8 Replies Latest reply on Jan 21, 2019 10:47 PM by Ethan Kent

    What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?

    Julia Gabbard Ledbetter Newbie

      I started transcribing an 1859 letter from one A. B. Pikard and initially thought the unusual spellings were just a sign of limited literacy. In the second body paragraph, though, the writer references his system as the "Fonetik Alfabet". I started looking more closely at the spellings and saw that he uses  different characters for distinct vowel sounds that we represent with the same letters in standard English spelling; for example, a letter that looks like a typical cursive e for an "eh" sound and a letter resembling a Greek epsilon ε for an "ee" sound. Unusual characters are also used for oo, th, sh, and long i.  (It turns out Reverend Pickard was a member of the American Phonetics Association, and had some affiliation with the Association for Spelling Reform, based on a few Google searches.)

       

      Most of these characters have no direct Unicode equivalent at all, let alone the English alphabet, so a visual transcription is challenging to say the least. Some have a slight resemblance to characters in the International Phonetic Alphabet, but aren't assigned to the same phoneme. A sample of the rough transcription I started, without substituting any special characters, goes like this:

      I am veri much oblijd dat u shud

      tink enuf ov min tu ansr it. I trust

      u wil hav no difikulti in redin

      dis;– u se it is ritn in de Fonetik

      Alfabet

      Obviously, this is un-searchable for all practical purposes, but that can be addressed with tags. A bigger issue is that it also likely won't be screenreader accessible even without adding special characters. I'm having fun thinking up ways to address it, as someone with an amateur interest in linguistics, but since it's a rather unique situation I wanted to get input from the Community Managers. It seems like maybe the most usable option would be creating two transcriptions for each page; first a visual transcription with the most visually similar Unicode characters possible standing in for the special characters Rev Pickard devised (to display his spelling system) and then a Standard English transcription for accessibility (both for screenreaders and people who are unable to parse the odd notation) and searchability. Thoughts?

       

      Thank you!

        • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
          Mason Klank Newbie

          I have a similar question, although not as complicated. I've come across some documents written in other lanquages, mostly French, I was wondering should I use the French or foreign characters or use the normal alphabet for better searchability?

          • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
            Victoria Van Hyning Adventurer

            What a wonderful and thoughtful post Julia, thank you for this. Your ideas are very much in line with some of the discussion we've had here with our curatorial and reference librarian colleagues around improving access to materials in languages/characters other than English/latin alphabet. 

             

            In brief, we'd like for volunteers to transcribe documents as they appear, because it might be helpful for people who are doing research into spelling, linguists or in this case phonetics. My fellow Community Manager, Lauren, and I have both looked at the letter and we concur with your observation that it's not a straight forward task in this case. As with much palaeography or scholarly editing there are always layers of interpretation.

             

            For now, I'd suggest that you and anyone else encountering phonetic spelling or materials in languages other than English, transcribe things as closely to the original as possible and then offer a translation at the bottom of the page if you can. As you observe, this will make materials accessible for screen readers.

             

            If something has gone through review and is effectively locked on crowd.loc.gov, posting a link to the original page and offering a translation here would be a helpful alternative. Then alert us so we can see about how to bring the translations back into the catalog.

             

            We have not yet agreed on a pathway for bringing translations back into the catalog, and of course translations are even more open to interpretation than transcription, so there's some more to think through there.

             

            I hope that this is a helpful answer for now.

             

            Thanks again for your thoughtful questions and ideas.

             

            -Victoria

            2 of 2 people found this helpful
              • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
                Ethan Kent Wayfarer

                Reply to Ms. Van Hyning:

                 

                Hi.

                 

                I have recently worked on a letter sent to Lincoln in December of 1860 from a French-writer called by the document's description "Cordevrent Desire" (although the signature clearly has the last name as "Désiré" with 2 accent marks, and I think the first name might be "Cordevant" (not a common French name, but Google indicates that at least as a family name, it's more common a word than "Cordevrent" -- and probably a bit easier to pronounce).

                 

                In the letter in question (in the course of which Mr. (or possibly Ms. (?) ) Désiré seems to apologize (as I recall) for not being able to write in English (but writes this in French) and asks for a French-speaker to come visit so as to be further informed about what is written-about in the letter), much of the spelling is inconsistent and/or is not French spelling as taught by schools and dictionaries [Shrug].

                 

                It's too late for me to do so now, but am I to understand (Ms. Van Hyning) that it is desired that after a strictly-"faithful" transcription of such a page, a transcription with standard spelling -- plus a translation into English -- would be desired??

                 

                I look forward to receiving a reply concerning this (and concerning the desirability of placing some sort of translation below the transcription for pages in languages which are not English when the writing is more-or-less standard).

                 

                (I have mentioned the case of Mr./Ms. Désiré's letter in another "thread" at History Hub under "CROWD" -- in responding to another transcriber's ("by-the-way" in manner) query as to how to find Crowd documents in French; I said in that post that I wish that this particular document will not be marked as "Completed" until a clear explanation of what is expected with respect to "transcription in standard language" (so to speak) and translation is posted.)

                 

                Thanks, Ms. Van Hyning (and all persons who will read this post) for reading this post; I look forward to seeing a reply.

                 

                (I only posted to History Hub tonight about this and other matters as my previous experiences posting to History Hub (with respect to National Archives transcription projects) -- while they were viewed by quite a few persons -- left me unsatisfied as to how they were responded-to, and told myself to avoid History Hub... -- but I felt like responding to a few recent threads with respect to Crowd/By the People which I learned after looking at my latest email update about History Hub activity.

                 

                I hope that my experience concerning my posts of the past hour or so will be more satisfying to me than my previous experiences of some months ago with History Hub.)

                 

                Sincerely,

                 

                EthanFromBellmore -- in New York City.

                  • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
                    Victoria Van Hyning Adventurer

                    Hi Ethan,

                     

                    I think in this case the advice Lauren and I gave for the phonetic letters would be true here.

                     

                    In brief, we'd like for volunteers to transcribe documents as they appear, because it might be helpful for people who are doing research into spelling, linguists or in this case phonetics. My fellow Community Manager, Lauren, and I have both looked at the letter and we concur with your observation that it's not a straight forward task in this case. As with much palaeography or scholarly editing there are always layers of interpretation.

                     

                    For now, I'd suggest that you and anyone else encountering phonetic spelling or materials in languages other than English, transcribe things as closely to the original as possible and then offer a translation at the bottom of the page if you can. As you observe, this will make materials accessible for screen readers.

                    So, we want you to preserve unusual spelling and orthography, and of course bear in mind that in this period spelling and punctuation was still in flux. There were many dictionaries, but these did little to fix spelling and punctuation until relatively recently. A particular writer's spelling and punctuation are often helpful clues to researchers, so we ask you leave them as they are. In the case of materials in languages other than English, a translation is helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with the original language.

                     

                    I hope this reply helps.

                     

                    Dr Van Hyning (but you can call me Victoria!)

                    1 of 1 people found this helpful
                      • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
                        Ethan Kent Wayfarer

                        Thanks for your reply, Dr. Van Hyning (or Victoria).

                         

                         

                        If I understand the reply correctly, you (and your fellow Community Manager Lauren) do not want any transcription of unusual spelling with standard spelling (of documents in English or in any other language) , but you do encourage participants who feel themselves capable of doing so to add translations into English of any documents which were not written in English.

                         

                         

                         

                        ---------------------

                         

                        Am I correct in my understanding? And how exactly to place a translation with a transcription (and make clear that it is separate from the transcription itself) -- and where to place it?

                         

                         

                         

                        Should a transcriber place a translation of a page immediately below the transcription itself (in the transcription workspace), and (as my colleague Helene Lubaroff has done with her "translation" of phonetic English in her post in this thread) place a note "[Translation follows:]" below the page transcriptions (with a blank line between?) -- and (with a blank line after the note?) before the translation?

                         

                         

                         

                        (And should transcribers note before (or after) the translation that it is their translation -- and give either their official name of the username they use as transcribers to identify themselves?)

                         

                         

                         

                        ----------------------------------

                         

                         

                        I will wait for your reply; (when I can) I may well add translations to transcriptions of French-language material in future.

                         

                        ----------------------------------

                         

                         

                         

                        Thanks again, Victoria, for your reply; I look forward to a reply to this post.

                         

                         

                        Sincerely,

                         

                        EthanFromBellmore -- in New York City.

                          • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
                            Victoria Van Hyning Adventurer

                            Hello Ethan,

                             

                            Yes, you understand correctly. As to placement, we're not very strict about where to place the translation physically, but I suggest at the bottom of the transcription box as Helene has done.

                             

                            As for your identity, that's an interesting question. I'll need to get back to you on that, which could take some time because I'll need to ask around in the Library. Please bear with us on that, it could take a few weeks to hash out a policy, maybe longer.

                             

                            In the meantime, I suggest you transcribe without identifying yourself in the transcription window itself, but keep a running list on History Hub of the translations you have done. Provide the link to the page in crowd.loc.gov, or go one better, and provide the original link from loc.gov, which you can find by clicking the "view on loc.gov" button from within the transcription interface.

                             

                            One further note on credit, the database that we use to store transcriptions also shows us who has worked on a page, so we have that information already. That said, when we return data to loc.gov from crowd.loc.gov, we only give attribution to 'volunteers on By the People (crowd.loc.gov)', rather than naming specific individuals.

                             

                            Thanks for your care and attention to detail,

                            Victoria

                            1 of 1 people found this helpful
                    • Re: What are best practices for transcribing non-Standard English characters?
                      Helene Lubaroff Newbie

                      Hello,

                       

                      I joined crowd.loc.gov about a month ago, and stumbled across the Pickard letter. I was very excited to find it, because I am currently teaching myself Gregg shorthand. I found the very idea that he would write his letter to the President in a form of shorthand to be amazing. I soon spotted several repeated characters that appeared to represent digraphs and diphthongs, and even phonetically spelled digraphs (e.g. hw for wh). I was hooked.

                       

                      I started transcribing, and eventually decided I wanted to know more about the man. I ran a search on Pickard, and this thread can back in the results. How happy I was to find it! I have done both a transcription and a translation of the letter. Lauren at crowd.loc suggested that this would be a good place to share it. I tried to find ways to represent the special characters, but none have really felt satisfying. I enclosed the character for ow in brackets and used g/ch for the ch character and f/sh for the sh character. I also borrowed the εi for A. Please forgive my amateurish attempts. This isn't my field. I'm a legal assistant and a genealogy hobbyist, although I did work at our public library as both a Technical Services Clerk and as an Information Page, long ago.

                       

                      Thank you for letting me join the discussion. Please see below for my attempt to tackle Pickard. I hope it's of some help. or at least interest. I would greatly welcome any feedback.

                       

                      -Helene

                       

                      ******************************************

                       

                      Page 1

                       

                      Ogust 6, 1859

                       

                      A   A Linkon Eskr

                      Dεr Sir

                      Bεin from hom

                      hwen yrz arivd i did not get

                      it as soon as uthrwiz i f/shud

                      I am veri mug/ch oblijd dat u f/shud

                      tink enuf ov min tu ansr it. I trust

                      u wil hav no difikulti in redin

                      dis;– u se it is ritn in de Fonetik

                      Alfabet, and if u deturmin a letr

                      in eni pleis u deturmin it in everi

                      pleis—

                      In ur repli tu me u tεik it for

                      granted dat i al[ow] de konstitooshn

                      Garantez a Fujitiv Slav lo. In dis

                      u ar mistεiken and dis iz de rezn

                      i woz son tu her u Sεi in az gud a

                      Speg/ch az u mεid dat u wer wilin de

                      S[ow]t  f/shud hav a lo bi hwig/ch tu rob

                      inosent pepl ov dεir natural rits

                      end[ow]d bi God himself - U Spεk

                      ov diferent  pursnz  havin de Sεim

                      1815

                       

                      [Translation follows:]

                       

                      August 6, 1859

                       

                      A   A Lincoln Esqr

                      Dear Sir

                      Being from home

                      when yours arrived I did not get

                      it as soon as otherwise I should.

                      I am very much obliged that you should

                      think enough of mine to answer it. I trust

                      you will have no difficulty in reading

                      this;– you see it is written in the Phonetic

                      Alphabet, and if you determine a letter

                      in any place you determine it in every

                      place—

                      In your reply to me you take it for

                      granted that I allow the Constitution

                      Guarantees a Fugitive Slave law. In this

                      you are mistaken and this is the reason.

                      I was soon to hear you Say in as good a

                      Speech as you made that you were willing the

                      South should have a law by which to rob

                      innocent people of their natural rights

                      endowed by God himself - You Speak

                      of different persons having the same

                      1815

                       

                      ***************************************************

                       

                      Page 2

                       

                      rit tu dεsid hwot iz & hwot iz not

                      rit-This wil du in ol kεisez hwεir

                      dε kwestyan iz purli a Sivil wun.

                      But in dε prezent kεis a manz

                      Selfevident rit iz konsurnd & iz

                      not a matr Suspended upon eni

                      manz jujment - Yr Fadrz mεid

                      a deklarεif/shn undr hwig/ch owr batls

                      wer fot- and owr [konstitoof/shn] Guvernment

                      inogarεited - That ol men ar

                      kreεited ekwal iz Selfevident-

                      iz not Suspended upon dε jujment

                      ov a fu- Henz no man haz a rit to Swεir

                      edr to mεik or eksekut Sug/ch a lo az tεiks [d??]

                      No man kan Swεir himself intu

                      an obligεif/shn tu God or intu an obligεif/shn

                      tu dε Negro nor tu eni udr

                      man, tu violεit prinsiplz ov Selfevident,

                      fundamental rit-  I kanot

                      Se h[ow] a man kan Swεir befor God

                      tu Suport a konstitoof/shn hwig/ch he

                      al[ow]z othurizez dε violεif/shn ov

                      dε Seknd comandment viz d[ow]

                       

                       

                       

                      [Translation follows:]

                       

                       

                       

                      right to decide what is & what is not

                      right-This will do in all cases where

                      the question is purely a Civil one.

                      But in the present case a man's

                      Self-evident right is concerned & is

                      not a matter Suspended upon any

                      man's judgement - Your Father's made

                      a declaration under which our battles

                      were fought- and our [Constitution] Government

                      inaugurated - That all men are

                      created equal is Self-evident-

                      is not Suspended upon the judgement

                      of a few- Hence no man has a right to Swear

                      either to make or execute Such a law as takes [th??]

                      No man can Swear himself into

                      an obligation to God or into an obligation

                      to the Negro nor to any other

                      man, to violate principles of Self-evident,

                      fundamental right-  I cannot

                      See how a man can Swear before God

                      to Support a Constitution which he

                      allows authorizes the violation of

                      the Second commandment viz Thou

                       

                      *****************************************************

                       

                      Page 3

                       

                      f/shalt luv di naber az diself

                      I undrstand dat de wurd

                      Slεiv woz purpusli & Stoodiusli

                      left [ow]t ov de konstitoof/shn; if so i tεik

                      it dat it woz nevr dezind tu be

                      put in, and hens hwil de konstitoof/shn

                      providz for return ov personz hoo

                      o Survis, it sez nutin ov returnin

                      persons hoo hav eskapt from

                      infurnal pirasi-- H[ow] f/shal a man

                      ansr in de jujment ov de grεit

                      dεi (if he belev sug/ch f/shal be) hwen it

                      f/shal be sed-I woz robd ov ol dat

                      woz der, wif. g/children, self & ol and

                      u Swor tu Suport a lo dat perpetuated

                      dat roberi- wud it not be sed

                      "depart from me"

                       

                       

                      Befor I cud Swεir tu suport

                      a Constitoof/shn i must be purswεided

                      dat dat Constitoof/shn Suports

                      no ron/g, uderwiz i Swεir tu do ron/g

                      bein aksesori tu everi ron/g

                      dun bi othoriti ov de Constitoof/shn

                       

                       

                       

                       

                       

                      [Translation follows:]

                       

                      shalt love thy neighbor as thyself

                      I understand that the word

                      Slave was purposely & studiously

                      left out of the Constitution; if so I take

                      it that it was never designed to be

                      put in, and hence while the Constitution

                      provides for return of persons who

                      owe Service, it says nothing of returning

                      persons who have escaped from

                      [infernal] piracy-- How shall a man

                      answer in the judgment of the great

                      day (if he believe such shall be) when it

                      shall be said-I was robbed of all that

                      was dear, wife. children, self & all and

                      you Swore to Support a law that perpetuated

                      that robbery- would it not be said

                      "depart from me"

                       

                       

                      Before I could Swear to support

                      a Constitution I must be persuaded

                      that that Constitution Supports

                      no wrong, otherwise I Swear to do wrong

                      being accessory to every wrong

                      done by authority of the Constitution

                       

                      *****************************************************

                       

                      Page 4

                       

                      I wud tεik no ofis dat cud undr

                      eni posibiliti involv me in de

                      comif/shn ov ron/g

                       

                       

                      Perhaps i hav inflikted

                      enuf upon u olredi--

                      i wil just ad dat i thot

                      ur veri gud Spej wud

                      hav bin a litl betr widowt

                      dat Sentens

                       

                       

                      Most Cordiali and respktfule

                      Yrs A B Pikard

                       

                       

                       

                      [Translation Follows:]

                       

                       

                       

                      I would take no office that could under

                      any possibility involve me in the

                      commission of wrong

                       

                       

                      Perhaps I have inflicted

                      enough upon you already _

                      I will just add that I thought

                      your very good Speech would

                      have been a little better without

                      that sentence

                       

                       

                      Most Cordially & respectfully

                      Yours A B Pickard]