2016


Designers are not users – that is one of the main principles one has to follow regarding project design according to Nielsen 2008. In this paper, we present the digital work environment Onodi that was designed for the project Digital Dictionary of Surnames in Germany (Digitales Familiennamenwörterbuch Deutschlands, DFD) in close collaboration with its users. Onodi’s three main components are the oXygen XML Editor, an eXist-db database and the content management system TYPO3. We developed a project-specific graphical user interface that enables the creation of texts with TEI-conformant markup without working directly with the XML code.

First, we will briefly present the Digital Dictionary of Surnames in Germany as a long-term project that records the entire inventory of surnames occurring in Germany. After briefly introducing the general structure of the work environment, the features that enable XML editing for technologically less-skilled users are explained in detail. Based on the work Denzer/Horn 2014 this paper presents three new features of the digital work environment: 1) integration of a Zotero literature database, currently with about 1700 entries, 2) copying and pasting of identifiers and 3) an automatic publication process.

This paper complements other publications on similar software, e.g. ediarum as a digital work environment for editing manuscripts (Dumont/Fechner 2014) and dictionary writing systems (e. g. Atkins/Rundell 2008; Abel/Klosa 2012). New insights into dictionary production presented here may offer connecting factors for other text editions as well as dictionary projects.

Project Presentation

The Digital Dictionary of Surnames in Germany is a long-term project under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz and in collaboration with Technische Universität Darmstadt and the Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU). It began in 2012 and has a planned duration of 24 years. The aim of the project is to prepare the first-ever comprehensive digital dictionary of surnames which exist in Germany.[1]

In the database of the DFD, all current surnames (roughly 850 000) in Germany are lexicographically collated. The published articles, in the end about 200 000, provide information about their etymology and origin. Additionally, the surname entries provide information, for example, about the geographical distribution of the surname, the occurrence of the name in countries other than Germany, morphological or semantic variants and further reading on the topic.

Also available on the DFD website is information about aspects of the history and development of names in different countries, their (cultural-)historical context and general linguistic aspects. Furthermore, the dictionary is embedded in a research portal namenforschung.net, which can be seen as a gateway to various projects and information related to the field of onomastic studies.

Previous surname dictionaries only covered a fraction of existing surnames, and foreign surnames are for the most part not included. The DFD includes names of foreign origin as well. By using information about the geographical distribution and localization of surnames made possible by data mapping, one can provide further support for the etymological interpretation Schmuck/Dräger 2008; Nübling/Kunze 2006). Thus, contradictory and outdated information from (older) existing dictionaries can be corrected. The new method of mapping the data concerning surnames is made possible by a program which has been developed for the forerunner project, German Surname Atlas (Deutscher Familiennamenatlas, DFA). The data are based on the telephone directory of the telecommunication company Deutsche Telekom, with the records dating from the year 2005. The software uses information about surnames, postal codes and name frequency to create a map.[2]The benefits of the new method can be illustrated by the plausible interpretation of names, which were previously uninterpreted. The name Fixemer, for example, is not accounted for in the consulted German or in the relevant foreign-language dictionaries. Due to its geographical distribution in the Southern Palatinate and Saarland, it was discovered that the name is locational, derived from the French place name Fixem (French commune in the Moselle department, northeast of Thionville).

The online dictionary registers names for which at least ten different telephone numbers are listed. In addition to these names, variants are included which have fewer than ten tokens but similar morphological or semantic features. The modular approach of lemma selection by frequency, variation and theme provides a diverse range of recorded names.

Users of the DFD include the interested general public and academic researchers. Therefore, we provide a user-friendly website, which is free and accessible to everyone. An example of support provided for the layperson, is the glossary, with explanations of technical terms used in the articles. The advanced search, currently under development, will provide new search possibilities for a diverse set of research questions. Based on the developed classification scheme of names, one can create lists of names with the same categories. Also one can compile names with common linguistic features (for example Latin genitive suffix –i) or all annotated variants belonging to one basic name.

The DFD represents a resource, which can be used by many research disciplines. Surnames offer a variety of information: They serve as a linguistic source, e.g. for dialectology, because they preserve historical forms of languages and language variations. Furthermore, migration researchers can use surnames to track population movements. One such finding can be mentioned here: In German cities and regions with a strong industrial sector – especially automotive industry, such as Munich, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart or the Rhine-Main and Ruhr area – one can find many names with a South Italian origin like Russo, Esposito and Greco. However, surnames with a North Italian origin, like Ferrari, are rare (Dräger 2011, p. 143).[3]

Figure 1: Map of Italian surnames in Germany

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The map shows the distribution of the Italian surnames Russo, Esposito, Rossi, Greco and Ferrari within Germany. One can see clusters around the regions with focus on (automotive) industry – Munich, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, the Rhine-Main and Ruhr area.

The information provided by surnames is also interesting for historians, e.g. the differentiation of occupational groups in the Middle Ages. For instance, determinative elements of compounds of Müller (English meaning: miller), such as Freimüller, Bannmüller, Fronmüller and Hofmüller, reflect the different social status in the feudal system. Frei- in the name Freimüller indicates that the miller was a free man, while the prefix Fron- in Fronmüller suggests, that the miller had to pay a kind of rent to his feudal lord.

General Description of the Work Environment Onodi

The DFD uses an in-house dictionary writing system designed in close interaction with the users. The main concern is to provide a user-friendly environment which can be used to create a richly-annotated and searchable dictionary of surnames that adheres to modern standards of electronic publishing. This section of the paper will present the general structure and basic features of the work environment Onodi. It is based on a presentation by Denzer/Horn 2014, but puts more emphasis on designing a tool for technologically less-skilled users.

Onodi consists of three main components: the XML editor oXygen to enter and edit contents of the dictionary, an eXist-db database to deploy and maintain the articles, and the content management system (CMS) TYPO3 with a custom extension for publishing and searching. Additional modules are a mapping software and the reference management software Zotero. The selected software reflects a preference for using established and mostly open-source software that can be accessed via interfaces for integration.[4] The dictionary writing system Onodi is used successfully to produce and publish dictionary entries. This can be noted as a mark of effectiveness – a feature of usability besides efficiency and satisfaction according to the ISO standard EN ISO 9241.[5]

The digital work environment is designed to be adapted to the needs and skills of the lexicographers. This concerns, for instance, data modelling and the user interfaces for editing contents in the editor as well as in the CMS. TYPO3 provides a user interface and granular rights management. Consequently, users can update and edit contents for the website, e.g. news or the project description, relatively easily by themselves in the backend of the CMS. The interface for XML editing is based on a so-called oXygen framework which contains CSS files to format the XML files, XML schemas for validation, templates for new entries and project-specific preferences for editing such as adapted menu actions and a menu bar. As a result, a WYSIWYG mode is created that hides the markup.

Figure 2: A part of the editing interface in XML editor oXygen

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The designations as follows: a) menu for DFD annotations, b) menu bar for DFD annotations, c) button (here category) to add a new section, d) drop-down menu, e) real-time validation indicator, f) tree structure view (optional), g) access to database via WebDAV.

Figure 3: Editing interface: General information such as frequency, rank and language of origin

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Figure 4: XML code: General information such as frequency, rank and language of origin

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The XML is continuously validated against a schema during data input in oXygen. So the users receive quick and constant feedback about the well-formedness and validity of their files. This type of feedback and the emphasis on designing a tailored work environment for users without extended skills in XML editing are aspects that address user-satisfaction as one usability feature.

The encoding scheme used within the dictionary writing system follows the TEI guidelines, especially the module Dictionaries. Following these proposals means providing possibilities for data exchange and further exploration (Ide/Sperberg-McQueen 1995). The annotation of relevant information is a key step to realizing basic and advanced searches on online entries. The dictionary contains not only linguistic but also extra-linguistic information such as frequency and geographical distribution. Furthermore, the editor encodes basic working steps he or she has undertaken for research and production of an entry. These steps are documented quickly and easily in the user interface by ticking check boxes which are implemented via oXygen’s check box form controls. Some relatively indirect denotations and the usage of numerous attributes adversely affect the readability for human lexicographers working on the XML. These are additional reasons for the development of a work environment that uses oXygen’s author view of instead of its source view. The use of TEI markup for the entries and SVG for the maps reflect the adherence to standards in terms of data modeling.

The user interface is flexible and customizable to adapt a set of requirements: different kinds of names, e.g. Spanish and Turkish names[6], and different entry types, e.g. glossary entries and entries with additional thematic information besides dictionary articles. Furthermore, offering various menu actions provides flexibility and customizability. For instance, if a user inserts a reference via the respective button or menu action, a basic code template is inserted in the entry. If he or she needs additional elements, e.g. for a second author or to refer to a column instead of a page, the user can add single elements via the menu.

Figure 5: Encoding references in sense (1)

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Filled-in code template for a reference.

Figure 6: Encoding references in sense (1) – XML code

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Figure 7: Encoding references in sense (2)

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Selection of menu actions to customize a reference: new author, new volume, new page and new column.

Onodi uses several of oXygen’s custom CSS functions to ensure consistency regarding data input: Via built-in form controls, the interface provides drop down menus to select a language for example, and date pickers, e.g. to choose the date on which an external online resource was last accessed.

Figure 8: Example for drop-down menu

png image ../../../vol17/graphics/Horn01/Horn01-008.png

Based on oxy_combobox built-in form control to select the language of origin. After selection the correct BCP language tag is inserted in the source code, e.g. tr for Turkish.

Figure 9: Example for date picker

png image ../../../vol17/graphics/Horn01/Horn01-009.png

Based on oxy_datePicker built-in form control to select the date on which an external online resource was last accessed. After selection the data is inserted in machine readable form in the source code, e.g. <date when="2016-03-29"/>.

Users do not have to create new entries from scratch. The production is efficient because each entry in the database has a basic XML structure. Furthermore, important fields are already filled automatically, e.g. name, frequency, rank and a UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) as identifier. The collaborative database can be accessed by users independent of their location via WebDAV protocol in the editor oXygen. The protocol locks entries that are opened by a user to avoid conflicts and unintended overwrites (Dumont/Fechner 2014). For our technical team, a native XML database such as eXist-db provides another advantage: data can be manipulated via X-technologies and there is no need for switching to a particular database query language, e.g. SQL.

To sum up, Onodi uses various built-in functions provided by oXygen to hide XML markup. They are a key feature of a user-friendly work environment for users without extended XML skills. An automatic publication process and menu actions to easily insert identifiers and to integrate bibliographical data are other useful functions which extend oXygen’s and TYPO3’s built-in functions and which are presented in detail in the next section.

New Onodi Features in Detail

This chapter presents three examples of new Onodi functionalities which go beyond the deployment of built-in features of oXygen and TYPO3. They extend the work environment described by Denzer/Horn 2014.

Copying of UUIDs

As mentioned before, there are three kinds of documents in the dictionary: articles, glossary entries and so-called thematic information. Each document is identified by a UUID. These UUIDs are used for linking documents to each other. An example: To link the article of the Turkish name Aydin to the thematic information Turkish surnames, the user copies the UUID of Turkish surnames and pastes it into the appropriate input field of the article. Furthermore, users are able to link from an article to another article or to a single meaning inside an article. To be able to do the latter, each meaning of a name is identified by its own UUID.

The UUID is stored in an xml:id attribute. We display the UUID as static text using the CSS selector :before. In author view, it is not possible to select and copy attribute and element values shown as static text. A simple solution is to switch to text mode where one has full access to the XML source code. However, for users without extended XML skills, this carries the risk of invalidating the document by mistake. Additionally, selecting a UUID like bd5b4622-81d0-4520-8cdc-8e0d9b680bb0 with the mouse is error-prone and therefore not user-friendly. If a user accidentally selects only a partial string, thus omitting characters at the beginning or end of the string, a broken link is created.

oXygen’s author mode functionalities are extensible. To support customization, oXygen provides an SDK (Software Development Kit) and an API (Application Programming Interface). To offer a convenient way of copying the UUID in author mode, we developed a custom operation in Java.[7] It contains a class called copyAttributeValueOperation which implements oXygen's AuthorOperation interface.[8] Its doOperation method is customized for our use case. It copies the value of xml:id to the clipboard. Depending on the context, it uses either the xml:id from the root element or from an anchor element contained in a sense element. With CSS we display buttons next to any UUID in the document, so that a user is able to copy the UUID with a simple click. The user receives visual feedback by a popup message showing which UUID was copied.

Figure 10: Button to copy a UUID

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The UUID shown in Figure 10 illustrates a customization of oXygen’s auto-generated UUIDs which can begin either with a letter or a number. As valid values for xml:id, UUIDs have to begin with a letter. As a first solution, a prefix s_ is added. This temporary solution will soon be replaced: We developed an oXygen plugin that ensures that UUIDs start with a letter.[9]

To include the custom operation into Onodi, we placed its jar file in the framework directory and configured the classpath in the framework settings. After that, the new copyAttributeValueOperation can be configured as an action in the framework settings. In general, there are three ways to make the action available for users: As a menu entry, a toolbar button or as CSS button in the document itself. When using a menu entry or a toolbar button, the user has to place the cursor at the appropriate node in the document. For now, CSS buttons are used, since they offer the most convenient way for our users to have a button directly where it is necessary.

Managing Bibliographical References

Literature plays an important role during creation of the DFD. When interpreting the meanings of a name, much specialized literature has to be consulted and the available interpretations have to be assessed. Bibliographical references provide academic evidence for the interpretation. In published articles, they offer further information for the interested reader. Not only in articles, but also in thematic information and glossary entries, bibliographical references are necessary.

We manage our literature with the open-source reference management tool Zotero. Since all bibliographical information is stored online, it is available independent of location to all members of our project group. To enter new literature or edit existing entries, the Zotero website or Zotero standalone software can be used. The online database is access protected and available to project members only.

The bibliographic data are retrieved regularly in order to make them available within oXygen. To do so, we use the scheduler provided by eXist-db. It calls an XQuery script on a daily basis. This XQuery script uses the Zotero API to collect all bibliographical entries from our Zotero group library and stores them in a TEI-conformant XML document within the eXist-db database. Currently, our library contains about 1700 bibliographical entries.

When writing an article in oXygen, users can link to an existing bibliographical reference by choosing it from a list. To display this list, our framework provides some custom actions. These actions are located in the main menu, item TEI-DFD, sub item Cite. Clicking on New literature link first opens a select box where the user has to choose a letter. This is the first letter of the name of the author of the work. After choosing a letter, the list of relevant bibliographical entries is displayed. The entries are ordered by author name and year of publication. Above the list, there is an input field to jump to an author. When an entry is selected, a click on OK inserts a URI into the article. This URI leads to the relevant bibliographical entry in our Zotero online library. By opening the URI, users can easily check the bibliographical data. Any necessary modifications of the data can be entered immediately.

We use an index function of ediarum (Dumont 2013) to display the list of bibliographical entries. First, we tried to display the whole list of about 1700 bibliographical entries at once. For performance reasons we decided to implement the two-stage workflow as described above.

There are no bibliographical data stored in the article. The markup just contains the URI of the entry in the Zotero library. The URI contains the ID of the entry and the ID of the Zotero group. So, the link identifies the bibliographical entry unambiguously. Users have to open the link in order to check if it is correct. To simplify this, we display a clickable text next to the link using CSS.

Another way to check the bibliographical data is using the web preview we implemented. The web preview is an instrument for editors to inspect an article on the DFD website before it is published. In oXygen, CSS is used to display a link in the article. This link opens the DFD website and displays the whole article.

We use XSLT to transform the article markup to HTML. For each literature entry in an article, the XSLT script displays the bibliographical data stored in the document that is regularly fetched from Zotero.

Publication of Articles

An editor can initiate the publication of an article with two mouse clicks. The further process of publication runs automatically.

Figure 13: Check boxes documenting the working steps before publication

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Figure 14: Check boxes documenting the working steps before publication – XML code

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The metadata section of each article contains several check boxes to document the steps of the working process. When an article is ready for publication, the editor activates the check box Approval for publication and saves the document. Technically, this saving is an update of the article in the eXist-db database. On every update, a trigger fires. It runs an XQuery script which checks if the article has the Approval for publication set. If this is the case, the article is added to a publication list. This list is an XML document which is stored in eXist-db and contains the UUIDs of all articles waiting to be published.

Figure 15: An excerpt of the list of articles which are approved for publication

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This publication list is used to fetch the articles from eXist-db and publish them on the TYPO3-driven dictionary website. We developed a custom TYPO3 extension called dfd which is used to display the dictionary-related content. Besides this, it contains a task for the TYPO3 built-in scheduler. This scheduler task calls the URI of the publication list. For each UUID found in the list, TYPO3 looks up the URI of the respective article. It then fetches the article from eXist-db by sending a GET request to the URI. The XML source code of the article is stored in TYPO3's MySQL database. This kind of redundant storage makes the online dictionary independent of the availability of the eXist-db database.

Like articles, the other kinds of XML documents also include a check box to mark them as ready for publication. Different from the articles, there is no publication list for thematic information or glossary entries. Since their quantity is much lower, they are respectively stored in single collections. Thus, the scheduler task only has to call the URI of the collection. As a response, eXist-db sends a listing of all documents and their URIs in the collection. The task fetches their XML and determines by XPath if the check box Approval for publication is set. If so, the XML is stored in TYPO3's MySQL database. Most of the articles contain a map which shows the distribution of the respective name in Germany. The scheduler task fetches each map which is referenced in an article.

The scheduler task terminates when it has fetched and stored all approved articles, thematic information, glossary entries and maps. The documents are then available in TYPO3's MySQL database. On the website, the TYPO3 extension dfd displays lists of articles, thematic information and glossary entries. A website visitor can read an article by selecting it from the list or by finding it using a simple search form. To display the article, its XML code is transformed to HTML by an XSLT script. For thematic information and glossary entries, there are similar XSLT scripts in use.


With Onodi we developed a digital work environment which makes it possible also for technologically less-skilled users to produce richly annotated texts, especially dictionary articles, in an effective and efficient way. As a result, highly structured entries in media-neutral format are produced using standards such as TEI and UUIDs.

The user-friendly interface which is similar to well-known text production software ensures that the editors can concentrate on their research. The linkage by UUIDs of glossary articles or further thematic information to the name article, for instance, is made easier by the feature of copying the ID via a button. Editors do not have to worry whether they forgot a number or letter because of this feature. Furthermore, they do not have to be concerned about details of the publication process because the process is automated.

Because of the modular approach we can profit from the strength of every single system. One of the benefits of the use of Zotero, for example, and its integration within the work environment is that within the XML editor, no sophisticated reference management has to be developed. By linking the citation, it is also relatively resistant to failure. Data are changed centrally and so they are updated and corrected in each linked article.

In summary, we hope to have shown that Onodi is a flexible, extensible and customizable tool that can be adapted to other dictionary projects, especially with an onomastic focus.


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[Atkins/Rundell 2008] Atkins, B. T. Sue/Rundell, Michael (2008): The Oxford Guide to Practical Lexicography. Oxford.

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[Denzer/Horn 2014] Denzer, Sandra/Horn, Franziska (2014): Die Arbeitsumgebung des Digitalen Familiennamenwörterbuch Deutschlands. Ein XML-basiertes Redaktionssystem. In: Mann, Michael (ed.): Digitale Lexikographie. Ein- und mehrsprachige elektronische Wörterbücher mit Deutsch: Aktuelle Entwicklungen und Analysen. Hildesheim/Zürich/New York, p. 67-96.

[Dräger 2011] Dräger, Kathrin (2011): Italienische Familiennamen in Deutschland. In: Hengst, Karlheinz/Krüger, Dietlind (ed.): Familiennamen im Deutschen. Erforschung und Nachschlagewerke. Familiennamen aus fremden Sprachen im deutschen Sprachraum. Leipzig, p. 333-347.

[Dumont 2013] Dumont, Stefan (2013): Tutorial: Indexfunktionen für Oxygen XML Frameworks. In: digiversity — Webmagazin für Informationstechnologie in den Geisteswissenschaften? http://digiversity.net/2013/tutorial-indexfunktionen-fuer-oxygen-xml-frameworks (April 20, 2016).

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[Fahlbusch/Heuser 2014] Fahlbusch, Fabian/Rita Heuser (2014): Das Digitale Familiennamenwörterbuch Deutschlands. Möglichkeiten und Ziele am Beispiel regionaler Namen. In: Gilles, Peter/Kollmann, Cristian/Muller, Claire (ed.): Familiennamen zwischen Maas und Rhein. Frankfurt am Main [et al.], p. 209-226.

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[1] A detailed project presentation (in German) can be found in Fahlbusch/Heuser 2014.

[2] For reasons of data protection a map is only provided if a name has more than five telephone connections.

[3] For further information and explanation about Italian surnames in Germany, see Dräger 2011.

[4] As a non-open-source tool oXygen provides several decisive advantages: e.g. it’s a powerful tool with numerous functionalities and a helpful support team. For further information about how the components were selected, see Denzer/Horn 2014.

[5] The term usability and its features are explained in more detail by Heid/Zimmermann 2012 and Bank 2012. They also present studies investigating the usability of dictionaries. Dumont/Fechner 2014 give an example for discussing the usability of a work environment for editing manuscripts. Nielsen 2012 provides another introduction on usability with further features and with an emphasis on usability for websites.

[6] Names are structured and have developed differently in different languages. For instance, in Spain a person’s name comprises two surnames. Another example are Turkish names. In comparison with German surnames (and most other European ones), Turkish names differ in motivation in naming because of their special historical background. Rather than evolving over several centuries, Turkish surnames were introduced in the early 20th century by law, obligating every family to choose and register a surname within a relatively short period of time. Further information and explanation (in German) about Turkish surnames are provided here: http://www.namenforschung.net/id/thema/3/1 (June 14, 2016).

[7] The custom operation copyAttributeValueOperation is provided on github under the MIT License: https://github.com/digicademy/copyAttributeValueOperation (August 30, 2016).

[8] The AuthorOperation interface is documented here: https://www.oxygenxml.com/InstData/Editor/SDK/javadoc/ro/sync/ecss/extensions/api/AuthorOperation.html (April 20, 2016).

[9] The plugin CustomUUID is provided on github under the MIT License: https://github.com/digicademy/CustomUUID (April 22, 2016).

Author's keywords for this paper: electronic dictionaries; digital work environment; XML; usability; hidden markup; graphical user interface