TEI++ : une formation avancee

Cet été, j’étais invité par le consortium CAHIER, en partenariat avec les consortium Corpus Ecrits et IRCOM,  d’organiser un atelier dite « TEI avancée » sur quatre journées.  Je leur ai propose une mode d’opération divisée en deux parties (présentation, travaux pratiques) et une organisation selon trois axes:

  1. modélisation des ressources et séléction des traits signifiants
  2. encodage et explicitation TEI des structures modelisés
  3. exploitation et analyse des ressources structurés

Je leur avais aussi propose de partager les  travaux de formation avec quelques experts francais.  La formation s’est tenue à l’Institut de Linguistique Française à Paris du 19 au 22 novembre 2012.

Voici en sommaire (anglophone, désolé) ce qui s’est enfin passé …

Day 1

Proceedings began on the fifth floor of the ILF, a nice light room but not quite big enough for the 18 or so participants. This was not altogether bad, since the consequent huddling together encouraged emergence of a cohesive group identity, which I also tried to encourage by getting the participants to place themselves on an improvised graph along two intersecting axes : literarature vs linguistics, and researchers vs support staff. Most people turned out to be in the bottom right quadrant, i.e. ingénieur + linguistique, but there was also a smattering in the littéraire + scientifique box, to say nothing of two sociologues who insisted on positioning themselves in the middle of the littéraire vs linguistique axis. The rest of this first introductory session was given over to a rapid review of some fundamentals of encoding, and a sampling of the websites of half a dozen real TEI projects around the world, which might have gone better had I rehearsed it better, but got the message across that quite a few very different projects were doing seriously cool stuff with the TEI.

After coffee, I introduced them very quickly to a spot of data analysis, using as vehicle the celebrated postcard archive of M Marcel Virgolos, and Lauranne then took over for a refresher on using Oxygen. They marked up a postcard or two, and reviewed commonly used TEI tags for each of some pre-selected texts : a French novel, a poem, and a play. Most students completed all of these, mastering most of the key features of the Oxygen XML Editor quite rapidly, but I think we did not allow enough time for this session, given the mix of abilities present.

Lunch in the form of a large cardboard box containing a “plateau” of cold cuts, salads, bread roll, plastic cutlery etc. duly appeared and was despatched. Thus strengthened, I embarked on an all-singing all-dancing overview of all the TEI modules, and what you can do with some of them. That took about an hour, but helped motivate Lauranne’s traditional exercise on using Roma to make a schema by reduction from TEI-ALL which followed it. By the end of the day, everyone seemed quite comfortable with the idea of pérsonalisation de schéma, and reasonably convinced that they might find what they wanted to mark-up somewhere, somehow in the TEI.

Day 2

On this and subsequent days we were were displaced to a much better (because bigger) teaching room. I began the day in seriously magisterial mode by explaining (many of) the components of the ODD language, and why you might care to know about it. This was quite punishing, both for me and for some of the less technically-minded participants, but no-one visibly fell asleep. For the subsequent practical, Lauranne had prepared a script in which participants submitted their own texts to analysis by OddByExample, generating a personalised ODD. The majority of course had not come with their own texts, or had texts not in TEI P5, so they ran the exercise on a rather inadequate sample of the Virgolos corpus instead. With a bit more prep, I think this could be a really fun exercise and an excellent way of getting people to learn ODD properly. It also revealed a bug in OddByExample which Sebastian graciously fixed overnight

Lunch being cardboard plateaux once more, I went for a stroll round the nearby Parc de Montsouris to see some of the gray autumnnal paris daylight while it was available. I then droned on for well over an hour on the subject of the TEI Header, which I am now selling as being “metadata for the rest of us”. They made me do it. The exercise we adopted was the French version of creating an ms description for the W. Owen ms, last seen in Berne, This is quite useful for the purpose, especially in combination with the following exercise on marking up a transcription of that manuscript ; time permitting however I would have instead preferred to use a different French manuscript for both. If I had one.

Day 3

Wednesday I had carefully billed as “journee des guest stars” since the idea was to make other celebrated French TEI enthusiasts share in the work. So we began with a presentation about TEI recommendations for dealing with named entities and their names given by Alexandre Gefen. Since the room contained more than a few French linguists this gave rise immediately to a heated debate on the philosophical basis and nature of nominal reference. The exercise in marking up names was a little under-prepared and one of the students insisted on asking the Emperor’s New Clothes question (why bother?), which was answered by another participant citing (at length, and with enthusiasm) the work of Nicole Dufournaud inter alia, which was nice. Since Alexandre had to leave early, I filled the gap by moving my brief overview of tools options up, giving a plug for Sebastian’s stylesheets, and letting them experiment with OxGarage, which they loved.

For lunch we went to the brasserie down the road, which was a much much better idea than the plateaux. Everyone got very jolly and there was a fair amount of shouting. Our second invited expert of the day was Bertrand Gaiffe, from ATILF, who delivered an excellent pair of lectures about encoding of oral and linguistic data respectively, also involving a fair amount of interaction and discusion, but not much actual tagging, since TEI interfaces for the appropriate tools remain elusive, best efforts of the LingSig notwithstanding. .

Day 4

The final day began with a presentation on the various TEI orthodoxies concerned with the editing of primary resources given by our third invited expert : Alexei Lavrentev from ICAR. Participants were then offered the choice of doing either the reverse transcription exercise or the visual encoding exercise from Berne; both options were taken up, though I was too busy sorting out the website to see how far they got with either.

After another nice brasserie lunch (roast duck), I spent about 15 minutes showing how to use TEIBoilerplate, which went down remarkably well, “Génial” they cried, as they saw all that tricky encoding in John’s demo file being rendered beautifully by Safari (France is still largely land of the Mac). The rest of the afternoon, was devoted to a more ambitious TEI-savvy piece of software : txm, from the textometrie project at Lyon. Alexei showed us what it was, and demonstrated how to make it sit up and do tricks with the Graal and Brown corpora, which participants had pre-installed. He also showed it working with a selection of literary texts prepared for use throughout the workshop.


I think this workshop worked much better than it deserved to (I always think that). All the participants seemed very happy at the end, and several of them said they had learned more than they expected to. I think the organisation of the programme made good sense, and the balance of exposition and exercise was approximately right, though we probably didn’t do enough to make the practicals consistent and relevant. A few parts suffered from lack of preparation, and I think we could have done more to get a single case study working throughout the course of the four days, in addition to the various more specialised materials we introduced. But next time we’ll definitely get everything right. Thanks are due to the participants, the organisers, and all my co-formateurs, especially Lauranne for calming me down at moments of high anxiety.
All the materials used in the workshop are available in PDF starting from http://meet.tge-adonis.fr/sites/default/files/2012-11-initial.pdf. Dedicated TEI hackers may also be interested in the XML sources of the presentations which are available from my svn repository at http://code.google.com/p/tei-fr/source/browse/#svn%2Ftrunk%2FTalks%2F2012-11-paris