Cotton Nero A.x. Project Transcription Policy

by Kenna L. Olsen and Murray McGillivray

Publications of the Cotton Nero A.x. Project 2, 2011
©Kenna L. Olsen and Murray McGillivray

The object of a transcription is to indicate clearly to the reader what can be seen in the manuscript, what parts of the text have been corrected, inserted, lost, or damaged, and how the text has been laid out on the page.--M.B. Parkes

The basis for our transcription of Cotton Nero A.x. is a transcription scheme first designed by Murray McGillivray and Marta Juzwiak for the manuscript in 1998 on the basis of a transcription scheme developed by McGillivray and an undergraduate class the previous year for the Towneley manuscript of biblical plays; the scheme was refined by Murray McGillivray and Kenna Olsen in a series of meetings in January 2004; employed by Olsen in her doctoral thesis in 2007, which also included a tabular presentation of the glyphs and paleographic descriptions; and then further adjusted by Olsen and McGillivray during meetings September 2010 through March 2011. Olsen supervised the creation of the tabular representation of the scheme presented here and wrote or rewrote most of the paleographic descriptions of glyphs during the same period.

The entire manuscript is transcribed glyph by glyph. Each glyph (graphic symbol or formatting symbol used in the manuscript's scribal scheme) is assigned a transcription equivalent -- an alphabetical symbol or an XML entity for glyphs -- according to the parameters of the project. This rich transcription provides an electronic file that can serve as a basis for screen display in which graphic characters represent each of the scribe's glyphs or for screen display in which the scribe's glyphs are converted into the more conventional alphabetical symbols. The advantage of electronic transcription is that the range of distinct transcription equivalents can be extended to match the repertoire of glyphs used by the scribe, so that each distinct graphic form has a distinct transcription equivalent. This is in contrast to the typical process of transcription from manuscript to print, which is "lossy" in that data and distinctions present in the manuscript source are filtered into a symplified presentation whose parameters are set by custom and by the availability of characters in the font used. Among other advantages, our enriched transcription allows human or machine-based research into patterns of scribal behavior at a graphic level, which may possibly help us to understand more about the oral English of the scribe or of the text, but will certainly be of interest on its own.

We list here all the glyphs used by the single scribe of this manuscript, with two kinds of exception: ornamental initials, which we treat as graphic images that have letter equivalents rather than as glyphs from the scribe's repertoire, and scribal oddities such as corrected errors, incomplete forms, and so on, which are better represented by providing a picture and a note giving our analysis than by creating a distinct transcription equivalent. Although graphic symbols are the basis of the transcription, it has fairly frequently been the case in the development of our transcription methodology that we have had enough concern for the practicalities of further processing that we have provided alternative transcription equivalents for what we consider to be a single graphic form. For example, the minuscule letters u and n are not distinguishable in the work of this scribe, but it seems useful to be able to proceed from our transcription to a readable transliteration in which the two are distiguished.

In the tables provided, we give first a typical example of the graphic appearance of a particular glyph (taken from the Gollancz facsimile and cleaned up where necessary, though without alteration of the form itself, to increase legibility and ease of identification); then the XML transcription we use for that glyph, sometimes consisting of a single alphabetic character, sometimes of an XML entity developed within the project; thirdly the typographic representation we give that glyph in our diplomatic editions; and finally the transliteration we use to simplify reading of the transcribed text, almost always corresponding exactly to the manuscript "transcription" employed by previous editors. Clicking on the button "Show/Hide Additional Information" toggles between a display in which a full paleographic description is given of each glyph and one in which that information is hidden to facilitate rapid consultation of the table. Mousing over the image of any manuscript glyph in one of the tables provokes the appearance of a "tool tip" showing the manuscript folio and the line number from which the particular image has been taken.

We are grateful to the students who participated in initial transcription of our manuscript (particularly Marta Juzwiak, Samantha Barling, and Katherine Yancey), whose quandries and queries were very influential in honing the transcription policy presented here, and we thank Lars Hedlund, whose patient and careful work this year has contributed so much to the successful realization of our plans for this presentation of our transcription policy.

Table of the minuscule letters found in the manuscript. The Alphabet
Table of the capital letters found in the manuscript. Capital Letters
Table of the abbreviations used by the scribe Abbreviations
Table of symbols representing whole words used by the scribe. Word Symbols
Table showing junctures (joined letters) that are represented by XML entities in the transcription. Joined Letters
View the XML transcription completed thus far. XML Transcription