Extraordinary Language

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 18.00.46 What makes poetry poetic? It’s a question as old as criticism itself, which probably got its start during the recitation of the world’s first poem. What makes its language different from any other?

It’s not rhyme, because unrhymed blank verse seems poetic enough. What about form? Or meter — the limited number of syllables before a line breaks? Or the pattern of those syllables? Maybe, but there are plenty of prose passages in Shakespeare that seem to qualify as poetry. “What a piece of work is a man,” Hamlet says in prose, but not prosaically: “how noble in reason; how infinite in faculties, in form and moving; how express and admirable in action,” and so on.

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Introducing Rachel Shabalin

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This is the inaugural post by the incoming Zeugmatic RA Rachel Shabalin, an English major at the University of Calgary. Rachel brings a fresh perspective to the project, as this post (about her journey into DH) makes clear.

The summer after high school I felt tranquil—I was officially free from the torture of finding the value of “x.” The world harmonized. Mathematics was a fading, distant memory—or so I thought! During the first year of my English degree, I found home in the ambiguous and paradoxical, and rhetoric’s refusal to make “logical” sense only made me dig deeper. Feeling new questions pulling on my perception, fraying the familiar answers, I found myself in a new world. The desire to write creatively swept over me. Words and sounds were fragments and pieces I arranged, and whether I was aware of it or not, my poetry appropriated and followed patterns. Although I felt liberated from what I understood as the mathematical, little did I know I was working within patterns (math), networking and translating signs (language) into meaning.

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Augmented Criticism: Putting the ‘human’ back in the humanities

There are approximately 35,000 paintings on display at the Louvre. Most tourists feel overwhelmed by the prospect of viewing them. Indeed, if one were to devote 30 seconds to each painting (not counting the time it takes to walk between them), it would take more than twelve twenty-four hour days to visit them all.

Yet if one were to design an algorithm capable of identifying all 19th century British oil paintings, a visit to the museum would feel quite different. Indeed it would be much more efficient, as one could effectively skip those works irrelevant to one’s research. Providing the algorithm was correctly designed, one could apply it to London’s Tate Britain: the trick is in knowing which works speak to you—in my case, J. M. W. Turner’s Decline of the Carthaginian Empire.

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Nine Lessons of Project Management

This summer I (Michael Ullyot) went to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria, where digital humanists take seminars, participate in unconferences, and give colloquium papers. This was my second visit to DHSI, whose mashup of “skills workshop, international conference, and summer camp” captures the digital-humanities ethos. The official program ranges from text encoding to augmented reality — subjects they didn’t cover in graduate school. All the while, there are informal opportunities for learning: a lively Twitter backchannel, an unconference, and philosophical musings over drinks: coffee in the morning; beer in the evening; rinse and repeat.

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Research Assistant(s) Wanted

Dr Michael Ullyot is hiring 1-2 research assistants for the 2013-14 academic year to work on a digital humanities research project. The Zeugmatic is a text-analysis tool to automate the detection of rhetorical figures — particularly, patterns of repetition and variation in Shakespeare’s language. (For details, see < http://zeugmatic.org/about/ >.) Candidates must be in Calgary from mid-August for ~ 15 hrs / wk; and from September onward for ~ 5 hrs / wk.

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“Program or program not: there is no try.”

By Sarah Hertz


As a novice programmer, I am reminded of Yoda’s words to Luke Skywalker on the swamp-planet Dagobah: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” During the course of this project, I’ve had many surprises; and the relevance of Star Wars quotes is one of them. Since grade six, I only ever thought of Yoda’s proverbs as playful inversions of syntax—some of which took a few too many trips through the Google translator (like “around the survivors a perimeter create”). What I didn’t know then—and what I realize now—is that Jedi Knights are trained to fight with words as well as lightsabers. Indeed, Yoda’s most famous maxim, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” is a classic example of climax or gradatio.

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Civil Engineering


By Michael Ullyot

The Zeugmatic is in Victoria, BC this week for two meetings, the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities (part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences) and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. This is the first in a series of reports.

I (Michael Ullyot) met today with Randy Harris about RhetFig, his seed database of about 500 rhetorical figures that does many of the things our project’s taxonomy of figures began to do — as Maria Jaramillo wrote about last month.

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To ‘Be’ or Not to ‘Be’: Towards an Ontology of Rhetorical Figures

Word Tree

By Sarah Hertz

While Jakub Gawryjołek has built a tool1 to detect figures of repetition and one trope (oxymoron); and Claus Strommer has developed a software program to detect epanaphora; the Inkpot research team at UWaterloo has compiled a database of figures and an associated wiki as part of their Rhetorical Figure Ontology Project. In 2010, the database contained 1,000 entries, including definitions, examples, and bibliographic information on the figures. A Python-based application running on top of a Google App Engine, Inkpot’s Rhetfig will be entirely web-based, allowing anyone capable of standard web-browsing to access the online platform (Kelly 3).

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  1. Called JANTOR; see previous post. []