A born-digital author lexicon for 17th c. French: Sévigné’s case

Preparing an edition of Madame de Sévigné’s correspondance encoded in TEI, we are currently facing two problems. First, while French medievalists have a long experience of establishing lexicons, specialists of 17th c. French literature traditionally do not provide such a study in their editions. Second, we are not aware of any born-digital author lexicon in TEI for (17th c.) French language. We therefore have to tackle two problems at the same time, and create both a scientific methodology, and a digital solution.

1. Project

We are currently preparing an online edition of Madame de Sévigné’s autograph Correspondance. This project, funded for three years by the FNS, is now reaching its end: most of the material has been collected, described in a catalogue, and is currently being transcribed in TEI. Its peculiarity is that it focuses only on the autograph letters, i.e. the rare documents written by the author itself still available, and not on manuscript or printed copies which represent the majority of the corpus. By doing so, we hope to provide a in-depth study of Sévigné’s spelling practices, and thus replace her in the (orthographic) quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns.

2. Program

For the lexicon, a basic program would be the following:

  1. Since it is an author lexicon based on an edition, we need to digitally link words and their definitions.
  2. Provide a definition
  3. Words being often inflected (gender, number, mood, tense, etc.), we need to reconstruct the correct lemma, and distinguish reconstructed and attested lemmas.
  4. We need to record, and potentially comment interesting spellings.
  5. We need to “frame” both diachronically and synchronically Sévigné’s vocabulary.

3. Lexicographic sources

As we have just said, our main objective is to provide a definition to complex words or locutions, but we also want to “frame” both diachronically and synchronically Sévigné’s vocabulary. Diachronically, by looking in dictionaries of medieval and Renaissance French (is the word old or new?) Synchronically, by looking in 17th c. French dictionaries (is the word colloquial of formal?).

Some of these dictionaries are available online, but in different formats. Some are published in pdf/image format:

Some already are available as an online app:

The FEW, with many other lexicographic sources, is described in the <sourceDesc> of the TEI header. For instance

<bibl xml:id="FEW">
  <surname>von Wartburg</surname>
 <title>Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (FEW)</title>
 <extent>25 vols.</extent>
 <orgName>UMR ATILF (CNRS – Nancy Université)</orgName>
 <ref type="app" target="https://apps.atilf.fr/lecteurFEW"/>

4. Encoding

4.0 Linking to the definition

In order to present our methodology and the digital modelling of our lexicon, we will concentrate our effort on a sample of the letter n°852 (Duchêne’s numbering). We have added the sign ° to mark words that we will study in the present article:

mais iamais vn trait dorgueil na esté ſy mal placé ny ſy mal receu de tout le monde, ne me cités° pas, ſy lenuie vous prent den parler come les autres, vous-me dires auſſy come° la comporte° noſtre carcaſſone

We need first to link words to the future lexicon entry. To do so wrap interesting occurrences with , and link them to the correct entry with @corresp (we follow the manuscript layout for ):

For the language of the etymon, we use the ISO 639-3 standard [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_639-3]. However, for the date of the first occurrence, we use the standard abbreviation of lexicographers, divided in three main periods:

<lb/>mais iamais vn trait
<lb/>dorgueil na esté ſy mal
<lb/>placé ny ſy mal receu de
<lb/>tout le monde, ne me <w corresp="#citer">cités</w>
<lb/>pas, ſy lenuie vous prent
<lb/>den parler come les autres,
<lb/>vous me dires auſſy <w corresp="#come">come</w>
<lb/>la <w corresp="#comporter">comporte</w> noſtre carcaſſone

4.1 Lexicon entry

As we have said, a basic entry needs to provide a headword, which traditionally is the lemma, record the inflected form and comment the spelling. For come, which can be written alternatively with double <m> (comme) or with one <m> (come), we propose the following encoding:

<entry xml:id="comme">
 <form type="lemma"type="reconstructed">
   <pos norm="adv"/>
<form type="variant" type="attested">
  <orth type="orig">come</orth>
  <orth type="reg">comme</orth>
 <note type=“spelling">Réduction de la géminée -mm-.</note>

For cités however, what needs to be commented is the morpheme of the fifth-person of the present imperative (Sévigné uses an -<s> rather than a -<z>). The information is not discussed under @type=“variant” but @type=“inflected” with the relevant linguistic information.

<entry xml:id="citer">
 <form type="lemma" type="reconstructed">
   <pos norm="v"/>
 <form type="inflected">
  <orth type="orig">cités</orth>
  <orth type="reg">citez</orth>
   <per norm="5"/>
   <tns norm="present"/>
   <mood norm="imperative"/>
  <note type="spelling">Emploi moderne de -s pour -z.</note>

Additional informations about the spelling could be encoded with and @type=“geo” for regionally marked spellings:

<usg type="geo">bourguignon</usg>

or @type=“soc” to comment socially marked spellings:

<usg type="soc">aristocratique</usg>

4.1.1 Note on the TEI

It is not valid to use @status with <form>. However, in an author lexicon recording only words in the text, to differentiate reconstructed lemmas (traditionally presented between square brackets, e.g. [Comment]) from attested lemmas (e.g. Comment). We propose to use @status=“reconstructed” and @status=“attested” to distinguish the two.

4.2 Definition of the occurrence

We need now to provide a definition. We propose the following encoding:

<sense type="myDefinition">
  <gloss> comment</gloss>
  <bibl corresp="#FEW" facs="https://apps.atilf.fr/lecteurFEW/lire/20/1542">
  <citedRange unit="entry">quōmŏdo</citedRange>

Specific constructions, such as citer quelqu’un, can be encoded the following way:

<sense type="myDefinition">
 <form type="construction">citer qqn.</orth>
  <subc norm="tr"/>
  <gloss>Nommer celui de qui l'on tient une information.</gloss>

4.2.1 Note on the TEI

It is not valid to use @type with . However, as we will see later, we need to differentiate different senses: the one we give () from the one in diachrony () and the one in synchrony ().

4.3 Diachronic commentary

A specificity of our dictionary is to propose a diachronic commentary of the word, to identify innovations, archaisms, hapaxes or first occurrences. To do so, we take up L. Romary and J. Bower’s propositions in their article “Deep Encoding of Etymological Information in TEI” [http://journals.openedition.org/jtei/1643].

 <cit type="etymon">
 <date type="firstOccurrence">mfr</date>
 <note type="comm">Sens déjà connu en moyen français.</note>
  <bibl corresp="#TLFi" facs="http://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/citer">
   <citedRange unit="entry">citer</citedRange>
  <bibl corresp="#DMF" facs="http://www.atilf.fr/dmf/definition/citer">
   <citedRange unit="entry">citer</citedRange>
  <bibl corresp="#FEW" facs="https://apps.atilf.fr/lecteurFEW/lire/20/717">
   <citedRange unit="vol" n="II-1"/>
   <citedRange unit="p" n="716b"/>
   <citedRange unit="entry">cĭtare</citedRange>
   <citedRange unit="subentry" n="2.a"/>

For the language of the etymon, we use the ISO 639-3 standard [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_639-3]. However, for the date of the first occurrence, we use the standard abbreviation of lexicographers, divided in three main periods:

  • “afr” (ancien français) for old French (842-1400),
  • “mfr” (moyen français) for middle French (1400-1600),
  • “frm” (français moderne) for moderne French (1600 and after).

4.4 Synchronic commentary

The last part of the lexicon is made of commentary about the sense in the 17th c. according to dictionaries produced at the end of this century. Each commentary is followed by bibliographic references to the articles of several dictionaries, and the definitions they provide.

<sense type="synchronic">
 <note type="comm">Emploi récent (mfr.), toujours inconnu de Nicot. Rich1680 enregistre un emploi littéraire (~ un auteur), dont Ac1694 fait une locution verbale (~ son auteur) qui, par dérivation, possède le sens de « donner sa source ». Seul Fur1690 propose ce sens pour ~ (« nommer celui dont on tient qch »).</note>
  Citer, ou adjourner, In ius vocare, Dicam scribere vel impingere, Diem dicere, Il vient de Citare, Usez des locutions de Adjourner et Adjournement.
  <bibl corresp="#nicot_1606" facs="http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k50808z/f129.image">
   <citedRange unit="p" n="125b"/>
   <citedRange unit="entry">citer</citedRange>
  Alléguer, aporter quelques passages d'Auteurs, ou quelques Auteurs graves.
  <bibl corresp="#richelet_1680" facs="http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k509323/f244.image">
   <citedRange unit="p" n="140b"/>
   <citedRange unit="entry">citer</citedRange>
  On dit aussi, citer son autheur, pour dire, Nommer celuy de qui on tient une nouvelle, ou quelque chose de semblable.
  <bibl corresp="#academie_1694" facs="http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k503971/f213.image">
   <citedRange unit="t" n="2"/>
   <citedRange unit="p" n="279b"/>
   <citedRange unit="entry">citer</citedRange>
  signifie aussi, Alleguer un passage, une autorité, nommer celuy duquel on tient quelque chose.
  <bibl corresp="#furetiere_1690" facs="http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k50614b/f411.image">
   <citedRange unit="entry">citer</citedRange>

5. Attached documentation

The encoding of lexicographic informations of the three words in TEI according to the principle we have just exposed is provided availaible [Cf. GitHub/e-ditiones]. An accompanying XSLT document provides a simple HTML output [GitHub/e-ditiones].


  • Jack BOWERS and Laurent ROMARY, « Deep Encoding of Etymological Information in TEI », Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative [Online], Issue 10 | 2016. URL : [http://journals.openedition.org/jtei/1643]
  • Piotr BAŃSKI, Jack BOWERS, Tomaz ERJAVEC, « TEI-Lex0 guidelines for the encoding of dictionary information on written and spoken forms », Electronic Lexicography in the 21st Century: Proceedings of ELex 2017 Conference, Sep 2017, Leiden, Netherlands. 〈hal-01757108〉
  • SÉVIGNÉ, Mme de -, Correspondance, Roger DUCHÊNE (éd.), Paris : Gallimard, 1972-1978.
  • Simon GABAY, « A born-digital author lexicon for 17th c. French: Sévigné’s case », e-ditiones, [https://editiones.hypotheses.org/975].

Special thanks

To #LexMC team: Laurent Romary, Alexander Geyken, Toma Tasovac, Benoît Sagot, Piotr Bański and Mohamed Khemakhem.


This post is also available on our blog.

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