TEI ED P3: Resolution of Theory Conflicts

Theoretical Stance — And Resolution of Theory Conflict
22 May 1989

All markup schemes implicitly rely upon a theory of textual objects. This document discusses six approaches to the problem of developing a useful conceptual basis for markup in fields marked by diversity of theoretical approach. They are:
  1. reliance upon a single theory
  2. pluralism (informal description of several theories)
  3. formal pluralism (formal descriptions of several theories)
  4. eclecticism
  5. controlled semantics
  6. polytheoretical consensus

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1. The Problem of Theoretical Diversity

Textual features, their attributes, and their structural relations cannot be postulated in a conceptual vacuum. They require some theoretical basis. In many fields (e.g. classical metrics) scholars agree on many or all of the pertinent features and their characteristics; in others, several divergent theories posit different sets of textual features; in still others, scholars disagree without the theoretical bases of the disagreement becoming visible.

In the extreme cases, theoretical diversity poses no problems for the working committees: on the one hand, a clear scholarly consensus can readily be translated into a single list of textual features, while on the other a lack of theoretical clarity will make it virtually impossible to elicit any consensus as to the textual features at stake, and no tag set can be developed at all.

The middle case, however, presents the working committees with a delicate problem.

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As an example of formalization at this level, let us consider the preparation of lemmatized frequency lists. Lemmatizing practice varies on issues such as the forms of the definite article (are French le, la, l', les, one lemma, two, three, or four? do the tokens au, aux contain one lemma each or two?), but range over a finite number of possible solutions to a finite number of standard problems. The lemmatization practice of existing lists may thus be fully defined by the answers to a finite number of questions (e.g. ‘Are articles of different gender reduced to separate lemmata, or the same lemma?’ or ‘Are words which combine a preposition and an article reduced to one lemma or two?’), such that each answer is drawn from a well-defined range of possible answers. In practice, these questions and answers provide a sufficient definition of the meaning of the tag &lit tag='lemma'>.