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Alonso Garcia, N., Caplan, A. (2016). Engaging Students in Digital Literary Analysis: GALGO (Golden Age Literature Glossary Online), a Social Semiotic Platform. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 725-726.
Engaging Students in Digital Literary Analysis: GALGO (Golden Age Literature Glossary Online), a Social Semiotic Platform

Engaging Students in Digital Literary Analysis: GALGO (Golden Age Literature Glossary Online), a Social Semiotic Platform

This poster showcases a digital teaching application that approaches the study of language and literary texts from a social semiotic perspective and represents an innovative pedagogical model for world language and literature classes. The Golden Age Literature Glossary Online, known by the acronym GALGO, consists of an online glossary of select keywords, from canonical texts of Golden Age Spanish literature, whose multiple connotations illuminate important linguistic and social concepts of the 16th and 17th centuries. GALGO incorporates British cultural historian Raymond Williams’ methodology in his Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society: namely, identifying problem-laden words or “keywords,” charting their distinct usages across texts, and reflecting critically on clusters of associated words. Implicit in William’s keyword analysis is a social semiotic theory of language that takes as its starting point the observation that meanings “are created by the social system and are exchanged by the members in the form of text” (Halliday, 1978, p.141) and find in literary texts their fullest creative expression (Lotman, 1990). Contextualizing poetic language in its particular space-time, therefore, reveals the linguistic codes derived from the culture in which the work has been produced.

GALGO seeks to instantiate the theoretical construction that embeds the semantic configurations of a literary text simultaneously in the cultural environment, the linguistic system, and the social system. The computer is an ideal semiotic machine to expose these multiple interwoven strands of meaning at once. Applying the structure of M.A.K. Halliday’s theoretical model in Language as social semiotic, GALGO’s interpretive apparatus allows the user to identify the field of discourse or social function of each instance of a specific keyword and determine its distributional profile 1(DP) with respect to underlying semantic relationships. The platform is capable of presenting a list of clusters, word groupings based on semiotic affinity, along with their fuller contexts in the works. Simultaneously, within the cluster analysis, GALGO also prompts an interpretation of the tenor of discourse, highlighting sociological variables connected to class status, gender role and racial category that refine the text’s meaning from an interpersonal perspective.

We envision the architecture of the platform to not only be suitable for our corpus of 16th and 17th century Spanish works, but rather potentially abstracted in such a way that any set of words could be glossed from any collection of works. GALGO offers students the opportunity to explore a wide variety of views and re-combinations of words and definitions in order to engage more effectively with primary sources that are written in a language, discipline, or time period that is “foreign” to an undergraduate. In this, its third prototype, GALGO suggests untapped potential for computer-assisted textual analysis and would now benefit from additional critical feedback offered by the larger digital humanities community.

Participants will have the chance to engage with the platform during the poster session and share their feedback and experiences with the authors:

  • How user-friendly is GALGO’ s interface?
  • How successful is GALGO in performing its intended tasks (cultural semiotic analysis, sociolinguistic research, student engagement in reading)?
  • How can GALGO be improved?
  • How do others engage students with new media methods?
  • How suitable is GALGO for texts from other disciplines?

  1. Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic. The social interpretation of language and meaning. Baltimore: University Park Press.
  2. Lotman, Y. M. (1990). Universe of the mind. A semiotic theory of culture. London: I.B. Taurus & Co.
  3. Rubenstein H. and Goodenough J. B. (1965). Contextual correlates of synonymy. Communications of the ACM, 8(10): 627-33.
  4. Schütze, H. (1992). Dimensions of meaning. Proceedings of the 1992 ACM/IEEE Conference on Supercomputing, pp. 787-96.

According to the Distributional Hypothesis, the distributional profile (DP) of a word is determined by the strength of association of the word with co-occurring words in the text (Rubenstein & Goodenough, 1965, Schütze, 1992)