Text Typology

James Murray's Pigeonholes at the Oxford English Dictionary Office

In categorizing texts, the basic difference is between simple and composite: those which are all of a piece, and those which are not. Within the latter type, it is convenient to note the many ways in which a text which is not everywhere the same can arise. Some of those ways are described in this section.

Basic to this list of types is the recognition that text growth may occur during the time when the text is still in the original author's care or in the custody of its original series of proprietors, and before it reaches what we may call Point P and goes public, with all the risk of subsequent copyist errors which "going public" entails. The resulting manuscript copies, no two alike, and each with its scribal errors and additions, are a familiar situation. That situation is the province of text criticism, and text criticism is well equipped to deal with it. But growth and thus internal inconsistency may already occur in the pre-public text, the text still undergoing its formation process, where in principle no multiple manuscript copies are available for the text critic to work on. Such growth thus presents a new problem for analysis. This is the problem which is pursued in these pages, which are a list of possible growth types (hence, a "typology"), complete with specific examples of each.

Musicians, more than most of us, tend to be aware of formative and reformative processes from daily experience. The young pianist who ponders and chooses among the variants provided in the footnotes of Bischoff's edition of the French Suites of Bach is already a text critic of a sort. The composer who redoes an aria at the last minute for the convenience of the replacement soprano is taking part in a text formation process, and the anecdotal literature of music gives wide access to that example of process. Most of the typological categories listed here also occur in modern literature. Some examples from both music and modern literature have been included, simply to make the point that antiquity has no monopoly on these possibilities, and that we really already know this stuff, and need only to be reminded of what it is that we already know.

Some categories in this typology might be combined, or additional ones recognized; the intent here is to organize previous experience as intelligibly as possible for the person first becoming acquainted with the problem. Subtypes are indented in this table of contents.



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