5.0227 TEI Workshop Report (1/201)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 15 Jul 1991 21:07:27 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0227. Monday, 15 Jul 1991.

Date: Sat, 13 Jul 91 15:49:18 BST
From: Donald A Spaeth <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Report on first European TEI workshop

The first TEI European Workshop
Oxford University Computing Service
1-2 July 1991

The first European workshop of the Text Encoding Initiative
(TEI) was held in Oxford on 1-2 July 1991. The TEI is an
international effort to develop and disseminate guidelines for
encoding and exchanging machine-readable texts. The first
phase of the TEI was completed by the publication of the
Guidelines for the Encoding and Interchange of Machine-
Readable Texts (1990), and several Working Committees, Working
Groups and Affiliated Projects are now expanding and refining
these guidelines.

The two-day workshop was attended by fifty people from
fourteen countries, of whom the largest number were from
Britain. Not surprisingly, linguistics and language studies
were the best-represented subject areas, but by no means the
only ones. The workshop was taught by the TEI Co-Editors, Lou
Burnard and Michael Sperberg-McQueen, and by Elaine Brennan
(Brown), Harry Gaylord (Groningen) and Terry Langendoen
(Arizona). The speakers had obviously worked very hard, and
the two days went without hitch.

The workshop included a neatly-balanced mixture of group
discussions, lectures on technical issues and software
demonstrations and practicals. It opened with a warm-up
session, Why Tag Texts. The group looked at the workshop's
core text, portions from Mary Robinson's 'Thoughts on the
Condition of Women' (1799), both in its original printed
format and as keyed in by the Brown Women's Writers Project
and marked up by Michael Sperberg-McQueen. The task was to
identify textual elements which should be marked up, and this
raised a number of issues. There was some disagreement
between those who believed every descriptive variation should
be encoded, including the breadth of vertical lines and
whether left or right quotes were used, and those who did not.
Joy Jenkyns (Oxford) pointed out that typography could hold
clues to interpretation, for example, the similarity between a
long 's' and an 'f' might point to a sight-rhyme between
'wise' and 'wife'. Jeremy Clear (OUP), tongue firmly in
cheek, deployed the 'reductio ad absurdum' argument that we
should mark-up an upper-case 'I' as 'a vertical line with two
serifs'. (In the closing session on Tuesday, John Dawson
(Cambridge) suggested that only elements which were to be
processed by computer needed tagging, and there was general
agreement that it would be desirable to accompany documents
with digital images of the original).

We returned to group discussion of tagging after lunch, in a
session entitled Textual Anarchy: The Challenge for the TEI.
Lou Burnard had chosen examples of texts from those held in
the Oxford Text Archive and had attempted to replace the
tagging scheme used in the original with TEI tags; the
examples came from the Paston Letters, a blues lyric and
Beowulf. Our task was to match the features tagged in the two
versions; extra points were awarded for observing elements
which had been marked up incorrectly or which the TEI could
not mark up The session did an excellent job of pointing out
why the TEI is necessary, since each example used its own
idiosyncratic scheme, although everyone was too embarrassed
too admit to having scored the most points!

The TEI technical presentations included reviews of basic SGML
and TEI concepts and an exposition of advanced TEI features.
The reviews were overly brief and schematic, containing
nothing that was new for readers of Draft 1 of the TEI
Guidelines (TEI P1) while offering insufficient guidance for
novices; the mixed experience of the audience made it
difficult to judge the right level for these sessions. Terry
Langendoen's paper on advanced features explored techniques
for encoding linguistic feature structures and for
abbreviating verbose coding by defining thousands of entities.
I found particularly useful the analogy he drew between
feature structures and relational database tables, since as an
historian I need techniques for marking up record structures
in text, and the techniques he was describing (and still
developing) clearly had applications outside the field of

The practical sessions answered the common complaint that
there is little software for preparing and analysing TEI-
conformant texts. Lou Burnard briefly outlined the software
choices and the issues to be considered in choosing software,
distinguishing between Parsers, Editors, Filters, Formatters
and Retrieval Systems. Two sessions, Uses for Tagged Texts
and a TEI Users' Forum, demonstrated examples of several of
these types of software. Filters or transducers provide a
means of converting other systems of tags into SGML or vice
versa. Examples included a Nota Bene program which converted
SGML tags into NB formatting; KEDIT macros converting SGML
tags into COCOA tags for analysis with micro-OCP; and the B-
Transducer. Filters are useful for converting already-tagged
text into TEI-conformant text but for new texts SGML editors
have the advantage of validating texts automatically as they
are tagged. Two hands-on practicals gave us the opportunity
to try out two editor/parsers, Mark-It (DOS) and Author Editor
(Macintosh), and we saw how the latter enabled SGML tags to be
used as stylesheets to produced formatted.output. On the
retrieval side, we saw a simple SPITBOL program produce a list
of all proper names in the core Robinson text as well as a
prototype of the Oxford Textual Analysis System under
development by OUP. Also on show were: Collate, a program
for collating variant versions of manuscripts, which now takes
TEI-tagged text as input or output; and RUTH, an editor which
allows the user to tag texts using a KWIC concordance. The
Users' Forum included reports on the forthcoming Chadwyck-
Healy CD-ROM database of English poetry, to be distributed
with TEI-markup; and the Wittgenstein Archives, who are
developing their own distinctly non-TEI markup and analysis

The workshop closed with a talk by Michael Sperberg-McQueen on
TEI-conformance and a general discussion on the TEI and the
workshop itself. Michael Sperberg-McQueen drew a distinction
between the different formats in which textual data might be
held: at data capture, for a specific application, as stored
on a local computer, and for interchange. Ideally, text
should be held in a single format which can be understood by
many applications rather than in a different format for each
application. In a change from the Guidelines, he announced
TEI-interchange format -- using the subset of ASCII defined in
the Guidelines. He outlined several desiderata for software,
including minimal tag redundancy, allowing attributes to be
used to differentiate variants of a tag, and selective
display, so that the user can turn off selected tags or
elements for viewing.

In the final session, participants expressed concern about the
cost and complexity of marking up text with SGML. It was
claimed that the costs of data definition, data entry
(including training), and storage, particularly given the
verbosity of SGML, put it beyond the reach of many publishers
and projects, and perhaps all but large government-funded
projects. In expressing concern about complexity, it was
clear that a number of participants were daunted by the
prospect of wading through the Guidelines and SGML manuals.
Several participants argued that compendia were needed which
identified tags relevant to each subject area, although
Michael Sperberg-McQueen said that it was too early to prepare
these since the TEI was still under development.

These anxieties about TEI markup suggest that future workshops
must devote more time to the practical issues of developing
Data Type Definitions (DTDs) and marking up texts from
participants' own research. One person observed that we had
not examined Data Type Definitions (DTDs), although we had
been told that that they were a crucial part of a TEI-
conformant text, not least because they document the tags
used. In fact, the booklet 'An Introduction to TEI Tagging'
which was given to all those attending provides a suitably
gentle introduction, as well as a sample DTD used to mark up
the Robinson core text. Even this DTD, described as 'a
simplified TEI document type description', is eight pages long
and includes 85 element tags. Perhaps future workshops should
use this more explicitly as a workbook in a practical session
replacing one or more of the software sessions. Training of
this sort is crucial if TEI recommendations are to be follow

Running a workshop for an audience mixed both in discipline
and experience is difficult. The use of Robinson as a core
text was an effective device, but there was always the risk
(particularly in the opening session) that people would think
that this laid down what <emph> must </emph> be marked up for
TEI-conformance. On the contrary, each scholar will only mark
up the elements which he or she wishes to study. This is why

This raises the broader question of how prescriptive the TEI
should be. While some participants expressed concern that the
TEI was too prescriptive, others pointed out that users could
develop their own idiosyncratic attributes, once again
creating an obstacle to free interchange of data. Should the
TEI (with help from subject-specific working parties) develop
increasingly detailed descriptions of document types and tags
(including even subject-specific DTDs) which all scholars will
use? Or should scholars be left free to develop their own
tags and DTDs based upon their research needs, with SGML-
conformance providing a mechanism for documentation and
therefore easing exchange? The latter approach is of
particular relevance for subjects relatively new to text-based
analysis, such as history, but TEI compendia and training will
be needed.

I found the TEI Workshop both enjoyable and stimulating. It
is hard to see how much more could have been packed into two
rich days, which included a reception given by the CTI Centre
for Textual Studies and an evening punting on the River
Cherwell! I was pleased to see that the SGML and TEI
communities are so healthy, and hope that this will be only
the first of many TEI workshops in Europe.

Donald Spaeth
University of Glasgow
TEI History Working Group
13 July 1991