University of Virginia Library



It will be helpful to keep in mind S. M. Parrish's "Problems in the Making of Computer Concordances," SB, XV (1962), 1-14; see too Paul L. Garvin, "Computer Participation in Linguistic Research," Language, XXXVIII (Oct-Dec 1962), 385-389. A very useful general discussion of Information Retrieval techniques is E. Herbert's "Finding What's Known," International Science and Technology (Jan 1962), pp. 14-23.


From the very beginning Prof. Barnet Kottler, Department of English, Purdue University, and I have shared this work. He has seen this article in typescript. It seems fair to me, then, from this point on, to speak as "we, us, or our."


We were unable to acquire the "special set of print wheels" described by Parrish, p. 7. Throughout we were able to make use of an IBM 7070 Data Processing System which was, early in the fall of 1960, installed at the University of Pittsburgh's Computation and Data Processing Center. It occurs to us that all future computer concordances might well be prepared in such a fashion that the facilities of the Cornell Concordances Center could be employed; e.g., cards cut and sorted elsewhere could be sent to Ithaca to be printed. Whether or not such an arrangement would be acceptable to the Cornell staff is unknown to us at the moment, but it would appear that this sort of scholarly cooperation and coordination is desirable. The printing requirements for Old English and Middle English texts are considerable. Beyond the need for concordances, other types of analyses beg attention; see W. N. Francis's excellent description, "Graphemic Analysis of Late Middle English Manuscripts," Speculum, XXXVII (Jan 1962), 32-47, esp. 46.


Letter to the author from Professor C. O. Chapman of the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma 6, Washington, 19 December, 1960. We have, of course, consulted his Index of Names in Pearl, Purity, Patience, and Gawain, Cornell Studies in English, Vol. XXXVIII (1951) as well as his "Concordance of the Works of the Pearl-Poet," unpublished dissertation (Cornell University, 1927).


It was a choice between a restricted number of punctuation points, the period and comma only, or none at all. We chose none at all as the less confusing practice. Absence of the apostrophe, however, throws genitive singular and any plural forms together; e.g., ABRAHAMS equals Abraham's. This, of course, reflects the MSS. more accurately than the printed editions do. Cf. n. 2, supra.


Although we frequently examined the facsimile MSS., as we did in this instance, such examinations, in general, were of little help to us. Word divisions in fourteenth century MSS. are often capricious, and it would be risky indeed to base decisions on word boundaries just on the MS. evidence alone. As will be seen, we were obliged to consider other evidence and other requirements before reaching our decisions.


Since we chose to use some Middle English words and some Modern English words as headwords, readers of our concordance will find an entry, HEMEWEL, and one occurrence of it, this line, GGK, 157. HEMEWEL is thus for us a Middle English word. But WELHALED, which also occurs this one time only, and is for us a Middle English word, will be found under the Modern English headword WELL-HALED, / -heyld / (as in "haled into court"), where, ironically, we were forced to use the hyphenated form, because WELLHALED is an unrecognizable Modern English form. As it is, only a reader who realizes that "hale" is an older form of "haul" will recognize WELL-HALED at first sight. The whole matter of choice of headwords is described later on.


We chose the hyphen, too, to retain a delightful Middle English preposition, and printed in GGK, 1200, TO-HIR-WARDE. Our practice, to be done with this puzzle of hyphenated or single forms, would cause us to print, were our poems in Modern English, such forms as COWCATCHER, STREETCAR, and perhaps STREETWALKER. It did cause us to print NW3ER and NW3ERES as single words under the Modern English headwords NEW YEAR and NEW YEARS, as well as to print ASTIT for either AS TIT or AS-TIT. But if one keeps the relationship which exists in English between phonemes and graphhemes in mind, some sanity will be seen to occur in our procedure. We can state this in spite of the fact that if, say, one were to ask us how many times a distinct form, such as WEL, occurs we should have to give an evasive answer. For a succinct, sensible statement about the use of the hyphen in English spelling, see R. A. Hall, Jr., Sound and Spelling in English (Philadelphia, Chilton Co., 1961), pp. 16-22.


In GGK, 1281, incidentally, A occurs as a variant of HO (Modern English "she"), and will be noted in a separate listing of pronouns, although elsewhere, as an article, it is not concorded. Similarly, we eliminated DE and LA from MADOR DE LA PORT and DODDINAL DE SAUAGE.


At the risk of being exceedingly tedious, let us explore this matter a bit further. A fundamental question is involved here. To what extent must the concorder of a Middle English text be an editor? And what kind of an editor? Our aim was to produce an accurate uniform copy edition (text) for a key punch operator. We did produce a uniform text, but although we made as reasonable a text as we could, although we constantly sought a defensible rationale for the sort of editorial decisions we made, and have described here, it is still in some of its parts an arbitrary text. We see no other solution. Prof. Chapman, for example, might well object that we have made no significant advance in textual considerations beyond his work of thirty-six years ago. In some particulars we have. To have gone all the way, however, would have meant that we should have had to produce a fresh critical edition, to have checked every word against the MS. and all printed editions. In short, we would have had to produce a variorum edition. There was no time for that. Moreover, the concordance will be used with the available editions of these poems, and for that purpose it is accurate. Even if a fresh, final edition of these poems does appear later on, the usefulness of the concordance will not seriously be impaired. Nevertheless, the 275 variant lines do indeed suggest that we do not have a perfect concordance. All this further suggests that we never will, with certainty, be able to state what it is the poet actually wrote, and that, consequently, a perfect concordance is not possible. Almost six centuries have elapsed since these poems were composed. All one can hope to do is to come as close to that composition as his data and knowledge will permit. We trust we are not too far removed from the poet. And, to be done with this, we will point out to anyone who prepares a computer concordance of any other Old English or Middle English text that the distance from his composition will undoubtedly be one of his largest concerns.


Here again it will be helpful to look to Parrish's description, pp. 4-6. Our program is comparable, although perhaps a bit more sophisticated. It is not, however, as sophisticated as that which Parrish later describes in his paragraph beginning at the bottom of p. 10.


It will be of some interest to point out here that the Middle English Dictionary, Part D. 5, Ed. Hans Kurath and Sherman Kuhn (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1962), p. 1370 cites these forms, and these very same lines, under Dwĩnen. None of the infinitive forms there cited occurs in our texts, and it is only these three occurrences of the 1st sing. pres. indic. which occur; therefore we did not treat this form as, say, we treated DEVOID-DEVOIDS-DEVOIDED. Note, too, that the MED prints LUF-DAUN-GERE where we print one word. The occurrence of DOL in PRL, 326, our concordance line 8212, containing the form DOWYNE, will permit us, also, to point out here that we and the MED agree in bringing similar forms together. Under the Modern English headword DOLE we print all the variant forms listed in the MED, Part D. 4, pp. 1208-1211, which occur in our texts, but we do not, as the MED does, separate the forms as homonyms; i.e., under DOLE we show 18 citations, but the form may vary lexically, in Modern English, from "grief" to "a portion." We were unable, in short, to achieve the resolution of the "homograph problem" which Parrish (p. 9) suggests. We would like to agree with Parrish (p.8) that in a Middle English concordance ". . . users may expect to find find homographs discriminated." But the cost and the machine time to effect that discrimination, as Parrish describes it, are prohibitive. Furthermore, it is open to question, we think, if such discrimination actually is necessary. A glance at the citations under ROSE in the Tatlock and Kennedy Chaucer concordance (p. 753), for example, reveals that the context very quickly shows when ROSE is a noun and when a verb. Similarly, although the cases are not precisely alike, a glance at the citations under our DOLE reveals that the context indicates when "grief" is appropriate and when "a portion." Moreover, since DELE in PRL, 51, also occurs as "grief" where elsewhere it occurs as "devil" or "deal out," it seemed wiser to us to bring this occurrence of DELE under our DOLE. Two secondary points to this wandering note are, first, that we had to effect such changes manually and, second, that we assume a user of our concordance will know how, generally, to read Middle English.


Thinking of the concordance of the Old English poetic remains (Parrish, p. 8), the question of the significance of case of nouns arises. Were we producing that concordance, we do not, at the moment, know exactly what we would do with an irregular feminine noun, say burg. Would the genitive and dative singular form byrig be given a separate entry, or would both be listed under CITY? BURG would not, we should think, suffice because of current connotations attached to it. And how should the nominative and accusative plural form byrig be distinguished from its singular counterpart? Perhaps it would fall under CITIES (BURGS) along with burga and burgum, the genitive and dative plurals. Is this one or four words? Are CITY and CITIES identical? Perhaps only the context of the line in question can be counted on. That problem, thank the good Lord, did not arise in our work. If a sigh of exasperation is detected, it is intentional; it will be, we feel, a frequent response as man and machine wrestle with obsolete language.


In Evolution and Repentance (1935), pp. 18-53.