|Computers & Texts No.
Christopher J. Pountain
Requirements: Multimedia PC runnning Win 3.1/Win95 with minimum 12MB RAM and CD-ROM drive. An online edition will be available by subscription in 1999.
Available from: Primary Source Media, 50 Milford Road, Reading, RG1 8LJ. Tel: 0118 939 4334. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. URL: http://www.psmedia.com.
Edited by: Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
The CD-ROM contains the complete literary works of Cervantes in scholarly editions, facsimiles with plain text transcriptions of Don Quijote, the Novelas Ejemplares, the Comedias and Entremeses, the Galatea and the Persiles, English translations of Don Quijote, the Novelas Ejemplares, the Galatea, the Viaje al Parnaso and the Persiles, the Covarrubias Tesoro de la lengua castellana in facsimile and plain text transcription, and a large number of illustrations, mainly from the 18th and 19th Centuries. It is hence an ambitious and in principle welcome and useful enterprise for both cervantistas and linguists, but I am sorry to report that it falls short on a number of counts which more sensitive planning (and especially consumer research amongst potential users) might have improved. The price of £995 makes it inaccessible to the private individual, who will have to console himself or herself (not too regretfully, as we shall see) with the Biblioteca Digital Cervantina prepared by Dr. Eduardo Urbina at Texas A&M University and freely available for the benefit of the academic community at http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/cervantes/spanish/ctxt/. It is also a great pity that it runs only on a Windows platform in view of the wide use of Macs in the academic world generally, and especially in Spain.
Let me start, however, with the positive aspects of the disk. It loads easily (a choice can be made between Spanish or English as the installing language) and is reasonably simple to operate, though I found I frequently required more windows to be open than the program could cope with. The facsimiles and illustrations are excellent, with a good viewing facility which affords high resolution, and these are certainly for me the highlight of the disk. There is a useful bookmarking facility. The provision of the Covarrubias Tesoro is invaluable and would be worth a good deal in itself. Another welcome presence is that of the 1885 Bradford index to Clemencín's notes on the Quijote.
Yet the deficiencies soon become apparent. Following the page-by-page and volume-by-volume layout of the critical editions is a bad mistake, and so is the failure to separate running text and footonotes. The documents are extremely difficult to navigate: although there are hypertext links from running text to footnotes (in fact unnecessary since they are on the same page), there is no provision of a contents page for the navigation of the whole work, which makes finding the beginning of a particular chapter (or even novela or scene) exceedingly laborious, the more so since the response to the 'goto' command is very slow. Although a facsimile can be called up from a plain text transcription, we cannot do the same in reverse, nor easily switch between the critical editions and the corresponding parts of the facsimiles, which is crucial in seeing what editorial decisions have been taken. In short, most of the advantages offered by hypertext documents have been missed. The 'index' and 'cross-references' provided look promising but turn out to be limited mainly to proper names. I tried looking up discreto and discreción, the very stuff of undergraduate Cervantine studies, but found neither.
The plain text transcription is a disaster area: in many cases the sign [ ] for 'untranscribable characters' has been used where it is perfectly obvious how the facsimile reads (thus we find [ ] passim for the abbreviated que). It seems to be the tilde that produces the problem, since many other superscripts have been transcribed successfully; not only does the plain text not transcribe the tilde, but it either suppresses the letter that bears the tilde and introduces a space which counts in the search as a word-boundary, or converts a tilde into an acute accent: thus ate[n]tas co[n] gra[n]dissimo sile[n]cio comes across as a t tas có grádissimo sil cio (from Don Quijote). This is a relatively simple technical problem familiar to all who deal in languages which carry superscripts (I note that this is the first non-English Major Authors disk) and ought to have been solved, most simply and obviously by just resolving the abbreviation, for that is all the tilde is here.
Another major defect is in the lack of provision for concordancing. The inbuilt search appears to have a good range of advanced features, including a 'natural language' enquiry facility; yet it will not even produce a KWIC concordance (occurrences are viewable only by repeated clicking on the titles of works in which they occur). The search itself appears to be ill-conceived: I could not persuade it to search just one work at a time (either I missed something, or the instructions in the help file are not clear). I also found it erratic: a full-text search on bia returned bite, bié, bio, bizo, bi, rabia, bier, Fabio, Arabia, bial, rabia, sabia, habia=mod. había and biá; and I failed to find vos in Covarrubias even though it is one of the keywords. Because of the deficiencies in the plain text transcriptions, a reliable search on these is impossible - and that lamentably includes the Covarrubias. The search cannot be limited to text alone but includes all critical notes in the scholarly editions, so any frequency statistics are meaningless. Looking for a workaround for these shortcomings, I attempted to export text for use in another concordancer, but was then frustrated because of the extraordinarily long export time (no wonder it is limited initially to five pages!) and yet again by the lack of distinction between text and footnotes.
Some other (relatively minor) grouses: the table of contents doesn't scroll, so the long titles go off the screen, and expansion and contraction of the table is by double- rather than single-click, which is unusual in a hypertext document; the 'print' instruction doesn't put up the normal options menu (it seems to be assumed that users will only wish to laser-print images); there are annoying though obvious spelling mistakes such as ilustraciónes in the table of contents (though the transcriptions themselves do appear to be accurate on a random check).
Above all, I lament the missed opportunity here. I have already referred to the failure to exploit the technique of hypertext links and the absence of a proper concordancer. A parallel concordancer would also have been an interesting facility, given that there is more than one version of some texts, and several translations. This would also have been a marvellous opportunity to satisfy students of translation by including several of the famous English translations of Don Quijote (the Jarvis, Motteux, Shelton and Smollett translations to name but four - the modern Cohen version is the one chosen) and, maybe, translations into other languages, especially French and German.
Am I being unreasonable? I don't think so. Humbler (and certainly less expensive) ventures have provided some of the facilities I miss here admirably. The ADMYTE project (Micronet, SA), which is ancient enough to run on a DOS platform, has impeccable transcriptions following the rigorous practice of the Madison Hispanic Seminary and the facility for finding variant spellings of 'the same' word by a system of lemmatization. The Biblioteca Digital Cervantina referred to above gives the plain text of the Schevill & Bonilla palaeographic edition, plus a 'modernised' version of the same, which is a practical way of facilitating searches with an external concordancing program. TACT (for PC) and Conc (for Mac) both provide public-domain concordancing software which is more versatile than what is found on this disc.
[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]
Computers & Texts 16/17 (1998). Not to be republished in any
form without the author's permission.
HTML Author: Michael Fraser
Document Created: 22 December 1998
Document Modified: 11 April 1999
The URL of this document is http://info.ox.ac.uk/ctitext/publish/comtxt/ct16-17/pountain.html