9.278 vagueness & ambiguity

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 9 Nov 1995 08:41:55 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 278.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: ocramer@cc.colorado.edu (17)
Subject: vagueness, not ambiguity

[2] From: Gary Shawver <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca> (31)
Subject: Re: 9.275 vagueness & ambiguity

Date: Wed, 08 Nov 1995 14:13:22 MST
From: ocramer@cc.colorado.edu
Subject: vagueness, not ambiguity

I've been reading Gogol with students, and fundamental vagueness
seems to be an important property of his texts. I'm thinking of
the "thick mist" (no doubt Homeric at some level) into which things
and people disappear, as at the end of "The Overcoat" with Akaky
Akakievich. There's also a case at the start of "The Nose" in which
Ivan Yakovlevich *has* no last name, the text supplies merely a
parenthesis in which that absence (precursory to the loss by another
character of his nose?) is noted: "his surname has got lost and all that
his shop-front signboard shows is a gentleman with a lathered cheek and
the inscription `We also let blood')"--implying that, to some extent,
the picture and inscription *take the place of* a surname. Gogol is
the Formalists' great example of features of the narrative voice itself
taking over the functions of plot and character, so that the whole
text is, as far as referential clarity goes, vague.
Owen Cramer
Classics/Comp. Lit.
Colorado College

Date: Wed, 8 Nov 1995 16:55:06 -0500 (EST)
From: Gary Shawver <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 9.275 vagueness & ambiguity

Thank you Willard for the example, and thank you Galen for quite
correctly pointing out the difference between 'ambiguity' and
'vagueness.' (Are both types of linguistic indeterminacy?) Accepting
Galen's corrective, could we not say that Willard's example is of
ambiguity rather than vagueness? That is, the word 'Bacchus' means
'wine' or 'Bacchus the god' or both, but not too much more. This takes
us back to the orginal question ask by myself and (I believe) another:
How does text markup eliminate ambiguity (in the this case) from a
text in a way that differs substantially from the kinds of things an
editor does? In this case, does the kind of "translation into markup"
proposed for "BACCHUS" eliminate ambiguity in a way that is
fundamentally different from that practice by the editors of the Loeb
edition? (I hope that this is putting the question fairly). Of
course Willard's example bears traces of a number of different levels
of markup and/or translation. Like the ex., chances are the earliest
mss of the _Meta._ were in all caps (Rustic) with little, or no word
seperation. I'm sure the Latin text of the Loeb edition is not that
way. (I apologize Willard for 'hijacking' your typographic convention
for my own purposes). Placing spaces between words and capitalizing
the first letter of proper nouns goes a long way towards eliminating
certain types of indeterminacy (GOD IS NOWHERE/NOW HERE). Choosing to
translate "BACCHUS" as 'wine' or 'Bacchus' is yet another kind of
'markup.' Can we say that what we do truly differs all that much from
such previous activities? More importantly, does e-text markup hide
the indeterminacies of the text from the user more effectively that
such activities? (Those of us doing markup are all too aware of such
indetermanicies). I think not.


Gary W. Shawver "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam gshawver@blues.epas.utoronto.ca yesterday--but never jam today." http://www.epas.utoronto.ca:8080/~gshawver/gshawver.html