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Re: What is a text? (was Re: Back to Principle 1)

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2000 00:39:04 -0400 (EDT)
To: Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au>
cc: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.20.0007170015500.14920-100000@tux.w3.org>
This is a bit theoretical. Maybe not the most obvious appraoch to dealing
with people who have reading disabilities, but it does work for me.

I (in the post-modernist tradition) would go further, and maintain that John
Lennon and Paul McCartney whistling to each other and playing a guitar are
also creating a text, with never a written representation. As is an animator
producing a storyboard (a sequence of pictures, essentially a cartoon, wihch
is often the fundamental origin for a movie, and from which screenplay (the
written text), lighting and effects, and so on, are all developed.

The Bayeux tapestry (a particularly important text for me) consists mostly of
pictures, with a line of text explaining a bit more. Neither really stands on
its own, although either can be used (depending on the circumstances) as a
quick reminder.

And an awful lot of work was done in the middle of the twentieth century on
oral composition of stories, in which there is no written text, but a general
understanding of the required elements, and a particular telling. This could
be mirrored on the web by providing story fragments in metadata (Joseph
Campbell, I think, produced a mammoth scheme for mythology some decades ago,
which could be readily encoded in RDF) and then attaching stock phraseology
via a kind of style sheet - it doesn't matter exactly what the "text" is, so
long as it conveys the right sort of elements. 

As another paralell, one of these stories is the Odyssey, by Homer. It was
told in archaic greek, and written down as well. In english there are two or
three dozen translations of it (it's very popular), all of them different,
all of them the Odyssey (I am not counting things like James Joyce's Ulysses,
although that is also a telling of the story). The question of "which is the
text of the Odyssey" doesn't necessarily have a right answer - for some
purposes it is the one whch uses the same vocabulary (as nearly as possible)
as the original, for other purposes it is the one which replicates the verse
structure, although it changes the words used.

Where is this leading?

To the idea that thinking of a "text" as writing is too limiting. Many things
are conveyed non-textually, either becuase that is how they are created (in
the case of beatles songs) or because that is how they are best received (in
the case of people who wait until the movie comes out rather than reading the
book). Each of these different presentations is a first-class representation
of the "story" - so long as you can "read" it (an important qulaification of
course) you are getting the story, and if you can't use one form, the way to
convey the story to you is through another.

Whether it is sign language, music, interactive text, interactive sound and
light, written words or mime, there is a requirement for alternative formats
because there are people who, because of a disability, can't read the story
as is. In some cases we can translate mechanically, but in many we still
can't do that.

cheers

Charles McCN

On Mon, 17 Jul 2000, Jason White wrote:

  Al raised an important issue.
  
  I would tend to maintain that musical notation, for example, is a "text"
  in the required sense of the term, as is mathematical notation, natural
  language, the text of a computer programme, a formal language, etc.
  
  The underlying question is: what is the criterion of identification here?
  Natural language is medium-independent because the signs of which it is
  composed are related to each other according to syntactic conventions, and
  are not intrinsically tied to any specific set of phonemes, graphemes,
  etc. Thus the linguistic relations among the signs can be represented in
  phonemes (including, of course, the conventional ones used in speaking the
  language), in graphemes (in theory many different systems could be chosen,
  apart from those which are conventionally used, for example the written
  alphabet), etc.
  
  I am sure that linguists have criteria with which to distinguish langauges
  (and other systems of conventional symbols) from other kinds of
  presentational phenomena (E.G. non-linguistic sounds and images).
  
  One of the basic requirements of the guidelines, then, is to start with
  the most language-like (or symbolic) representation possible, which can
  then be presented in a range of media. The requirement for "equivalents"
  arises when this approach can not be or has not been followed.
  
  Linguistically informed readers can doubtless supply the proper
  terminology in which such criteria are normally expressed, which would
  then serve to delimit our understanding of what a "text" is for purposes
  of the guidelines.
  
  

--
Charles McCathieNevile    mailto:charles@w3.org    phone: +61 (0) 409 134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative                      http://www.w3.org/WAI
Location: I-cubed, 110 Victoria Street, Carlton VIC 3053
Postal: GPO Box 2476V, Melbourne 3001,  Australia 
Received on Monday, 17 July 2000 00:39:10 GMT

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