Talking Transcription: How Do We Ensure Quality?

In ‘Talking Transcription’ we discuss the particular methodological challenges or moments of interest that arise from the early stages of this project as we work our way through the correspondence of Maria Carolina. In this first entry we discuss the standards we adhere to during the editing process of the letters of Maria Carolina.
(Credit: Foto: Canva, 3844328)

French in the eighteenth century was an imperfect art among the European aristocracy. Eighteenth-century French also contains many differences from the French used today. Compounding this are the conventional but irksome stylistic peculiarities of letter-writing which are uncommon today as well as the unintended mistakes by the author. Writing by quill and candle light is never an easy task and so often slips, spills, and blotches render a letter’s exact nuances or key sentences a modern struggle as well as a historical source.


Every scholarly edition of correspondence follows customary guidelines when it comes to transcription. These are intended to clean up the text whilst still preserving the character of the author committing their innermost thoughts to paper. In order to allow an international community of scholars to fully benefit from our online edition, we have chosen to also adopt such guidelines.


In this project we are following the transcription standards for French language sources as laid out by the Sorbonne in Paris. This means we adapt some of the transcribed text according to the guidelines but otherwise follow the strict standards of faithfully transcribing the original to the letter.


There are five key areas where we make subtle changes which ensure a greater level of quality for researchers and a uniformity with other critical editions. These are:

1. The writing is followed as closely as possible expect explicit mistakes.

This means we take the liberty to change obvious mistakes typographical mistakes. For example, “mou cher mary” would become “mon cher mary.”

2. Numbers are written out proper

The number does not change per say but how it is presented may in such cases like:

Enumerations:             “1.° - 2.°“ --> 1) – 2)

Division:                “9 dixième“ --> 9/10ème

Dates:                    “9bre” --> novembre | i3 è 13

3. Incorrect capitalisations are retained

A common occurrence in the eighteenth century, this feature might raise an eyebrow today but is preserved in our transcription, so “deux Siciles” and “mon Cher Frère” stay.

4. Signatures and signs are interpreted as best as we can

The official guidelines by the Sorbonne do not state anything about signatures of symbols which may appear in the text so we use our experienced discretion to transcribe these as closely as possible.

In following these guidelines we are confident in delivering an authentic but also functional transcription of the letters of Maria Carolina.


By Jonathan Singerton

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