bible software: what’s missing

OK, I’m not going to give a comprehensive list of what’s missing in the various incarnations of Bible software currently available, but there’s one feature I’d like to see which does not currently exist in any Bible software that I’m aware of — the ability to customise the morphological (and, when/where available, syntactical) tagging of texts.

Better still would be the ability to create multiple taggings for individual units. Then, in instances where the morphology of a word (for example) is ambiguous, that word could have multiple tags so that it gets caught in searches for either possibility.

I think that this becomes more important as Bible software moves into the realm of syntactical tagging, largely because syntactical analysis of texts can often be open to some degree of debate and so the ability to change clause boundaries, vary clause and phrase functions, and so forth, would be very useful.

For example, I’d like to be able to right-click on any item and have an option to edit the tagging. Select a ה and change it from the definite article to an interrogative ה, or if it is ambiguous, tag it both ways so that it appears in searches for either usage.

5 thoughts on “bible software: what’s missing

  1. Hi Martin,

    I found this post via Twitter; it poses an interesting request. While I don’t foresee the user being able to edit the morph-tagging, there is another way to approximate your example in Accordance. You can create a highlight style for any particular form, say interrogative ה. Then when searching for ה, add the search string: [STYLE interrogative] (substitute interrogative for whatever you name the highlight style).

    What do you think?

  2. Martin,
    The idea of customisable or “multiple taggings” has a few hurdles:

    1) Most if not all of the current “tagged texts” are copyright protected by the various authors/publishers, so you can’t provide them as some open forum for people to amend and edit as desired. This protection, as you can appreciate, provides for maximum consistency and uniformity in the coding scheme and lemma spellings, as well as accuracy.

    2) The different schools of thought would probably create a dizzying number of permutations. I think this would create a new issue of different “families” of tagged texts, simillar to the various families of manuscripts with the many attendant differences.

    That being said, I know that BibleWorks and other exegetical software packages include “tagged texts” which have different systems or philosophies of tagging (Aland text vs. Robinson-Pierpoint text as an example), which reveal different search results depending on how the translators have approached a text. So, using BibleWorks, seaches can (and probably should) be done on each Greek tagged text specifically to determine any variables.

    Also, in many places, some tagged texts actually provide two options for a single lemma so that either search will result in a “hit”. See the following tagging for ** τίς@rqnfs/aqnfsn ** in Eph 1:18 where the lemma is tagged “pronoun interrogative nominative masculine singular OR adjective interrogative nominative masculine singular no degree” (seen in context below):

    BGM Ephesians 1:18 φωτίζω@vpxpamp ὁ@damp ὀφθαλμός@nampc ὁ@dgfs καρδία@ngfsc σύ@rpg-p εἰς@pa ὁ@dans οἶδα@vnxa σύ@rpa-p τίς@rqnfs/aqnfsn εἰμί@vipa3s ὁ@dnfs ἐλπίς@nnfsc ὁ@dgfs κλῆσις@ngfsc αὐτός@rpgms τίς@rqnms/aqnmsn ὁ@dnms πλοῦτος@nnmsc ὁ@dgfs δόξα@ngfsc ὁ@dgfs κληρονομία@ngfsc αὐτός@rpgms ἐν@pd ὁ@ddmp ἅγιος@andmpn (Eph 1:18 BGM)

    In the Hebrew, BibleWorks uses the Westminster Hebrew Old Testament Morphology, supplemented with accent tags. Two separate tagging systems are included, one based on the CCAT database and one based on the work of Dr. J. D. Price.

    A 15-page paper/discussion on the philosophy behind the WTM morphology called “A Reference Guide to the Westminster Hebrew Morphology Database” is available within the BibleWorks program.

    Finally, there are several syntactical databases in the works by various organizations, and I am sure they will vary even more widely, but should still prove very helpful for those studying the texts. I am sure they are working through how to handle the tagging in ambiguious places.

  3. Hi Rick, thanks for the suggestion. As an Accordance user I’ll try it out. Of course it would remain a partial solution — it could quickly become overly cumbersome if there were too many styles to keep track of.

    I note Jim mentions that in BibleWorks some terms already have multiple tags (see his Eph 1:18 example). Is this also true in Accordance? I quickly looked at τίς in Eph 1:18 in my GNT-T and could not see any indication of multiple possibilities.

  4. Hi Jim. I suspected that it would not be feasible to modify the existing tagging of texts, but I envisaged a “user layer” wherein modified or supplemented tagging data would be stored separately so that it could both be retained through an upgrade of the text and kept from making any changes to the copyright protected text itself. Ideally, these user layers could be shared, but this would limit the preponderance of variations which would, as you correctly point out, accumulate were the distributed master text to incorporate all possible variations.

    This idea of user tagging began a couple of years ago when I was doing some work on unmarked questions in BH. In compiling a list of unmarked questions I found that there were many instances where questions were marked by interrogative ה but that was incorrectly tagged in the digital text. I did send a list of corrections, but there are some instances where the ה could be read either way, and I’d have liked to have been able to have tagged them as such.

  5. As someone who works with tagging the text, I appreciate your suggestion. I know that in the tagging I do, the possibility of having multiple tags (at least at the same level) for a phrase is not capable of being supported by the computer programming – at least not unless we wanted to invest in a whole new design, which even then might not solve the problems.

    Yet, I would agree that there are a number of instances where the Hebrew text is ambiguous or there are cases where the tagging is still significantly under discussion. In those cases, it would be helpful to have some sort of indication of the questioning of the tagging, or a special tag that points to a comment or alternative (kind of like a footnote). I’m not sure how that could and would change, but it is a good question to keep asking, especially as computer technology develops to where interactivity is more and more possible.

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