Unblocking the Lexicon
April 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
At almost 600 terms, the Lexicon is just about ready for testing. The editorial work has reached a point where we need to see how it works, looks, and feels in its natural format before further work can be done. And to find answers to the questions we are asking ourselves, like “Do we need to write a separate ‘short definition’ for each term, or can the Lexicon do this on the fly?” “Do we need a separate field for broad classifications like script and initials?” and the one everyone asks, “When is it ever going to stop snowing, for crying out loud?”
The Lexicon is envisioned as having several functions. It will support the Scriptorium by letting students quickly look up unfamiliar vocabulary tools and providing more detailed information about terminology. It will provide a forum for discussion of paleographical and codicological concepts as registered users can submit revisions and updates to its definitions. Its structures will not assume that western Latin manuscripts are the norm, and its entries will list the words used in different languages for each term. So far, the Lexicon has proved most useful in standardizing portions of the records in HMML’s online catalog, OLIVER, particularly the ones for “script” and “decoration.”
Currently, the Lexicon lives in a Google docs spreadsheet. The fields are:
- Rec ID. Record identification number. Originally assigned for the initial list of terms, and not updated since.
- Term. The word or words that require a definition.
- Priority. An internal ranking, not intended for public view.
- Short Definition. A brief description of the term. Maximum length is two sentences.
- Full Definition. A detailed description of the term, which may discuss related terms. The Full Definition would contain disputes over the meaning or use of the term.
- Definition from Brown. VHMML received permission from the British Library to quote Michelle P. Brown’s Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/glossary.asp). We assigned a separate field for quotes from this glossary to ensure they received proper attribution in the Lexicon.
- Bibliography. Either the source for the term or the source for the definition.
- Contributor. The initials of the writer of the definitions; also, the initials of later editors and contributors.
- Images. Intended for the file name and/or location of the image that illustrates the Full Definition.
- Notes. Internal use only; not intended to supplement either the Short Definition or the Long Definition.
- Related Terms (See also). Either terms that were used as part of the Full Definition, or terms for similar things, scripts, initials, or concepts.
- Classification. To record which broad category a term belongs to, such as “script” “initial” “support” or “decoration.”
- The last eight fields are containers for the equivalent terms in French, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Armenian, and Syriac.
The editorial policy of the Lexicon is developing. The HMML staff drew up the list of terms for the Lexicon last year, and while we acknowledged that paleographers did not agree on terminology we did not think it would present problems before the Lexicon went online. We found that certain terms have been deprecated, and have been replaced in modern catalogs and descriptions. It was easy to redirect from the older terms to the preferred versions. But some are still controversial. The term Biting letters provides a good example. I thought this term was ambiguous when we reviewed the Lexicon last summer. I originally thought it referred to a condition found in Mediterranean manuscripts, where many scribes and notaries wrote on paper with acidic ink originally designed for parchment. The ink “bit” into the paper, making it difficult to alter legal documents. Sadly, the ink continues to eat into the paper, leaving letter-shaped holes in its wake. I was informed, however, that “biting letters” meant letters that touched each other. Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, prefers the term “fusion,” and that’s fine with me. However, not everyone agrees with Derolez. Erik Kwakkel anthropomorphizes script in his article “Biting, kissing, and the treatment of feet,” in Turning Over a New Leaf. Not only do letters bite each other, but according to him when they are almost touching they are “kissing” each other. Other paleographers who prefer not to speculate on the private life of western medieval letter forms use the word “junction.”
In this instance, where the neophyte could easily encounter the three different terms in contemporary sources, the HMML staff thinks that the Full Definition and the Related Terms should contain the meaning of the term and refer to alternative terms.