Verb and gender in multimedia grammar

April 2000, English revision 28.08.04

Thesis number VII of the Karlsruhe manifesto demands: “Humanities must, as it were, develop and impart a new ‘grammar’ of multimedial ‘language’.” This grammar could use the hyperlink as the verb, and the link type (hierarchical or cross-reference) as the gender of verb.

The first decision for mapping language grammar and multimedia “grammar” affects which entity would be mapped to the traditional sentence. An obvious, superficial answer would be to take a multimedial module: a text page, image sequence, audio clip, or the like. However, it would be somewhat dangerous to force pictures and sounds onto the same level as text, inevitably pushing them into its shadow and losing sight of the multimedial relationships. Therefore, an approach of a higher aggregation level is more appropriate. Best analogy for the sentence is the “scene change” in the broadest sense: a click following a hyperlink to a new page; a scene change in a video clip; steering the browser towards a new page by control of a streaming media clip; popping-up a dialogue sub-window, or the like. Thus having determined the sentence of the multimedial grammar, its verb is the hyperlink.

Its conjugation corresponds to the individual link variants, e. g., shortcut from one hierarchy level to the layer after the next, or inline anchor, or list item anchor, or reference to a glossary entry, etc. Nouns would be the smallest individually addressible units (i. e., hypertext pages, sections with anchors, menus, markers in streaming clips, etc.) because they are the objects that are connected by our verb. Stem and derivatives undergoing ablaut are perhaps comparable to headers and meta information (title, description, keywords), because they bear the meaning. Variants of meta tags, header levels, keyword schemas, dc.subjects would be flexion morphemes. Adjectives could be compared to properties like link annotations, or quotations in email replies. Adverbs would be the elements that further qualify a link relationship, e. g., the remote mouse in a conferencing system, or the Virtual Pointer Stick between language/text and image/mindmap. The various kinds of pronouns would be search engine results with or without ranking or abstracts. Derivatives, finally, could be mapped to medial variants of a given content, say, text to image or vice versa. These analogies could subsequently also help to master larger units, e. g. “genres” of text (this would be the numerous variants of New Media, as continuous and static media, media with interactive focus or telematic focus or other nonlinear hypermedia); or threads in forums, or navigation structures (bottom-up, breadth-first, guided tour, etc.)

The verb of this new multimedia grammar, the hyperlink, is encountered in two basic, opposite, complementary forms (which, IMO, is also constituent for the main fascination (#2) of hypertext): hierarchical links (joining parent and child nodes) on one hand, and cross references /shortcuts on the other hand. Since these two types are not only fundamental and antinomial, but also complementary in a way that either of them can hardly exist without the other, they really deserve to be seen as gender. The passive voice corresponds to the hierarchical links (since the tree structure appears more static), while the active voice could mapped to the (more creative) cross references. (The linear structure would accordingly be the limiting case of passive voice – the tree structure, having put down its ramification – its passivical meaning, so, it’s the deponens).

(Disclaimer: this little analogy does not attempt to refer to complex grammar theories; neither pick up the models that are more appropriate for sentence level than sentence-spanning hypermedial modules, nor deal with transphrastical rules of structure and wellformedness in the sense of a text grammar, nor substitute classical linear sentences, being regarded as the vocabulary for multimedial “sentences”, by the latter ones in the sense of a unification grammar. This analogy is solely intended as a pre-scientific comparison that might help broaden the basis for fruitful associations.)

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