What is German, what is French

The schizophrenic situation of having somehow a French hemisphere and a German one sometimes leads me to awkward contradictions.

On the one hand, my mother tongue and culture, the whole system in which I grew up and that taught me how to think. On the other one, the culture I have been professionally active in for over ten years and which I feel I have been adopted by. Of course, having a foot in each of those cultures means having two feet in none and hence be rootless everywhere. That is the deal. As much as I figured, during my first five years in Berlin, that we would eventually get back to France, it has been a while now since we decided to  stay here for good, at least until the kids are big enough to cope with us moving to a place that has never been their home (that is, probably, not before they are 18, which leaves us some 14 years).

For a long time, I only occasionally accepted to acknowledge the fact that I know French in my scientific activity. When I realized how useful this linguistic competence could be  to study precisely the German texts I was interested in, I gave in and took advantage of it. That never made me a specialist of French literature though. I know the basics. But if I had stayed in France and made a PhD in French literature instead of German studies, I would know immensely more. My only advantage is of linguistic more than of scholarly nature. Does it count in terms of qualifications? I still don’t know.

There is another level on which the conflict between both hemispheres is more complex to handle: the method. The first aspect is the team constellation. Such a work environment as working in a team is still almost unheard of in French literary studies. It is considered at best typical for natural sciences. To be honest, it is weird in the context of German literary studies as well, even if the fundings that lead to that kind of group configuration are more widely spread in Germany.

The second aspect is deeper and harder to formulate. The methods I have grown in still define the questions I ask to the corpora I am interested in. It became clear when I had to define the profile of our edition. Of course, the whole “it is the research question that defines the edition” thing veiled it for a while and I could not see it. But it finally became obvious that the prevalence of genetic over historical-critical edition in my eyes has in many ways to do with the teachings I received in my student years, when historical-critical was considered a nice, pointless commentary that does not deal  in depth with the definition of the text layers. The question I am also trying to deal with on a more theoretical level (which could be as plainly as pompously summed up in four words: What is the text?) is certainly a reflection of the conflict between the two scholarly cultures that live in me, sometimes antagonistically.The text is what culture makes it be. Maybe my mission is to make this cultural discrepancy bear fruits within text interpretation. But should I accept it?

And who wants me to work on that? The French or the Germans? Back to square one…



Multilingual improvements (j’ai la #frt!)

If you are, my beloved reader, paying just as much attention as I expect you to, you will have noticed that we have been improving the French interface of the edition over the past 10 days – with a variable success, some of the fields now appearing in all three languages at a time in all the versions. In preparation for the Frankoromanistentag (aka #frt2012), where I will present technical issues connected to the integration of francophone texts to a German edition, I have worked on all the small details of the interface that you only notice when you really do not understand them: the tags for the 6 different views of the document, the presentation texts for the corpora, the search page, the metadata view. You will certainly have noticed that the English equivalent is still missing, ahem. I spent hours improving the French part and will certainly try to move on with the English one as well soon, although this is far more painstaking, since translating German or French into English takes me considerably more time than translating German into French. But I promise I will have my English translations copyedited (for once, you will be able to read *real* English, not just my English).

We have also been working on the multilingual version of the metadata. To make those as accessible to data mining as humanly possible, we encode them in German, French and English. But is it necessary to translate all fields of the metadata? Everything that contains adresses, norms like dates or the size of the page in cm clearly does not need translation and is self-explainable in all three languages. While asking myself what really does deserve to appear in three languages, I found the translating process so boring and useless that I have quickly been dividing the fields concerned by the translation in two categories: those that need to be translated by a human being on the one hand (typically, full-text zones describing the overall looks and preservation of the manuscript) and on the other hand, those that should be translated by a computer. Countries names for instance. There are also fields that need not be translated at all because the XSLT-Stylesheet does it for me, such as the expression “Transcription by” or “Annotation by”. This lead me to some thinking about the level at which such translations are useful. Obviously, when it comes to reading the texts or searching marked-up elements of our digital edition, the translation through the XSLT-stylesheet suffices. But when it comes to reusing our XML file? I will have to look more precisely into that.

There was some hesitation as to the technical implementation as well. Just like for the first letter from Tieck to Raumer, on which I had done a series of fairly unsucessful multilingual experimentations, it turns out to be quite tricky to have three different variations of the same field that will only show in the one view corresponding to the language. For the notes  for instance, I should not add after one another < note resp=”#anne.baillot” xml:lang=”de”>Bla bla.< /note> and < note resp=”#anne.baillot” xml:lang=”fr”>Bla bla.< /note> and < note resp=”#anne.baillot” xml:lang=”en”>Blah blah.< /note>, but have only one < note> divided into three < seg>, each one of those being garnished with the capital xml:lang-information. It turns out to work the exact same way for most of the metadata fields. Except, said Alex, for title and titleStatement. What the heck! One way or another, I will probably begin using xml:lang while speaking very soon, considering how frantically I have been using while encodig lately.

This is almost what I will talk about in my paper tomorrow. Almost, because what I wrote today is more a further developpement of the ideas of my paper, and of the editorial praxis that I have tried to make fit to the paper’s ideas. The main argument of my paper is that it really does not matter in which language the text is that you want to edit. What matters is the language in which you edit it.

Which is why my paper is in French, the congress is taking place in Germany and I will be tweeting in English!