4.0093 What is Text? (136)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 21 May 90 18:02:38 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0093. Monday, 21 May 1990.

(1) Date: Mon, 21 May 90 10:34:02 CST (78 lines)
From: "Robin C. Cover" <ZRCC1001@SMUVM1>

(2) Date: Mon, 21 May 90 12:19 EST (39 lines)
From: "Peter D. Junger" <JUNGER@CWRU>
Subject: What is a text?

(3) Date: Sun, 20 May 90 07:08:36 IST (19 lines)
From: Daniel Boyarin <BOYARIN@TAUNIVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 21 May 90 10:34:02 CST
From: "Robin C. Cover" <ZRCC1001@SMUVM1>

New Discussion on "Text"

Skip Knox wrote (18-May-90, re: 4.0069 Douglas Greenberg's mention of
"text"): "Perhaps Greenberg or others could explain what all the fuss
is about. I know what a document is. I know what text is."

"What text is" may prove to be a more interesting discussion than we
think. Not as important as "nerds," of course. New reading is
available for those who want to contemplate what text ("really") is,
or should be, or could be, inside a computer. It's a contribution by
some members of the Brown/Harvard/Brandeis "CHUG" unit.

DeRose, Steven J.; Durand, David G.; Mylonas, Elli; Renear, Allen H.
"What is Text, Really?" <cit>Journal of Computing in Higher
Education</cit> 1/2 (Winter 1990) 3-26.

[Abstract: "The way in which text is represented on a computer
affects the kinds of uses to which it can be put by its creator
and by subsequent users. The electronic document model currently
in use is impoverished and restrictive. The authors agree that
text is best represented as an ordered hierarchy of content
object[s] (OHCO), because that is what text really is. This
model conforms with emerging standards such as SGML and contains
within it advantages for the writer, publisher, and researcher.
The authors then describe how the hierarchical model can allow
future use and reuse of the document as a database, hypertext or

For those like the article and want further reading on the SGML view
of "text," here's a landmark piece (with earlier contributions by
DeRose and Renear).

Coombs, James; Renear, Allen; DeRose, Steven . "Markup Systems and the
Future of Scholarly Text Processing." <cit>CACM</cit> 30/11
(1987) 933-947. [ISSN: 0001-0782; cf. <cit>CACM</cit> 31/7 (July
1988) 810-11)]

[Abstract: The authors argue that many word processing systems
distract authors from their tasks of research and composition,
toward concern with typographic and other tasks. Emphasis on
"WYSIWYG", while helpful for display, has ignored a more
fundamental concern: representing document structure. Four main
types of markup are analyzed: Punctuational (spaces,
punctuation,...), presentational (layout, font choice,...),
procedural (formatting commands), and descriptive (mnemonic
labels for document elements). Only some ancient manuscripts
have <emph>no</> markup. Any form of markup can be formatted for
display, but descriptive markup is privileged because it reflects
the underlying structure. ISO SGML is a descriptive markup
standard, but most benefits are available even before a standard
is widely accepted. A descriptively marked-up document is not
tied to formatting or printing capabilities. It is maintainable,
for the typographic realization of any type of element can be
changed in a single operation, with guaranteed consistency. It
can be understood even with <emph>no</> formatting software:
compare "<blockquote>" to ".sk 3 a; .in +10 -10; .ls 0; .cp 2".
It is relatively portable across views, applications and systems.
Descriptive markup also minimizes cognitive demands: the author
need only recall (or recognize in a menu) a mnemonic for the
desired element, rather than also deciding how it is currently to
appear, and recalling how to obtain that appearance. Most of
this extra work is thrown away before final copy; descriptive
markup allows authors to focus on authorship. (abstract supplied
by Steve DeRose)]

Robin Cover
3909 Swiss Avenue
Dallas, TX 75204
AT&T: (214) 296-1783/841-3657
FAX: 214-841-3540
BITNET: zrcc1001@smuvm1
INTERNET: robin@txsil.lonestar.org
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UUCP: texbell!txsil.robin
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------45----
Date: Mon, 21 May 90 12:19 EST
From: "Peter D. Junger" <JUNGER@CWRU>
Subject: What is a text?

Since we were recently chided for not discussing such issues as `What is
a text?', I will raise that issue since it actually relates to the
writing that I should be doing this Summer.

I am working with the "forms of actions"; formulas that used to be
required--and still are often used--to start an action at law. They
were originally incorporated into writs from the King to the Sheriff
commanding the latter to do something--in the _praecepi_ writs that I am
most concerned with, the sheriff was commanded to command that the
defendant (or tenant) do something.

I sort of have the suspicion that most people think of a text as a
series of statements (propositional sentences) and not as commands. Am
I wrong in this suspicion?

I would suppose that my problem has something in common with the
question as to whether a recipe, or a computer program, or a wiring
diagram is a text.

I have written computer programs of the small variety and I have even
read some computer programs. I like to read recipes. But is the sort
of interpretation that one does in reading a program or a recipe in any
way related to the interpretation that one gives to a poem, a detective
story, or a history? The original writs were not written to convey
information--they were formulae which, when properly written down,
resulted in mechanically predictable--if not purely physical--

Still another way of expressing my concern would be to say: "Is an
illocutionary act a text?"

I doubt that my question is well formed, but I suspect that it may stir
up some discussion.

Peter D. Junger--Case Westerrn Reserve University Law School--Cleveland, Ohio
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------25----
Date: Sun, 20 May 90 07:08:36 IST
From: Daniel Boyarin <BOYARIN@TAUNIVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure (210)

in response to douglas greenberg:

the questions that you raise are exactly the ones that keep me busy most
of the time -- i am a talmudist trying to understand how texts work in
culture. i am not sure that humanist is where i can discuss seriously
such difficult issues. however, i am glad to have a forum for less
weighty matters of scholarly and intellectual interest across a broad
forum of disciplines, such as the opportunity for finding out recently
that there are renaissance parallels to a theme in ancient jewish
literature etc. i also find that the technical discussions are
occasionally very useful and i am willing to spend the few minutes
delteing the others in order to get at the ones i want. i think the
answer is that each of us finds different parts of humanist worthwhile
and that's why it has to remain a well organized buffet. sort of p.s.
aren't you threatening to leave the room also?