How to cite this paper

Renear, Allen H. “Encoding.” Presented at Balisage: The Markup Conference 2019, Washington, DC, July 30 - August 2, 2019. In Proceedings of Balisage: The Markup Conference 2019. Balisage Series on Markup Technologies, vol. 23 (2019).

Balisage: The Markup Conference 2019
July 30 - August 2, 2019

Balisage Paper: Encoding

Allen H. Renear

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Allen Renear is the dean of the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include information organization and access, particularly the development of formal ontologies for cultural and scientific objects and the application of those ontologies in information system design, scholarly publishing, and data curation in the sciences and humanities.


In their model of digital objects, David Dubin and others postulate three entity types (propositions, symbols, and documents) with three relationships: expresses, encodes, and inscribes. We can express an assertion with a sentence. We can also inscribe symbols in physical media. I’d like to investigate the cascade of encodings that we find in every digital computing system, and the articulation of those encodings that is bound up in everything we do. Encoding can be recursive, but do we really understand it? What is happening when we encode a sentence as a character string? A character as an integer? An integer as an octet? Is encoding a well-understood linguistic or mathematical relationship? Is encoding just a mapping (function)? Is it the same as the relationship between a name and its referent? Is it the same as the relationship between a sentence and the proposition it expresses? I don’t think so. So let’s explore some possibilities.