RE: Accessing alternate glyphs from plain text

From: CE Whitehead (
Date: Tue Aug 10 2010 - 23:44:26 CDT

  • Next message: Doug Ewell: "Re: Accessing alternate glyphs from plain text"

    Re: Accessing alternate glyphs from plain text
    From: Leonardo Boiko (
    Date: Tue Aug 10 2010 - 13:05:36 CDT

    > On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 13:15, Doug Ewell wrote:
    >> Your handwritten A and mine may look different, and both may differ>> from a
    >> typewritten A, but they have something in common that allows us to
    >> identify
    >> them with each other.

    > I have problems with this argument too. For example, consider the
    > following text:


    > This is written in a similar manner as texts were written in the past,
    > before spacing, punctuation and lowercase came into being. Now it
    > certainly has “something in common that allows us to identify” it with
    > your original text. E.g., for most uses (but not all), we don’t mind
    > adding modern punctuation and casing to ancient texts and saying it’s
    > the “same” text. Nonetheless, by transforming your text I clearly
    > lost some information. We don’t want to remove spacing and
    > punctuation from plain text, even though the historic examples show
    > that they’re not “strictly necessary”. (As you know, our plain text
    > can even mark _different_ kinds of spacing, as you’re seeing if 
    > you’re
    > reading this plain-text sentence in a variable-width font.)

    > There’s some information lost when we render our “plain text” as
    > ancient text. Similarly, there’s some information lost when we render
    > handwritten text, typeset text, or computer “rich text” to plain text.
    > It seems to me these two losses are different only in degree, not in
    > kind.

    > To run with your example, my handwriting certainly can go well beyond
    > just “looking different” than a typewriter; it can actually encode
    > significant linguistic information that the typewriter cannot. I have
    > a letter whose author, in a moment of emotional distress, wrote the
    > sentence “to hurt myself” several times, and in each time the words
    > get larger and more slanted, with more irregular forms. This graphic
    > resource is a representation of features of speak intensity, speed,
    > intonation &c., which is to say, it has pretty much the same role as
    > punctuation. If you encode her text in plain text, and even in rich
    > text, you lose this linguistic information. The only way to keep
    > something I’m willing to call “the same text”, in this case, would be
    > an image.

    > It’s all a matter of intended use.

    >> The whole premise of reading and writing is that we
    >> look below the surface to the identity of the letters and the meaning>> of the
    >> words.

    > No, the whole premise of reading and writing is to represent language,
    > which is spoken, in a visual manner. Nothing to do with letters;
    > letters are just tools for representing language. You cannot read
    > without re-creating sound images in your head. Only after the sound
    > image is recreated is that you reach the “meaning” (even, contrary to
    > popular myth, in the case of so-called “ideographs”). Plain text can
    > encode some features of the spoken language, but (obviously) not all.
    > Some of the features left out might be considered important for some
    > texts, in some uses. Nietzsche prose employs a lot of italics (which
    > are typographic marks of something like emphatic stress in speak); if
    > you take away the italics, the resulting text simply isn’t “the same”
    > —everyone who uses Nietzsche texts (philosophy students, &c.) is
    > interested in keeping the italics.

    Hmm. Readers, when they read, do imagine -- to some degree -- sounds; also readers do seem to rely some on punctuation of various kinds (when reading in languages that have punctuation); see:

    But I do not know to what extent all the punctuation is translated into sound.

    Written and oral stories for example do share many features; but if you think about what writing has done to texts you will start to think that the process of reading must be a bit different than the process of listening: writing has changed texts according to many researchers. (For one thing: there are no longer so many "formulas" that are repeated with regularity in stories; other kinds of repetition are lost too in written texts; there may be less syntactic and semantic parallelism at least in English writing -- but this depends in part on the writer.)

    Yes I do imagine sounds when I read. That's part of it.

    Most of your email I sounded out; however I did not sound out at all "tty" in your text; I recognized it though and hardly tripped up on the fact that it was not pronounceable as a word in the sense that I could put the letters together into a syllable; I then went back and reread "tty" and pronounced each letter and asked myself if I had missed anything by not doing so but I don't think I had.

    (I'm can provide lists of resources on relationships between written and oral language -- if anyone is interested; email in private though.)

    > The question here is what’s the cutoff point; where do we draw the
    > line about what information goes into plain text, and why. In my
    > humble opinion there seems to be no clear “why”; the line seems an
    > entirely arbitrary technological artifact, a remnant of intuitions
    > developed due to limitations of the typewriter, the teletypes, and
    > early tty-style computer terminals. This is not a bad thing. I’m not
    > dissing plain-text or saying we should abolish it or encode italics or
    > anything like that. But by the same token I don’t consider it some
    > special, unique representation of “true meaning”. Plain text is to me
    > simply yet another attempt to represent language, and like all similar
    > tools, has its strengths and weaknesses—in particular, like all
    > language representation tools, it can encode some kinds of “meanings”
    > and not others.

    On this point I agree; in most communication, non-verbal language, intonations, and such count for more than words for the most part. So here is another aspect of reading: reading between the lines.
    (But if everyone goes around expecting everyone to guess what they really meant to say, some of us will go "bonkers" I suppose.)

    Written text can encode things that speech cannot or at least sometimes encodes things quite differently than speech; when we red-line something or mark it for review for instance -- we'd have to do something quite different in speech -- and I don't think we pronounce what we do in speech when we read red-lining.


    C. E. Whitehead

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