TIP of the day: from “What is Text Analysis, Really? ”

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Dec 29 2015 2:16 PM

Extract from: Preprint of Rockwell, Geoffrey, “What is Text Analysis, Really?”, Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 18, No. 2, 2003, p. 209-219.

"Text analysis tools have their roots in the print concordance. The concordance, is a standard research tool in the humanities that goes back to the 13th century. Concordances are examples of the sorts of “augmentation” tools that extend our scholarly reach ..."

Secondly, with interactive tools and a more mature community of users we began to realize we could ask new types of questions that print concordances could not support. As we experimented with new questions we realized that one of the things that was important was this intellectual process of iteratively trying questions and adapting tools to help us ask new questions. We can do so much more now than find words in a string. We can ask about surrounding words, search for complex patterns, count things, compare vocabulary between characters, visualize texts and so on. ...

 As Willard McCarty puts it, “The early history of the concordance suggests that it was invented essentially for the same job to which we apply it today, 750 years later: to discover patterns of coherence in a text or textual corpus. ... the concordance very likely grew out of a habit of mind conditioned by a typological or figural view of the Bible, i.e. the intratextual notion that the meaning of the biblical text is derived by putting together normally disjunct passages into a concordatia, a concord of senses.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica Online warns in its discussion of “Parallelism” as a form of Scriptural interpretation, against the naive use of concordances.
"Parallelism, the interpretation of Scripture by means of Scripture, is a corollary of the belief in the unity of Scripture. But as a hermeneutical principle it must be employed sparingly, since the unity of Scripture should be based on comprehensive exegetical study, rather than itself provide a basis. ... One naive form of parallelism is the ‘concordant’ method, in which it is axiomatic that a Hebrew or Greek word will always (or nearly always) have the same force wherever it occurs in the Bible, no matter who uses it.”

The hermeneutical principles underlying the use of the concordance and the text-analysis tools that evolved from it can be summarized thus:
• First, the use of a concordance for interpreting a text presumes that there is some sort of unity to the text and a consistent use of words.
• Second the concordance is a new text that is assembled out of passages that agree or concord. The concorded hybrid provides a new combination of the parts of the original work. The concordance is a monster new text patched out of the old.
• Third, a concordance is generated according to some procedure, be it a manual procedure or process implemented in software. The procedure that generates the concordance takes as its input a query about a word or pattern. The particular concordance one looks up or generates is a text in response to a choice by the reader that is generated by the software or editor according to established procedure.

In "Seeing the Text Through the Trees" I cautiously suggested that there are problems with these principles. I now want assert what I before left tentative:
1. The hybrid texts generated by computers are new texts that can be called interpretations in that they belong to the class of texts which have a special relationship to an existing text. If we want to distinguish them from human interpretation we can call them interpretative aides.
2. They are analytic in that, following Condillac, they are generated by processes of taking apart and putting back together information into new configurations for the purposes of discovery and reflection.
3. Such hybrid interpretative works can take advantage of the multimedia and transmedia capabilities of the computer. Such interpretations can involve other media, especially measurements (quantifications) and visualizations of these quantifications – visualizations which interpret a text from one media to another.
4. And finally, there is no a-priori privilege to certain processes of decomposition and recomposition like traditional concording. The assumptions behind concording are as suspect as any, despite the long tradition of using concordances. Familiarity with concordances should not breed contempt for other monsters. The challenge before us is to question our procedural habits and presuppositions as to what are legitimate recombinations – to forget the concordance and ask anew how we can analyze a text with a computer and whether such computer-assisted interpretations are interesting in and of themselves. We need to play again and make playpens available to our colleagues rather than re-implement a limited set of procedures grounded in one hermeneutic.

I therefore want to propose a very different image of what a concordance is. Following the lines of Lucian of Samosata I call it, and have been calling it, a hybrid text created by choices of the user from the original text. I call it a hybrid (or monster) because it is authored not just by the original author, but also by the user’s choices and the procedures used to generate it. It is neither afoot or ahorseback like the centaur Cheiron, the tutor of Achilles.

It is neither the work of the original author nor that entirely of the provoker of the concordance. Its unity comes from the intentions of both in a way that can be recapitulated by others. It is one text in a larger dialogue between authors, readers, and users. Lucian had it right, we are in dialogue with Dialogue recreating monsters out of the old. Rather than redeveloping tools based on principles of unity and coherence we should rethink our tools on a principle of research as disciplined play. Disciplined play privileges experimentation and modeling over hypothesis testing or concordance publishing. Play is a pragmatic approach of trying something, seeing if you get interesting results, and if you do, then trying to theorize why those results are interesting rather than starting from articulated principles."


Yes, this is an old article but it has an inductive study bent - start with text not with principles AND it offers warnings and suggestions for our (relatively) new concordance tool.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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David Achorn | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Dec 29 2015 2:23 PM

Thanks for posting these tips.  

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