At first, the idea of the "representative expression" appealed to me a lot, but you made me change my mind. I think you're right that it is well nigh impossible for older works to identify which expression should be seen as the representative one.

The "yes/no" label is too simplistic by far. Rather perhaps, we should think in terms of prototype theory
i.e. one expression may be closer to the prototypic representative expression than another. So it wouldn't be a question of yes or no, but rather a matter of degree.

But of course this would be very difficult to implement. And it's probably not even necessary. I'd say that, for textual works, the language is the main criterion for users. They feel that an expression in the original language is more representative for the work than a translation (which makes sense as no translation can completely capture the original). But I don't think they would consciously distinguish between, say, an expression which keeps the author's original punctuation and one which is adapted to modern standards of punctuation. Probably, both would be seen as representing the work equally well.

So I agree that it would be enough to have something like "language of the original expression" as an attribute of the work, and perhaps some similar things as well. Actually, this is what we've been doing in Germany for a long time: In authority records for works (which before the advent of RDA were almost exclusively used in subject indexing), we always recorded the original language. There was some discussion whether we were allowed to continue this practice under RDA, as "language" is not an attribute of the work entity. We dodged this problem by calling this bit of information "language of the original expression".

Deciding on the original language of a work (yes, yes, I know, there is no such thing; we need to call it "language of the first expression of the work") is much easier than deciding what *the* canonical expression is.

If there is opposition to a work attribute "language of the original expression" for reasons of theoretic "purity", we could also model this as a special kind of relationship between a work and its original expression. In RDA-speak, recording the language of the original expression would then be a structured description of a related expression.


On 24.03.2016 Robert Maxwell wrote:
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I think I understand the desire for “representative expression” as an attribute of the expression entity, but I have questions about its presentation in FRBR-LRM. I assume the concept is “the expression most people think of when they think of the work,” and perhaps is based on a desire in the cataloging community to give preferential treatment to and record things like the first language a work was expressed in (for textual works). The document speaks of this in terms of a “canonical” expression.

That’s all well and good, but I’m not sure FRBR-LRM explains very clearly how this is supposed to work. It states “The model does not prescribe the criteria that must be applied in making the determination of representivity” and “Whether an expression is the original expression [meaning the representative expression, though the document states earlier that the original expression is not necessarily the representative expression] of the work will often be a component of this decision-making process.” A response might be that FRBR-LRM is a model and it’s up to codes to work out the details. But even a model needs some sort of framework.

On the apparent presumption that the original expression is most likely the representative expression, for textual and most other kinds of works “the” original expression is almost never the expression a librarian (or user) has in hand—unless the librarian happens to be holding the author’s original manuscript, which is a different expression from that contained in the first published manifestation since there are always differences between the manuscript and publication. In my experience I’ve probably never touched an item containing “the” original expression of any work I have cataloged. So talking in terms of “the original expression” might not too useful.

To get specific, when describing the work the Iliad, which is the representative expression? Well, let’s start with Greek expressions, those in the language Homer is presumed to have composed the work using. There are hundreds if not thousands of published editions of Greek expressions of the Iliad. All have different texts. Is one of them going to be chosen as the representative expression? How? Or what about one of the thousands of manuscripts? These are all different expressions because they all contain different texts. Is one of those the representative expression? Which one? This situation exists with any author who wrote before the modern period, and it exists for many modern writers as well (e.g. James Joyce). The idea of picking one “expression” as the “representative expression” seems fraught with difficulty. Perhaps it is not prudent to introduce this notion into the model until it is clearer how it might work, if at all.


Also, a practical implementation question (which has nothing to do with MARC). The attribute “representativity” (LRM-A5) is given as a “yes-no” proposition: an expression is either the representative expression or it is not. Presumably there can only be one representative expression of a work. But in a given system, particularly a cooperative system, how would this work out? When a cataloger or other metadata professional is preparing a description of a work and expression and having a look in the ER database is the “representative” expression going to stand out somehow? What would prevent folks from describing more than one expression within the same database as the representative expression? One possible response could be in a linked data environment it doesn’t matter if more than one expression is designated as the representative expression. That seems dubious to me, but if so, what’s the point, then?


I’d be interested to know if the approach of considering this sort of information as attributes of the work was considered by the authors, and if so, why they chose the route of representative expression rather than attributes of work. The attributes of expression marked with an asterisk (which denotes those that are linked to the representative expression) could remain as expression attributes, but narrower versions could appear as work attributes with names such as “original (or canonical) intended audience”, “original (or canonical) language”, “original (or canonical) key”, “original (or canonical) medium of performance”, “original (or canonical) scale”. The model as given could be seen as simpler, but it could also be reasonably seen as simpler to dispense with the judgment-laden decision about which is “the” representative expression and instead make these “canonical” attributes attributes of the work. I recommend that this might be a better way to go.


By the way, when a document makes assertions such as “research with users indicates that they recognize that works have original or “canonical” expressions” (p. 62) it is not unreasonable to expect the paper at least to cite (if not summarize) that research.




Robert L. Maxwell
Ancient Languages and Special Collections Librarian
6728 Harold B. Lee Library
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602

"We should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which has been heretofore pursued"--Eliza R. Snow, 1842.


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