Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Estelle Irizarry and linguistic analysis of Hispanic poets

For many who don't fully understand the history of digital humanities, dh has come to mean computer science focused analytic criticism, data mining, or an anti humanistic approach to the text. Yet the history of data mining has deep roots in corpus linguistics and early pioneers in the field were careful to situate computer analysis within a cultural framework.

Today I want to highlight the very important early work of Estelle Irizarry, professor emeritus of the Spanish Department of Georgetown University.

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You might recognize Irizarry for her linguistic work that argues that Christopher Columbus was a Catalan-speaking Jew, an argument laid out in Christopher Columbus, The DNA of his Writings (2009).  Digital humanists should also laud Irizarry for her early work with computer assisted linguistic play. Irizarry first presented "Tampering with the text to teach awareness of poetry's art (Theory and Practice with a Hispanic Perspective)" at the 1994 ALLC/ACH conference at The Sorbonne in Paris. She published her findings in the 1996 Literary and Linguistic Computing Journal. (Also note that Irizarry was an Executive Council Member of the association during this same period) Her paper is well worth a close read, but here is her abstract:

Theoreticians have linked the act of poetic creation inextricably to the principle of linguistic 'play'. A number of Hispanic poets have experimented with transformational and permutational creativity of the type that computers can accomplish quite easily. Such computer-induced play enhances the study of poetry by imbuing the poetic text with a new and dynamic dimension in which on-screen manipulation destabilizes the text, allowing the reader to explore it more thoroughly than is possible in the fixed printed medium and to appreciate it as a unique blend of word, structure and pattern. Well-known poems from writers who have themselves experimented with textual alteration, as well as works of others who have not, serve to illustrate diverse modalities of textual alteration, which are grouped by the types of transformation carried out by the computer.

Her work has been cited by Stephen Ramsay in his Reading Machines and other articles and by Willard McCarthy in his article "Getting There from Here: Remembering the Future of Digital Humanities, Roberto Busa Award lecture 2013" in Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories, edited by Paul Arthur and Katherine Bode. When Ramsay talks about "The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around," he is pointing back to Irizarry's innovative "tamperings" with poems by José Martí, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Clara Janés, Juan-Eduardo Cirlot, and others.

I hope that more of us read her work and recognize her as one of our important dh foremothers.

1 comment:

  1. hola,que tal?
    ¿irás a Washington para verla alguna vez? encontré alguno de sus artículos estudiando historia moderna (soy estudiante universitario de Arte en madrid), tengo algunas preguntas sobre sus investigaciones...
    un saludo( "Las llaves de mi voluntad yo se las dí en Barcelona" ;)