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TEI-L  August 2001

TEI-L August 2001

Subject:

IDREF/CDATA: the results (fwd)

From:

Lou Burnard <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Lou Burnard <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 10 Aug 2001 15:58:24 +0100

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (137 lines)

Close/constant readers of this list will recall that 8 days ago I
asked the readership to vote on what should be done about the current
wildly inconsistent declared values specified by the TEI DTDs for the
RESP attribute on a number of elements. I offered a choice between (a)
leaving things as they are (b) making them all IDREF and (c) making
them all CDATA, and declared today as polling day. I also said that
TEI member organizations would be counted as ten.

In total 11 votes were cast, or 9 if we discount two votes for the 4th
"write-in" option proposed by Syd Bauman. 8 votes were unconditionally
for option (b). Only 1 was unconditionally for option (c) -- but since
that vote came from a TEI Member Organization, I should by rights
declare it the winner.

[Parenthetically, the "write-in" option 4 -- use a parameter entity --
is not in my view really a new candidate: it just defers the evil hour
at which a given application of the TEI DTD has to decide which way to
jump, without removing the need to jump, and thus cause existing
documents to break, one way or anmother]

Indeed, as the discussion proceeded over the week, it became apparent
that choosing between (b) and (c) was not really the issue. (If it had
been, then the advantages of b need no rehearsal) The real issue is
whether or not the inconsistency itself should be regarded as a
*corrigible error*, in the rather special sense assigned to that term
by edw57.htm (Procedures for correcting errors in the TEI Guidelines,
July 1994), from which I quote:

   Errors are corrigible if and only if:

   * the text is obviously wrong as published, and no reasonable case
   can be made for the TEI scheme to work that way
   * there is an obvious fix
   * the fix is backward compatible: fixing the error will not make
   any legal documents suddenly illegal

Clearly, a global change from CDATA to IDREF would render previously legal
documents illegal by the new DTD. Perhaps less obviously, the opposite
change would also make legal documents illegal: a system which
operated on the assumption that documents had IDREF values for this
attribute would no longer operate correctly if the definition were
changed to CDATA.

By this definition, the inconsistency is not a corrigible
error. According to EDW57, non-corrigible errors should be referred to
the Technical Committee and the editors are expressly precluded from
making a decision without such consultation having occurred (even
though we don't actually have a Technical Committee at the moment)

So, for the P4 revision, we are logically compelled to choose not
between a, b, and c, but between a (Do Nothing) and x (anything
else). [Note that I say nothing of what might be done for P5 -- the
discussion up to this point suggests a number of interesting
possibilities, but that's not on our current agenda]

So far we have ruled out two possible values for x (make all RESP
attributes CDATA/ make them all IDREF) on the grounds that they will
potentially render illegal perfectly legal documents. Is there any
value of x for which this is not the case? If not, we have no choice
but to prefer option a (Do Nothing)

This seeming a regrettable state of affairs, I have spent some time
over the last 24 hours reviewing the history of this particular part
of P4, trying to work out how on earth we got into this mess. The
documentary record is not as informative as one might wish, but it
does show that this is a problem which has surfaced before, both in
postings on TEI-L (the earliest seems to be from Fabio Ciotti in Sept
1996), and in the round-up of known errors carried out for the May
1999 Revision (see edw67, and note that in the preface to the P4beta
at http://www.tei-c.org/Guidelines/PPF.htm this inconsistency is
listed as one of the problems NOT addressed by that revision). The
closest we have to a definitive ruling (and it's not close) is
probably Michael's reply sent to TEI-L in 16 Nov 1998:

  "It's frequently *asked* but not frequently *answered*. The answer is
simple: there was a lot of discussion... and we never did reach a
consensus, and as a result we never did achieve consistency of
treatment.
  The arguments for IDREF are that it helps ensure that the value is in
fact declared in the TEI Header; the arguments for CDATA are that
requiring a declaration in the header is too burdensome for many
users of these element types. (Recall that they are in the core, not
in the additional tagset for transcript of primary sources)"

So, if we have to live with it, how bad is the inconsistency?
Actually not as bad as it seems and we could reduce it.

The RESP attribute on the following elements is IDREF:
  abbr, expan, add, del, gap

On the following, it's CDATA:
  reg, orig, unclear, note, all pointer-class elements

The really glaring inconsistency, which in my view must be fixed, is
in sic and corr: the former is CDATA, and the latter IDREF. Since
these are supposed to be mirror tags (like reg/orig) they really ought
to be the same as each other (and probably also the same as reg/orig,
since otherwise the difference appears misleadingly significant).

Further investigation of the archaeological record shows that when
these attributes first appeared (in the December 1992 publication of
the core tagset) they were all defined as CDATA. In the last revision
of P2 however (the first complete publication in January 1994), abbr,
expan, corr, sic, add and del (but not reg or orig) are all defined as
IDREF. The resp attribute on corr seems to have reverted to CDATA only
in March 1994, in preparation for the first edition of TEI P3, but the
change is not explicitly recorded.

The absolute minimum required to achieve consistency is to change the
RESP attribute on SIC from IDREF to CDATA. This single change
- makes sic and corr the same
- makes sic, corr, reg, and orig the same
- breaks only systems in which there is an assumption that RESPs on
  SIC will be validated

I therefore regard this as a corrigible error, within the meaning of
the act, and it will be made in the next version of P4.

HOWEVER, it is clearly not satisfactory as a fix to the underlying
inconsistency, and it does not address the clear popular demand for
better validation of RESP attributes in the future. The TEI editors
will therefore prepare a more detailed proposal outlining ways of
addressing both these issues (by using the existing TEI class
mechanism) in a subsequent revision of P4. This proposal will, we hope,
be ready in time for consideration by the TEI Council at its first
meeting in November, along with a host of other recommendations for
further work and modification.

Warmest thanks to all those who expressed an opinion and took the
time to debate this issue: making the journey's often better than
reaching the destination.


 ----------------------------------------------------------------
 Lou Burnard                           http://users.ox.ac.uk/~lou
 ----------------------------------------------------------------

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