From: CE Whitehead (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Aug 10 2010 - 23:44:26 CDT
Re: Accessing alternate glyphs from plain text
From: Leonardo Boiko (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
>> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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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