16.073 highly constrained language

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Sat Jun 15 2002 - 02:29:00 EDT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty : "16.076 attending from highly constrained language"

                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 73.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Mats
    Dahlstrom (29)
                     <Mats.Dahlstrom@hb.se> (by way
             Subject: Re: 16.071 highly constrained language

       [2] From: Stefan Sinclair <ss@huco.lang.arts.ualberta.ca> (30)
             Subject: highly constrained language

       [3] From: Norman Hinton <hinton@springnet1.com> (43)
             Subject: Re: 16.067 highly constrained languages (& who was

             Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2002 07:23:44 +0100
             From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?=22Mats_Dahlstr=F6m=22?=
    <Mats.Dahlstrom@hb.se> (by way
             Subject: Re: 16.071 highly constrained language

    In response to Eric Homich's question what the Canadian poet bp Nichol
    would have made of the textual capabilities and constraints of computers,
    I'd like to point to Robert Kendall's excellent 1998 article ("The
    Hypertexts of Yesteryear". SIGLINK Newsletter. Vol. 7 (1998) : 1/2. URL:
    http://www.wordcircuits.com/comment/htlit_3.htm), where Kendall i.a.
    discusses the editing of Nichol's kinetic poems in BASIC. Kendall writes:

    "When the Canadian poet bp Nichol died, he left behind a collection of
    kinetic poems called First Screening, which were written in BASIC for the
    Apple II. J.B. Hohm created a posthumous HyperCard edition of this work,
    but wasn't able to replicate all the original animation effects. [Nichol,
    bp. First Screening. J.B. Hohm, Ed. (Red Deer College Press, 1993).
    Diskette Macintosh edition.] Hohm considers the new version a translation,
    and in the preface describes some of the conversion problems as "like
    translating a verb tense from a foreign language with no equivalent verb
    tense." Though the problems of preserving animated text are more severe
    than those involved with hypertext, the issues are similar."

    I think this case poses a lot of interesting questions as to what critical
    editions of primary digital material, i.e. literary work *born digital*,
    might look like. Does anyone know of any other attempt to produce a
    scholarly edition of an originally digital work? When e.g. Joyce's
    "afternoon" is ripe (i.e. canonized) for scholarly editing, what kind of
    media form might editors use? What kind of tough problems await the
    scholarly editors, "merely" due to the new media?

    Yours / Mats D

    Mats Dahlstrm, PhD student and lecturer
    Swedish School of Library and Information Studies
    Univ. College of Bors / Univ. of Gothenburg, Sweden
    mad@adm.hb.se ; +46 33 16 44 21 ; http://www.adm.hb.se/personal/mad/
    The history of structuralism is one from Saussure to not saussure.
    (Malcolm Bradbury)

             Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2002 07:24:23 +0100
             From: Stefan Sinclair <ss@huco.lang.arts.ualberta.ca>
             Subject: highly constrained language

    Dear Willard,

    > From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
    > Has anyone studied the poetics of such highly constrained language (perhaps
    > starting with Georges Perec's)? I ask because computational metalanguages
    > are also highly constrained, although in a different way.

    Indeed, applying computational methods to the study of Oulipian texts is
    my primary area of research. I've come at it at a slightly different angle
    than the one you suggest about the similarities between contrained
    literature and artificial languages, concentrating instead on how the
    formal aspects of Oulipian texts can provide a very useful foot-hold for
    our current analysis methods (our two perspectives overlap of course, but
    with important differences).

    For instance, I've tried to examine in Perec's lipogrammatic _La
    Disparition_ (a novel without the letter "e", translated in English as _A
    Void_) how the "removal" of the grapheme "e" influences and interacts
    with other linguistic levels (morphological, lexical, syntactical,

    A bit more information here: http://www.ualberta.ca/~stefan/Oulipo/en.html

    > PS The vowel in Bok's surname is written with an umlaut. (Alas, that
    > problem is still with us.)

    BTW, Bok might not be too insulted by the missing umlaut - his surname was
    originally the far less exotic "Book" - he decided to change the spelling
    (not the pronunciation) for reasons we might divine.



    Stfan Sinclair, University of Alberta
    Phone: (780) 492-6768, FAX: (780) 492-9106, Office: Arts 218-B
    Address: Arts 200, MLCS, UofA, Edmonton, AB (Canada) T6G 2E6
    M.A. in Humanities Computing: http://huco.ualberta.ca/

             Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2002 07:24:40 +0100
             From: Norman Hinton <hinton@springnet1.com>
             Subject: Re: 16.067 highly constrained languages (& who was alert?)

    For constrained poetry, you really can't beat medieval Latin.

    There's Hucbald (of St. Amand), _Ecloga de calvis_, for instance: a 146
    line poem in which every word begins with the the letter "c", the first
    letter of 'calvus' (bald). For a text and translation


    Other constrained poems, just a sample (these courtesy of John Dillon
    and Jim Marchand -- Jim's contribution originally appeared here in

    One form of constrained poem is lipogrammatic verse (characterized by
    the programmatic exclusion of a particular letter or letters).

    >Since I am a medievalist,
    >my favorite lipogrammatic tour de force is Peter Riga's
    >Recapitulationes, a series of poems, each without a letter of the
    >alphabet. The only really easy one was "sine K", since many grammarians
    >thought the Latin alphabet to lack that letter, whence the practice of
    >not naming a quire "K" (answer to a previous question). The Middle Ages
    >are full of these and other "Verskuensteleien", as P. Meyer used to call
    >them, including the tmesis of the first line of the Chanson de Roland
    >and the frequently unnoticed versus rapportati.
    >Jim Marchand

    Another example of constrained verse, this time not lipogrammatic, is
    22 in the Sylloge of Eugenius Vulgarius (Campanian; late 9th/early 10th


    Si sol est, et lux est; at sol est: igitur lux.
    Si non sol, non lux est; at lux est: igitur sol.
    Non est sol et non-lux; at sol est: igitur lux.
    Aut sol est aut lux; at sol est: non igitur lux.
    Aut sol est aut lux; at non est sol: igitur lux.
    Non est sol et lux; at sol est: non igitur lux.
    Non est sol et lux; at non sol est: igitur lux

    (text from Paul von Winterfeld, ed., Poetae latini aevi carolini, IV, 1
    [Berlin: Weidmann, 1899; MGH, Poetae latini medii aevi, IV, 1], p. 426;
    Hucbald's Ecloga de calvis also in this vol.). In the title, the final
    of DIALECTICE is printed with a cedilla. Eugenius is well known for his
    acrostics and his figure poems. But this seems to be his only
    poem. I have seen it (or a version thereof) cited in comment on Abelard
    a 12th-century text.

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