For some time, theorists and practitioners
of descriptive markup have been aware that
the strict hierarchical organization of elements
provided by SGML and XML represents a
potentially problematic abstraction. The nesting
structures of SGML and XML capture an
important property of real texts and represent
a successful combination of expressive power
and tractability. But not all textual phenomena
appear in properly nested form, and for more
than twenty years students of markup have been
exploring methods of recording overlapping
(non-hierarchical) structures. Useful surveys
include (Barnard et al. 1995), (DeRose 2004),
and (Witt et al. 2005).
Some approaches to the overlap problem take
the form of non-SGML, non-XML syntaxes and
non-tree-like data structures. One example is
offered by the TexMecs syntax and Goddag
data structures proposed by the project Markup
Languages for Complex Documents (MLCD)
based at the University of Bergen. Another is
the Layered Markup and Annotation Language
(LMNL). A third is the so-called multi-colored
trees defined by (Jagadish et al. 2004).
Other approaches exploit the optional
feature of SGML (Sperberg-
McQueen and Huitfeldt 1998), or apply it, with
suitable modifications, to XML (Hilbert et al.
But by far the largest number of published
approaches to problems of overlapping markup
involve the use of SGML and XML themselves
to record the information. They exploit the
semantic openness of SGML and XML to
supply non-hierarchical interpretation of what
are often thought to be inescapably hierarchical
The SGML/XML-based approaches to overlap
fall, roughly, into three groups: milestones,
fragmentation-and-reconstitution, and stand-
off annotation. Milestones (described as early as
(Barnard et al. 1988), and used in (Sperberg-
McQueen and Burnard 1990) and later versions
of the TEI
) use empty elements to
mark the boundaries of regions which cannot
be marked simply as elements because they
overlap the boundaries of other elements. More
recently, approaches to milestone markup have
been generalized in the Trojan Horse and CLIX
markup idioms (DeRose 2004).
Fragmentation is the technique of dividing
a logical unit which overlaps other units
into several smaller units, which do not; the
consuming application can then re-aggregate
Stand-off annotation addresses the overlap
problem by removing the markup from the main
data stream of the document, at the same time
adding pointers back into the base data. Many
language corpora use forms of stand-off markup
(e.g. (Carletta et al. 2005), (Witt et al. 2005),
(Stührenberg and Goecke 2008)).
For all the variety of methods and proposals
for handling overlap, there is remarkably
little consensus on the best approach. Even
systematic comparisons are scarce, although
several of the surveys provide at least a broad
categorization of methods. Partly this reflects
a pragmatic issue (many methods used in
production systems are devised for use by
specific projects, which do not wish to engage in
a systematic comparison of interest to markup
theorists, but to get on with their discipline-
specific work); partly it reflects a difficulty in
comparing different schemes point to point,
owing to the scattered and informal nature of the
And finally, despite the work of the last
twenty years we still have only an incomplete
understanding of the different structural and
semantic forms of overlapping structure, and
the implications for markup practice of
different forms of overlap. The pervasive but
unsystematic overlap of verse and dramatic
structure in verse drama, or of formal and
physical structure in any printed book, seems
to present one kind of phenomenon. The
occasional but richly significant overlap of
structures characteristic of enjambement in
verse may appear, on the other hand, to be of a
different kind. Is it?
The MLCD Overlap Corpus (MOC) is intended
to make it easier to compare different methods
of handling overlap, not just on theoretical
or abstract grounds, but in terms of concrete
examples from real and constructed texts. The
essential idea of the corpus is to make available
a single body of material, ranging from compact
examples to full texts of novel or five-act-play
length, tagged for the same information, using a
variety of overlap notations.
Consider the following simple example (from
(Hilbert et al. 2005)) of a discourse situation in
which the utterance structure overlaps with the
: Hey, Paul! Would you give me
: the hammer?
(Hilbert et al. 2005) give the following
representation of this example in the notation
now known as XConcur (then MLX).
<!DOCTYPE (1)div SYSTEM "tei/dtd/teispok2.dtd">
<!DOCTYPE (2)text SYSTEM "tei/dtd/teiana2.dtd">
<(1)div type="dialog" org="uniform">
<(2)s>Would you give me
Using the CONCUR feature of SGML, a very
similar representation can be given (elided here
for space reasons). It might be represented in
TexMecs this way:
<div type="dialog" org="uniform">
<s sID="s2"/>Would you give me
the hammer?<s eID="s2">
The goal of MOC is to make examples available
in a broad variety of notations, as well as those
various forms of TEI markup, using different
TEI mechanisms (
attribute, virtual elements, stand-off
markup using feature structures, etc.)
TexMecs (Huitfeldt and Sperberg-McQueen
XStandoff (Stührenberg and Jettka 2009)
Multix (Chatti et al., 2007)
Sekimo General Format (SGF) (Stührenberg
and Goecke 2008)
Nite (Carletta et al. 2005)
Earmark (Di Iorio et al. 2009)
There will be three sets of data:
twenty or more 'toy' examples like the one
just given, typically just a few lines in length.
Most of the toy examples will be drawn from
existing literature on overlap; almost all of
them will be constructed texts, though some
will be very short extracts from literary or
other natural texts.
ten or more 'short' examples, typically
corresponding to a few pages of printed
material, mostly extracts from natural texts.
five or more 'long' examples, full-length
natural texts. We will draw these partly from
an existing collection of literary texts used as a
test bed for full-text software and partly from
existing language corpora.
The toy examples will be tagged manually in the
various notations selected. The short examples
will be tagged using semi-automated processes
(i.e. partly by hand and partly automatically),
and checked carefully for correctness. The long
examples will be tagged using mostly automated
processes, and checked carefully for correctness.
Since the purpose of MOC is to illuminate
problems connected with overlap and with
existing proposals for handling it, there will
be no attempt to make the selection of
texts representative of any particular natural
language community. The relevant population is
not a particular set of natural-language users,
but the set of people who work with natural-
language texts for various purposes. In such a
small corpus, we cannot and do not hope for
statistical representativeness, but only for an
illuminating variety of examples. Accordingly,
we will seek to include examples illustrative of
problems encountered in:
literary and lexicological study
language corpora (discourse analysis, syntax,
change markup and multi-versioned texts
Apart from simply illustrating the ways in
which different notations represent the same
information, MOC should provide sample test
data useful for a variety of tasks and studies:
development of automatic translation among
notations (the existing samples of the target
notation serve as comparison points for the
results achieved by the automatic translator)
development of software intended to handle
any of the notations represented
construction of domain-appropriate queries
against the various notations (does notation
N1 make it easier to construct suitable queries
than notation N2?)
comparative measures of markup complexity
analysis of different kinds and forms
of overlap: do structural patterns vary
with different kinds of markup? Do the
domain-specific implications of overlap (and
thus the domain-oriented requirements for
manipulating the data) vary?
development of tools for automatic extraction
of formalized representations of the meaning
Performance comparisons are notably missing
from this list; MOC will be too small to
provide performance measurements relevant to
searches across typical modern collections in the
gigabyte size range. (On the other hand, the long
samples may be useful for at least preliminary
performance comparisons and preparation for
more large-scale testing.)
At the time this abstract is prepared, the first
version of MOC is expected to be partially
completed before the DH 2010 conference; the
presentation will include an account of the work
to date, problems encountered, and a forecast
of the work remaining before completion of the
Follow-on work includes experimentation with
existing full-text indexing and query systems
to test the different characteristics of different
markup styles on query formulation and
retrieval time; we also expect to work
on automated translations among various
Barnard, D., Hayter, R., Karababa, M.,
Logan, G. and McFadden, J.
Markup for Literary Texts'.
SGML Markup for
Barnard, D., Burnard, L., Gaspart, J.
P., Price, L. A., Sperberg-McQueen, C.
M. and Varile, G. B.
encoding of text: Technical problems and SGML
Computers and the Humanities.
Carletta, J., Evert, S., Heid, U. and
(2005). 'The NITE XML Toolkit:
data model and query'.
Chatti, N., Kaouk, S., Calabretto, S. and
Pinon, J. M.
(2007). 'MultiX: an XML-
based formalism to encode multi-structured
Proceedings of Extreme Markup
Montréal (Canada), Aug.
DeRose, S. J.
(2004). 'Markup overlap: A
review and a horse'.
Proceedings of Extreme
Markup Languages 2004.
Di Iorio, A., Peroni, S. and Vitali,
(2009). 'Towards markup support for
full GODDAGs and beyond: the EARMARK
Proceedings of Balisage: The
Markup Conference 2009.
August 11-14, 2009.
Hilbert, M., Schonefeld, O. and
(2005). 'Making CONCUR work'.
Proceedings of Extreme Markup Languages
Huitfeldt, C. and Sperberg-McQueen,
experimental markup meta-language for
Jagadish, H.V., Lakshmanan, L. V. S.,
Scannapieco, M., Srivastava, D. and
(2004). 'Colorful XML:
one hierarchy isn't enough'.
Proceedings of the
2004 ACM SIGMOD international conference
on Management of data.
Paris (France), pp.
Sperberg-McQueen, C.M. and Huitfeldt,
(1998). 'Concurrent Document Hierarchies
in MECS and SGML'.
Literary and Linguistic
Stührenberg, M. and Jettka, D.
'A toolkit for multi-dimensional markup: The
development of SGF to XStandoff'.
of Balisage: The Markup Conference 2009.
Montréal (Canada), August 11-14, 2009.
Stührenberg, M. and Goecke, D.
'SGF — An integrated model for multiple
annotations and its application in a linguistic
Proceedings of Balisage: The Markup
Montréal (Canada), August
Sperberg-McQueen, C. M. and Burnard,
Guidelines for the Encoding and
Interchange of Machine-Readable Texts (TEI
Chicago, Oxford: Text Encoding Initiative.
Witt, A., Lüngen, H., Sasaki, F. and
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and Linguistic Computing.
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Series: ADHO (5)