9.387 weights & tags

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 15 Dec 1995 18:03:26 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 387.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca> (43)
Subject: 9.383 weights and measures

Michael Sperberg-McQueen notes in Humanist 9.383 that,

>not using weights is
>effectively the equivalent of using weights of 0 and 1 (or 0 and 100,
>however one delimits one's scale). Using numeric weights is a way to
>get a bit more nuance into the representation. But one ought to
>recognize even without weights that while all paragraphs may be equally
>paragraphs, and all tables of contents equally tables of contents,
>nevertheless it is unlikely that everything marked as, say, an echo of
>another writer is equally an echo. Some are stronger and clearer than

I have no disagreement with this. My question is about the claim being made
when one assigns a weight, and how much weight the user of the tagged text
can in turn give to it? If, as apparently with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the
editor has rational and cogent principles for assigning these weights, then
there's no problem. The user can always understand what is being claimed and
so work with the encoded text intelligently. If, however, the weights,
indeed for that matter the tags, are assigned majesterially, say by a
literary critic who somehow translates his or her perceptions about a text
into computational metatext without giving any criteria by which tags are
assigned, we do have a problem. Of what possible use to anyone else but the
tagger can be the metatextual statement that "a metaphor of death is 50%
certain" in the tagged location if we do not know exactly how that
particular value was assigned?

This leads me to another question. Is the mechanism of weights in a tagging
language anything more than a convenience? Thus, instead of
<metaphor death-doubtful>
...[some text in which this metaphor supposedly is found]...
we write
<metaphor death; certainty=50%>
Forgive the under-educated question and the manner in which it is asked. I'm
merely attempting to drag some doubts out into the open and see what happens
to them.

It seems to me that we have much to learn in the attempt to provide rational
criteria for assigning tags. In one case I have been struggling with for a
few years, doing so amounts to deriving definitions of the phenomena I am
tagging, e.g. personification. I find it most remarkable that in all the
voluminous writings on the subject, the concerns I have, forced on me by my
tagging exercise, seem not to have been addressed. This tells me, I think,
that encoding a text brings a new perspective to a very old activity, i.e.
as Michael said some years ago (and probably finds himself saying again and
again), tagging is primarily a way of thinking about text.