Babble: A Synoptic Text Viewer

An additional consideration is the ability to display the texts in a synoptic fashion, in parallel columns. On a conventional word-processor, multi-lingual texts can be presented in such a manner. Indeed this was the way in which Stone and Anderson assembled their first form of the published Synopsis. This camera-ready 'electronic' text prepared for Scholars Press has the textual witnesses for the Vita laid out in multiple columns. It should be noted, however, that this assemblage was limited by the particular editorial predilections of the editors and cannot be altered as far as its print version stands and can only be altered in a very laborious manner in its present electronic version. Each column must be erased and reconstructed verse by verse.

During my year in residence, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia has undertaken development of a Unicode-based synoptic text viewer called Babble, the immediate purpose of which is to allow us to construct a synoptic presentation of the Vita. Because Babble is Unicode-based, it can simultaneously display (across the network, using X-Windows) a mixed collection of texts in different character sets--at present, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Japanese. The tool can also read 'tagged' line-numbers for each text it encounters and align those various texts in horizontal rows according to the line-numbers. This will allow one to place any text one wishes in a given column, and as long as that text has been properly marked up, Babble will be able to present the text so that each verse-unit corresponds to the other versions present in the synopsis. Babble will also allow the texts to be selectively linked for scrolling, and it will allow texts to be selectively line-wrapped to fit within the display area, or unwrapped, in which case horizontal scroll-bars can be used. In line-wrapping and other functions, Babble also respects the directionality of the text in question, wrapping Hebrew from right to left, for example.

We have used SGML conventions to establish the marked verse-tags and have marked each text in two ways: one which conforms to the native versification of the particular language version (in accordance with its principal publication and the manner in which it has normally been referred to by scholars) and another will gives a unique verse-tag to each verse unit across the 5 language groups. This latter means of tagging allows each version to be linked electronically to the other. This second means of tagging the verses is, of course, unique to the present synoptic presentation and so is completely artificial. This means of tagging the material is will not be visible to the user of the tool but will be used solely for the purpose of lining the texts up in an appropriate synoptic arrangement. [Click here for an example of how this works]

Ideally, for the purposes of this project, one would start Babble with a default set of texts: in this way, one would be presented with a single 'critical' text for each of the versions of the Vita. Moreover, one could elect to compare Mozley's Latin text instead of Meyer, or one could set several Latin versions over against Lutwin's Adam und Eva.

Since Babble will be SGML-aware [SGML=Standard Generalized Markup Language], it will be take advantage of any mark-up that an editor may wish to implement. Indeed it is the SGML-encoded chapter and verse tags that this software will use to display the texts in synoptic fashion. As one scrolls up or down the text, the various versions will in move in tandem. The tool will also allow one to 'unlock' the columns, if desired, and to scroll the files independently. For further information on this tool see the software demonstration page on the IATH Web site. One must have an X-terminal or be able to emulate X-Windows in order to run the Web-based demonstration. This is what Babble looks like:

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