Friday, July 6, 2007

Grammar, structure, and form

I guess it should come as no surprise that our comprehension is improved if we perceive the grammatical, syntactic and various parallel structures of text. My marketing staff came across this research into online reading. In the absense of effective oral performance, or as an adjunct to it, the visual perception of structure can help our entry into ancient texts even though they were designed for hearing rather than seeing.

Here's some more about process in my Psalms project.

The application lives on a couple of servers. The properties of the diagram are in an Oracle database and are fully rendered on the web. To my knowledge this combination of diagram + web + database is unique in the world today. The tool supports the thought process as the user determines the presentation of material. Users can work with complexity that goes to the level of fully integrated systems – supporting projects that may occupy multiple authors and users over many years.

My first tests of mapping structure were with the Epistle to the Hebrews . I did this based on the work of Albert Vanhoye (La structure littéraire de l'épitre aux Hébreux). You can ‘see’ the concentric structures and the ‘logic’ of the epistle. Click on the 1:1-4 link on that diagram, there are three items of note:

1. the beautiful structure of the first 4 verses
2. the sentence in 2:1-3 - an eccentric set of circles highlighting the word 'salvation'
3. the shaded quotations from the Psalter.

The conversation recorded in the epistle between the Father and the Son is taken from the Psalms. So I decided to translate the Psalms. I had, after all, a reading of this poetry from the first century and the reading I grew up with from the 16th century, how could I discover the earlier reading without entering the world of translation? As a result, I have created 154 diagrams + a few more that are essentially a production environment for testing the product.

The translation of the Psalms is a long term project like a performance measurement project. It uses queries, charts, indicators and alerts just like a performance project would - only my queries and charts are to data that is ‘in the diagram’ rather than in a document or spreadsheet somewhere. (For example, the data displayed in indicators, alerts, and queries on the table of contents.) I can even get a node to alert me when a word is used twice in the same Psalm - showing me possible keywords in the Psalmist's intention for the poem.

One thing I lack at the moment is automation of Hebrew parsing - but I am experimenting with ways of doing it. The combination of Hebrew + English could help with recognition of the various aspects of the Hebrew affixes. I would love to hear from others who are approaching this problem in similar or other ways.

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