Textual Critical Encoding

  1. 1. Barbara Bordalejo

    De Montfort University, University of Saskatchewan

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Textual Critical Encoding


De Montfort University


University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia




Kretzschmar, Jr.



At the beginning of 2001 work started on the Commedia Project, a research effort
which will transcribe in full seven manuscripts of Dante’s Divine Comedy in order to collate them and present them in an
electronic format. As part of the prolegomena for the Project, we had to write
its transcription guidelines, a task that appeared straight forward. However, as
often happens, drafting the new guidelines developed into a task with
implications beyond its immediate intended use.
Initially, it was agreed that the Commedia Project transcription guidelines
should be based on those of the Società Dantesca for
their Dante Online website (). It soon became
evident that although the Società Dantesca's
guidelines offered the advantage of having taken into consideration practical
matters concerning spellings, punctuation, word division and the expansion of
abbreviations, they did not deal with many other matters which were required for
the Commedia Project. The Società Dantesca uses a form of symbolic
representation—based on conventions—to convey the transcribers interpretation of
what they believe to be in the manuscripts. For example, the Società Dantesca transcribes (Riccardiana 1005, Inferno, Canto I, 17):
<di +i0 del>
These symbols are used to represent a deletion. In this case, the deletion was
carried out by the main scribe of the text—or by an indistinguishable
hand—indicated by 0. The complete set of symbols is enclosed in angle brackets.
The first word, in this case ‘di’ is the one which was originally in the
manuscript, and the last word—‘del’—is the one which replaced it. Next to the
0—representing the main hand or one which cannot be distinguished from it—the
plus symbol is used—addition—and the letter ‘i’ which indicates that the
correction has been introduced between the lines, i.e. it is interlinear. The
Società Dantesca guidelines allow the
possibility of marginal additions—‘m’—or additions within the line—for which
they do not use any symbol. In this specific case, according to the
transcription produced by the Società Dantesca, the
manuscript has the word ‘di’ which has been substituted by the word ‘del,’
creating the phrase ‘del pianeta’ instead of the original reading ‘di
A second example can be found in Riccardiana 1005, Inferno, Canto I, 94:<crede +i0
Here, the original reading “crede” is followed by the identifiers for the
position and the scribe, and at the end, the modified reading “cride,” again,
all enclosed in angle brackets.
The Società Dantesca system also permits a symbolic
representation of marginal additions—[... +m1 o], an addition of the letter ‘o’
in the margin, which has been added by a second scribe (here represented by the
number 1) to cover a lacuna—, interpolations or cancellations.
Although these guidelines were useful as a base for the Commedia Project’s
transcription system, a new encoding system was required for the encoding of the
manuscripts. Other projects in which we are involved used very simple encoding
systems. For example, the encoding for the Canterbury Tales Project’s
publications uses [add][/add] for additions and [del][/del] for deletions. Thus,
an interlinear addition in the Merchant's Tale, line 219 (CTP lineation system)
was tagged:tree [add]is[/add] neydir
However, the verb is not in the same line as the other words, in fact, there is a
caret indicating that the word ‘is’ is an addition to the line. Although the
Canterbury Tales Project tags were useful when it started, they now seem to lack
the flexibility which is required to present certain aspects of a scholarly
edition. Given the nature of the corrections in the Commedia manuscripts, the
Project required tags that were able to handle situations more complex than
those of additions and deletions. One of the main aims of this project is to
produce a CD-ROM with seven witnesses of the Commedia
which Federico Sanguineti has identified as textually the most important.
Sanguineti has already produced a critical edition of Dante’s Commedia, and the research he has already done is still being
carried out at the Canterbury Tales Project. For this reason, the Commedia
Project has a clearer conviction of which things are important and should be
displayed in the CD-ROMs, and what the purposes of its transcriptions are, than
the Canterbury Tales Project had when it was officially started in 1993. Because
of this, it was possible to develop a encoding system which allows the
distinction of different scribal hands or corrections made by the same scribe at
different stages.
Hitherto, the encoding of projects similar to the Commedia Project, such as the
Canterbury Tales Project, attempted to present simultaneously both ‘what is in
the manuscript’ as a series of additions or deletion, and ‘what is in the text’,
as a series of distinct readings. However, after months of discussion with Klaus
Wachtel (Institute for New Testament Research, Munster) about the transcription
of corrections of the manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, new ideas about
how to encode different textual stages started to emerge. These discussions were
the base of the encoding system developed for the Commedia Project. The main
goal of this new transcription system is to present a clear distinction between
what is in the manuscript and how the transcriber interprets the different
stages of development of the text.
The Commedia Project encoding system aims to represent the different stages of
variation in the text. When a transcriber finds a ‘place of variation’ in the
manuscript, he or she can use the apparatus tag—[app][/app]. (We are using
Collate-style encoding in the transcriptions: before publication, these will be
translated into XML encoding). The apparatus tag contains three main components:
the original reading (contained in the [orig][/orig] tag), the final reading
(contained in a tag which specifies which copyist produced this [c1][/c1],
[c2][/c2], [c3][/c3]), and what literally is in the manuscript (contained in the
[lit][/lit] tag). If there are more than two stages in a correction, for
example, in the case of having more than one corrector), these stages are
presented in what is likely to be their successive order.
The following example is taken from Riccardiana 1005, Inferno, Canto III, 9:
The Commedia Project transcription guidelines indicate that we should transcribe
as follows :
[app] [orig]dura[/orig] [c1]duro[/c1] [lit]dur[ud]a[/ud]o[/lit]
Since the dot below the letter ‘a’ indicates deletion, the transcriber is faced
with a place of variation—indicated in the transcription by the apparatus
tag—[app][/app]. The first component inside the apparatus tag is the original
reading—[orig]dura[/orig]. The second component is the final reading by the main
hand, the reading [c1]duro[/c1]. These two components express different states
of the text, but do not explain by which process the text change from one to the
other. For this purpose we use the literal tag—[lit][/lit]—which indicates what
literally is happening in the manuscript, in this case
[lit]dur[ud]a[/ud]o[/lit], that is, literally the letters ‘d’ ‘u’ ‘r’ are
present, followed by an ‘a’ which has been underdotted and an ‘o.’ In the
literal tag, there is less space for interpretation and the transcriber is
required to postpone judgment (for example, whether the underdotting of the ‘a’
indicates cancellation or not).
In comparison with the lack of flexibility of the old encoding system of the
Canterbury Tales Project, the Commedia Project's guidelines present several
advantages. Firstly, the transcribers can defer interpretation of the stages of
meaning, since the literal tag can be transcribed independently of the other
components of the apparatus tag (this also gives the advantage of allowing the
editor of a publication to make a final decision as to what happened at each
individual place of variation). Secondly, the contents of the literal tag allows
us to reconstruct what actually appears in a manuscript on the computer screen.
Thirdly, the other components of the apparatus tag, such as original reading,
final reading, and intermediate readings, can be collated separately from the
rest of the text. The separate collation of multiple readings in a manuscript
will be most useful when a scribe used a manuscript of different affiliation to
correct his copy. In such cases, separate collation will allow the isolation of
readings which originated in different manuscripts and which could hint at
distinct affiliations in a single text. Separate collation might also be of help
in cases in which conflation has occurred because a manuscript is corrected with
another one from a different branch of a textual tradition.
The encoding system of the Commedia Project has also been implemented by the
Canterbury Tales Project (for publications to appear after the Miller’s Tale on
CD-ROM, edited by Peter Robinson and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale on CD-ROM, edited
by Paul Thomas) and, in the future, might be also adopted by other projects
(notably, transcription of Greek New Testament manuscripts) for their
transcriptions. This new encoding system also offers advantages when applied to
authorial manuscripts, and although it was originally designed to deal with
problems of corrections presented by medieval manuscripts, it should work as
efficiently to distinguish different authorial versions of a particular text.
This should translate into an easier reconstruction of these authorial versions
and allow the distinction and separate reconstruction of different authorial

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Conference Info

In review

"Web X: A Decade of the World Wide Web"

Hosted at University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia, United States

May 29, 2003 - June 2, 2003

83 works by 132 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website: http://web.archive.org/web/20071113184133/http://www.english.uga.edu/webx/

Series: ACH/ICCH (23), ALLC/EADH (30), ACH/ALLC (15)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None