Verba Alpina: open data + elegant solutions

In the context of the Junge Forum Romanistik, there were workshops with a focus on digital tools in literary and linguistic studies organized by CLiGS together with the FJR and the AG Digitale Romanistik. In one of the workshops, Thomas Krefeld and Stephan Lücke presented the project Verba Alpina:

Screenshot from 2016-03-17 07:11:16This project studies dialectal data from the very multinational area of the Alps. The classical dialectal projects took a national approach that hides the linguistic processes that go across the border.  It impressed me for three reasons: two very simple and elegant solutions that they are applying in the project and how open the data and the tool are.

WordPress for the users

Their input material is spread in different printed linguistic atlantes. So, they need a way that several people feed their database, giving the possibility to crowdsource the project. They came to the idea to use WordPress to manage the user registration, basic options and the transcription interface (for dedicated transcription tools, see e.g. Transcribo or eLaborate). Editing the data, you will normally see two pdfs:

On the bottom are the boxes and buttons to enter and save the transcription. The pdf on the left is the atlas, with the places and the linguistic information.  The one on the right is the rules to transcribe the phonetic transcriptions. Because of course we are not able to write with our keyboard two diacritics under the letter and another two above. We are not even able to write the standard International Phonetic Alphabet in a comfortable way. So, what to do?

Punctuation for simple transcribing

They came to the simple and safe idea to encode the diacritics with punctuation marks after the letter, coming bottom-up and left-right. Consider the following word and the way it would be transcribed:


Now, of course that is either SAMPA nor IPA:  it is only a comfortable way to encode what you are seeing. They implemented programs that translates be(-/f into IPA. Incredibly elegant, right?

You want it? You have it!

But wait for the best, because they are giving you access to the database. Yes, to the phpMyAdmin where you can query the database with MySQL. And I am not saying that you can query the data that YOU have transcribed; no, they are giving access to all the data they have in the database. How many project do we know that do such a thing?

Screenshot from 2016-03-17 07:03:01Although this data is not yet available under Creative Commons Licence, they are thinking about it but anyway they are obviously very open to everyone who wants to use their data for research.

And that extends also to the tool. Not only dialectal projects might use it as well, but also other projects that need to move information from a picture to a database and where OCR is not the solution, such as manuscript edition projects. They want to publish their  modification on WordPress as a Plug-In in the future. For the moment, those who are interested to using it should write to the leaders of the project: Thomas Krefeld and Stephan Lücke.

Ein Gedanke zu „Verba Alpina: open data + elegant solutions“

  1. With regard to our numerous partners we would like to emphasize that database access is basically restricted to data that VerbaAlpina is entitled to disseminate. Furthermore individual registration, just as the author rightly points out, connected with acceptance of the terms of use is necessary. For unrestricted access to the data (i.e. data provided by our project partners included) the acceptance and signing of our specific partner agreement is indispensable.

    Thomas Krefeld, Stephan Lücke (on behalf of VerbaAlpina)

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