7 From General to Specific

The TEI Guidelines have taken more than five years to reach their present state, the first at which they can be said to be reasonably complete. In retrospect, it is doubtless true that they could have been created much more quickly with less involvement from the research community, or a clearer statement from it of a set of particular goals. But that statement would have inevitably limited the scope of the resulting scheme, providing exactly the kind of strait-jacket which we wished to avoid. Moreover, by prioritizing any one research agenda however well-articulated, we would have effectively disenfranchised and alienated all others. A little like the early Church fathers then, the TEI chose to provide as broad and as catholic a means of salvation as possible.

At the same time, the TEI scheme applies rigorously the principle ``essentia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem'' [See note 6]. Rather than defining discrete elements for different kinds of list (bulleted, glossary, enumerated etc.). the TEI scheme defines a single <list> element which bears a type attribute to distinguish amongst these various kinds. In the same way, all kinds of links between document elements, whatever their semantics, are encoded using the same tags. To handle the indefinite number of elements potentially needed to handle all kinds of analysis and interpretation, a small number of generic tags are proposed which (in the case of the feature structure tag set referred to above) are sufficiently abstract and general to cater for almost any kind of interpretative judgment.

At the same time, there remain many situations in which the TEI's desire to exclude no-one has lead to a multiplication of distinctions at first sight rather bewildering. It seems to say the least unlikely that anyone will ever encode a document using every possible element defined by the union of every TEI tag set, though such a monster DTD is indeed possible.

As published, the Guidelines constitute a substantial document unsuitable for casual browsing, even in electronic form. The TEI therefore plans to make available a number of smaller introductory tutorials focused on particular application areas. Two such have already appeared: one dealing with terminological systems, [See note 7] and the other on encoding of manuscript transcriptions [See note 8].

A third tutorial has also recently been completed, documenting a special pedagogically-motivated subset of some 200 elements, selected from the whole TEI scheme (not just the core). Known as TEI Lite, this DTD has already been used in two electronic publishing projects and is in use at electronic text repositories at the Universitirs of Oxford, Virginia and Michigan, and elsewhere. [See note 9]

The real proof of the effectiveness of the TEI design will come only with its wide-spread adoption, tailored to the particular needs of individual projects. As far as can be judged from the long list of early implementors, such evidence will soon be forthcoming.

Back to table of contents
On to next section
Back to previous section