Old English Parser 3

matrix-wallpaper-31.jpgOnce the parser delivers all possibilities to the calling function, it’s time to decide what’s what. What is a verb, what is  noun, and so on. Because language is not mathematics, there is rarely a single answer. Instead, there are better and worse answers. In short, all possible answers need to be ranked. The best answer(s) are called “optimal.”

As far as I know, current iterations of the parsed corpora of OE treat all OE utterances as equivalent. In other words, the syntax of a sentence from the poem Beowulf is as grammatical as a sentence from Aelfric’s sermons. Bruce Mitchell, the greatest of OE syntacticians, compiled his conclusions from an undifferentiated variety of sources: “I have tried to select a variety of relevant examples or to illustrate the phenomenon from Aelfric and Beowulf, as best suited my purpose” (OE Syntax, p. lxiii). Although he noticed distinctions in syntax between authors, he attempted to derive from them a single form. For example, swelc ‘such’ is a strong, demonstrative pronoun in most OE writing; but it is used in a weak form “in ‘Alfredian’ prose” (sec. 504). Mitchell chased an abstract description of syntactic phenomena, whose instantiated form in language he illustrated with examples. Variants were classed as deviations from a norm. His was a Platonic quest. Mine, much impoverished by comparison, shall be a touch more Aristotelian.

Syntax will be subdivided generically. What is optimal in a prose chronicle may not be optimal in a poem.

Syntax will be subdivided temporally. What was optimal in Alfred’s court may not have been optimal in Cnut’s.

And syntax will be subdivided spatially, or rather, geographically. What was optimal in Anglian may not have been optimal in Kentish.

These subdivissions will have to be rough-and-ready, since we lack diplomatic editions of manuscripts. Editors have already elided much of the information that distinguishes one scribe’s work from another’s. For example, I noted in a manuscript of Aelfric an instance of OE faðer ‘father’, which was not supposed to exist at the time. As diplomatic editions come available, I will be able to account for them. For the moment, any dated or datable text will be marked as such. The “syntaxer” (program that parses syntax) will prefer texts of similar genre, locale, and time.

INDICES. The major component to the project is a set of massive indices.

Like a Google search, this parser operates on tables of frequencies. Google digests the raw web daily, at least. The web is then sifted through algorithms at Google’s massive data centers. That sifting process results in massive indices of frequencies. An index will record searches, links, and clicks. A search for Silly Putty is recorded. A second search. Then a third. Three users click on a single link. That link is recorded and marked as the top link. The next user to search for Silly Putty is sent the top link first.

An Aelfric index. By parsing the works of Aelfric, the computer can build a list of most-used words and their usual grammatical function in Aelfric’s sentences. So, someone searching for heald in Aelfric will prompt the retun of pre-parsed sentences, rather than invoking a new search. The sentences will come in order: the most usual use of heald first, the least usual last. (It seems most often to be in participial form.)

Other indices are obvious. A Wulfstan index. The works of King Alfred’s court. Benedictine books. The Chronicle. Poetry. And so forth.


Meanwhile, the parser is taking a sentence and parsing it!

The first test sentence was, of course, “Hello, World!” Here is the screen grab of the first Old English sentence to work:


Se man wæs god. The correct forms are listed in each cluster.

Anglo-Saxon lyre 3

Last day on the lyre. Zither pins go in when I decide on 4 strings or 6. Just a few odds and ends left. (Latin camp was excellent. We went from Proto-Indo-European to Old Latin, looked at theme vowels in the various inflections and decelnsions, and tried to made sense of the various phonological categories of stem vowels. By the end of the second day, we were reading Bede’s account of Caedmon!)

First, I painted the dragon heads with a terra-cotta base in preparation for gilding.


My penurious Scots soul wouldn’t allow me to spend heavily on real gold, so I bought a cheap-o set of gilding materials from the Mona Lisa company. The glue was terrible, and the gilding is a composite, so it doesn’t act like real leaf. (I may get real leaf later.) Nevertheless, it turned out alright.


Next came the banding. I cut down strips of basswood over which I laid walnut-and-beech banding. I mitered it in a hobby miter box with a fine-toothed Japanese pull saw designed for dovetails. Glued with hide glue—very important, since it dries slowly and the miters needed readjusting quite a bit.


Then I fit the cross-piece into the heads with epoxy. Mighty strong glue. It’s hard to see from the picture, but the face of the cross-piece is dead center along the x-axis of the lyre. The force of the strings will pull down through the center of the heads, through the center of the posts, and onto the footrests I carved in the frame.


The strings attach to a peg. So it was time to make the peg. The guitar strings I’m using are attached by knots that are similar to a noose. So it seemed perfectly fitting to carve the Hanged God, Odin. Although the second picture is out of focus, it shows what a little linseed oil does to beautify the wood. One addition: I wrapped a copper wire twice around Odin’s neck and secured it. The strings then go under the wire, knotted at one end. It keeps them in place with room for all.



And the (almost-) finished lyre:




Here it is oiled and waxed, with mother-of-pearl inset into the supports, with the strings on. Tuned to the tonic of D with bass strings at E and A. It works with a glass slide, too.

Full Lyre


Summer of 2016 will see a second lyre. This time, the back and front will be made from canary wood.

Anglo-Saxon Lyre 2

Stanchions glued in. Used yellow glue rather than hide glue since they are structural. They stood proud of the side. Foolishly, I used a #4 plane, which is as big as the lyre box, to bring down the posts. Only half-way through my first coffee, so naturally I slipped and took a chunk out of the base. Squared the damage with a chisel and inset a piece of rosewood. If I ever need a pick-up, this is where it will go. Lesson learned: small tools for small jobs.



So, brought down the posts with sandpaper. Checked for level and square to the sides. Finally, trued the upper ridge.


With the posts set in place, I glued on the top with yellow glue. Sanded the sides flush to the top. Then sanded the entire box for a couple of hours, running eight steps from 80-grit up to 600-grit. Gaps are visible around the posts, so I’ll fill them, then add banding to cover the flaws.



Here’s the bottom with the patch:



And the finished box:



Everything goes on hold now for a two-day intensive Latin Camp. We’re going to learn PIE to Latin. After all, there just aren’t enough people who can identify an Oscan epenthetic vowel in an Old Latin borrowing.

Anglo-Saxon Lyre

Taking a short break from the natural-language parser to make a modified Sutton Hoo lyre (based partly on instrucable, possibly from Rutgers). I scoured the net for ideas, but was most impressed with Michael King’s lyre. Virtually every lyre out there is a rectangle, a squared doughnut. Having played a beautiful lyre made by my friend Jul, an incredible metalsmith and artist, I thought it nevertheless slightly awkward to hold. In this version, I reduced the size of the lyre and changed its configuration. Rather than a rectangle, I decided on a sound box attached by two long stanchions to a head-piece. (I was thinking of a double-necked guitar with a bridge between the two heads.)



This is the first idea for a layout. Sound box is basswood (hard, but easier to carve than maple, the wood used in Sutton Hoo). The two upright stanchions are white oak. The cross-piece is white oak. And the dragon heads are basswood, inspired by the Oseburg ship. I carved them with a Morakniv, simply the best carving knife I have ever used. The next step was to router out the sound box. I set my router’s depth to leave 1/8th of an inch for the bottom, planning later to carve down to 1/16th. I left two posts to hold the bases of the stanchions.




The knob on the inside base is for installing a nut around which the strings will be gathered. Here’s one of the stanchions fit into place:


After routing, I used a gouge to bring the bottom to level. Two considerations: first, the pressure on the box is down its central axis. So, rather than put in a truss rod or brace, I left the central axis 1/8th inch thick. Second, the sound has to vibrate along the bottom, so the two sides of the central axis were carved down to 1/16th.



The result left two valleys on either side of the central axis. I splayed out the base of each valley and the result was the shape of a tree. Yggdrasil, probably. Word on the web is that when thinning panels for a sound box, what matters is not thickness so much as density. So the old way to check was to hold the bottom up to a light source and look for the “fire.” A violin maker told me that this stage is called “candellighting.” Here’s the base held up to a light. The fire-red bits are 1/16th thick.


At this point, I decided that the dragon heads would hold the cross-piece rather than mount it. Here they are carved and sanded, then holding the cross-piece:



And here’s the new layout. Note the tree-shaped interior and the rather suggestive curve of the base, which I hope will give great bottom to the sound. Seriously, I wanted the sound to bounce around in there, echoing and re-echoing.


The next stage was the sound hole. It’s an option, but not necessary. I decided on a hole one-third of the width of the lyre, based on a guitar by Juan Cayuela, a brilliant luthier from whose descendant I bought my classical guitar. The top is a piece of rosewood, 4″ wide and 1/8th inch thick. I glued two pieces together to make a single 8″ top. Then, I routered 1/16th from the center of the board. The result was like a dinner plate, leaving a border 1/8th inch and a valley 1/16th. The bridge is a ukelele bridge from Stewart-McDonald. They also have excellent supplies of mother-of-pearl.



The sound hole looked a little bare, so I took an idea from a renaissance lute and carved an inset. Using a design from the Book of Kells, I started by tracing the sound hole on a piece of basswood. I ripped the basswood down the middle, leaving two 1/16th slabs.



After layout, I carved the figure, then carved down to the circle, leaving a raised disc. It fit in very nicely. I glued the inset nto the back with hide glue:



And here it is from the front:



Still waiting on the tuning machines and the gutstrings. I’ve also got mother-of-peral to set in. The dragon heads will be gilded and have garnet set into their eyes. More to come.