An Introduction to TOPOSATOR Literary Software Analysis

  1. 1. Fabienne Baider

    Robarts Library - University of Toronto

  2. 2. Karen Gusto

    Robarts Library - University of Toronto

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SATOR (Societe d'Analyse de la Topique dans les Oeuvres Romanesque) is a group of about one hundred researchers from various countries studying French narratives from the Middle Ages until 1800. Eric-Olivier Lochard developed a program called TOPOSATOR at the University of Montpellier III for this community of researchers. Recently SATOR has been able to expand from its original centre in Montpellier, France to a sister centre in Toronto, Canada. As linguistic and literary researchers at the Canadian centre, we have gained two years of hands-on experience with the software and feel that it is timely to expose it to a larger public.

Toposator is a database housing topoi from French narratives from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. A topos as defined by SATOR is a reoccurring narrative configuration, such as 'a man deceives a woman to physically abuse her'. This is a virtual entity not yet realized, that is explained by a sentence such as the one cited above, and also having a short denomination such as 'ruse viol'. These topoi are concretised by 'occurrences' or a situation in a specific text. These 'occurrences' are housed in the form of quotations and summaries of the pertinent part of the text. SATOR has established that there need be at least three occurrences of the topos in different authors' works for it to be deemed as such.

The term topos has been used for centuries, but SATOR has redefined it. Inspired by the work of Ernst Robert Curtius (Essais sur la litterature europeenne, Paris:Grasset, 1954), who considered a topos a reoccurring thematic structure, SATOR has added an element to this definition. For SATOR this definition of Curtius' could be applied to a theme, but the major difference between a theme and a narrative topos is a dynamic element. Somehow the topos has to create a change of state in the narrative. Cause and effect often come into play here. The action of invoking nature was a topos + la Curtius, but would only be one for SATOR if there were some change of state in the novel because of it. Since an action is an integral part of a topos, the verb has proved invaluable in the construction of the software especially in the 'formule' or formula by which the machine searches for corresponding topoi to an entry by the user.

It is this formula that sets Toposator apart from most other databases. It is therefore not because of the amount of data it provides to the researcher (ARTFL is the main data base for the quantity of well-referenced computerised texts in French literature) but in the kind of data it provides that makes Toposator different. Toposator does not act as a simple concordance, giving the researcher all the occurrences of a word for a given field. It is not a simple word that interests Toposator users, but the configuration of words which narrate an action.

The purpose of the demonstration of this program is to introduce Toposator to a wider public and to demonstrate it's originality and it's use as a research and teaching tool. It was developed with these two uses in mind, so it appeals to specialists and debutantes alike. Because the novels studied by the group are written in French, the software follows suit. Our presentation of the software and research will be in English with quotations in French.

After introducing the software in the first section of our presentation, we will proceed by demonstrating how we have personally used Toposator. We have chosen the fairly universal theme: the ruse and will go through a step by step examination of how this theme becomes a topos and how Toposator can be useful in producing a literary analysis.

Researchers are able to look for a term or series of terms in the database, such as 'la ruse'. First, the formula, which will be explained in detail during our demonstration of the software, is the key to the 'lexical field' of this concept. What do we mean by lexical field? By researching the word 'ruse' via the formula, all the words pertaining to 'ruse' will appear, such as 'cunning', 'cheating', 'manipulation' ('feinte', 'tromperie', 'manipulation'...). Each of these terms found in the lexical field will then lead to a topos and its title or 'denomination'. These denominations give the user thesemantic field of ruse. What do we mean by semantic field? In our case, with the theme ruse, we find, for instance, the topos 'ruse_viol', explained by the sentence ('phrase') "a man deceives a woman to physically abuse her" (un homme ruse pour abuser physiquement d'une femme). Notice that the theme of the ruse is developed into a topos by adding an action that changes the state in the novel. This is an example of a 'hypertopos' because it contains the minimum two toposemes, small core particles of meaning of which every topos is comprised. The hypertopos is similar to the pinnacle of a tree from which stem many branches or other topoi containing these same ingredients or toposemes: ruse_eviter_viol, ruse_viol_meurtre, ruse_jalousie_viol, ruse_infidelite_viol. The semantic field of the ruse is then often related to realisation of a harmful action, although other denominations such as ruse_eviter _viol, shows the opposite: shrewdness enables the victim to save her/himself.

It is through examples of topoi relating to the topos 'ruse_viol' that we will demonstrate the linguistic and literary utility of Toposator, using examples we have found in the texts that we are focusing on by Marguerite de Navarre and Crebillon fils and from the auxiliary examples provided by the database. We already know that in the French fabliaux, (mainly 13th and14th century) women were far more shrewd, generally in order to cheat on their husbands, but in the libertine novels of the 18th century (where a cunning man may deceive a woman to add her to his list of conquests) these roles are reversed. We expect that a certain gender is more likely than the other to use this type of deceit throughout different time periods in French literary history and hope to use evidence of this to determine the nature of this type of topos. Is there a definite rise and fall of a particular use of it? How do particular authors render this common topos specific to their work? Is there a different treatment of this topos in the hands of female authors as opposed to male authors?

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Conference Info

In review

"Virtual Communities"

Hosted at Debreceni Egyetem (University of Debrecen) (Lajos Kossuth University)

Debrecen, Hungary

July 5, 1998 - July 10, 1998

109 works by 129 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ALLC (10), ACH/ICCH (18), ALLC/EADH (25)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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