Absorbing is not Absorbierend. Setting up a multi-lingual research project

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Moniek Kuijpers @moniek.kuijpers

:classical_building: Affiliation: University of Basel, Digital Humanities Lab

Title: Absorbing is not Absorbierend. Setting up a multi-lingual research project

Abstract (long version below): This presentation will focus on a discussion of multi-lingual scale development versus translation of scales from one language into another. For a project that compares face-to-face shared reading and online shared reading in both English and German contexts, some measuring instruments on absorption need to be adapted. The current presentation will focus on the ongoing preparatory work for running these planned comparative studies and it will present preliminary results on linguistic differences between book discussions in German and English and address the difficulties encountered with regard to bilingual measure development. It will close with a presentation of the CORE-LITES network which is built around the issue of translatability for replication’s sake within the field of empirical literary studies.


:newspaper: Long abstract


This presentation will introduce the Shared Reading in the Digital Age (SHARD) project, which started at the University of Basel’s Digital Humanities Lab last year. The main aims of this project are: 1) to investigate which mechanisms underlying face-to-face shared reading practices are most conducive to the promotion of reading and well-being; and 2) to investigate whether these mechanisms and effects can also be found in shared reading practices that take place in online reading environments. Not only will the project take a comparative approach towards different shared reading modalities, it will also look at these shared reading practices in two different languages: English and German.

The focus of the experimental studies conducted in the SHARD project are on shared reading practices, because recent research in empirical literary studies has found that face-to-face shared reading elicits positive effects on well-being and encourages reading promotion in specific groups of people (Billington, Humphreys, Jones, & McDonnell, 2016). Shared reading practices that take place on online platforms, such as buddy reading or book discussions in chat form, and their potential positive effects on well-being have not been investigated before. The main objective of this project is to develop measures to capture the kinds of shared reading experiences that are naturally happening on online social reading platforms while still enabling comparison of mechanisms and effects with face-to-face practices. One of the mechanisms under investigation is absorption during shared reading, which is the focus of the current presentation.


In a previous project (“Mining Goodreads”, Rebora, Kuijpers & Lendvai, 2020) we developed an English language annotation scheme to annotate reader reviews for mentions of absorption. We started the current project with a group discussion (with the same group of annotators from the previous project) over several months to translate the annotation scheme in German. This involved taking a look at a selection of German language reviews and trying to apply the English scheme on the German reviews, trying to identify categories that needed a reconceptualization to account for the experience of German readers. Gradually, we selected example statements for each of the annotation categories taken from German language reviews and then translated the names of the annotation categories and their conceptualizations.

We are currently working on annotating a German language corpus of reader reviews with our newly developed German annotation guidelines and identifying absorption categories that are under- or overrepresented in the English versus the German reviews. The current cultural and linguistic comparative work is mainly bottom-up and explorative, however the next stage will involve adapting the annotation categories into new English and German versions of the Story World Absorption Scale (Kuijpers et al., 2014).

As the annotation statements were developed first in the context of experimental research on solitary reading and then adapted through investigation of online social reading, we will discuss them with practitioners in the field of Shared Reading (both face-to-face and online communities) to decide on the applicability of our conceptual model and subsequent measuring instruments in the context of shared reading groups.

Of course, these self-report instruments cannot be sensitive to certain phenomenological aspects of physical co-reading, such as co-presence or multi-modal (verbal and embodied) expressions of the experience of co-reading. This is why the self-report instruments will be complemented with systematic analysis of the transcripts and video recordings of every shared reading session in our study (in total we will collect data during a 24-week intervention).

The reasons for using the self-report instrument in addition to the video recordings and transcripts is to enable quantitative data collection – in concord with the qualitative data – which will facilitate 1) more rigorous cross-cultural and cross-modal comparison, and 2) ensure that we have data about absorption (or lack thereof) for every session. If the topic of absorption was not discussed during a session, it would be difficult to gauge the degree of absorption from the qualitative data alone.


In the presentation, I will discuss some of the preliminary results of the ongoing linguistic and cultural comparative annotation work, such as noticeable differences between reviews in the two languages (such as the overrepresentation of active “I”-sentences in English reviews (“I was absorbed in the book”) versus passive “one” statements in German reviews (“One could feel absorbed while reading this book”)) and particular translation issues (such as the fact that there is no straight German translation for the English word Absorption).


Conclusions will be drawn about the efficacy of our bottom-up, explorative approach to linguistic and cultural differences in online communication about reading. Furthermore, these conclusions will lead to the introduction of the CORE-LITES network, which is built around the issue of translatability for the purposes of replication within the field of empirical literary studies. What would multi-lingual simultaneous measure development look like on a larger scale? How to address the question to what extent literary devices and experiences are homogenous and to what extent are they culture and language dependent?


Billington, J., Humphreys, A. L., Jones, A., & McDonnell, K. (2016). A literature-based intervention for people with chronic pain. Arts & Health, 8(1), 13–31. doi: 10.1080/17533015.2014.957330.

Kuijpers, M. M., Hakemulder, F., Tan, E. S. H., & Doicaru, M. M. (2014). Exploring absorbing reading experiences. Developing and validating a self-report scale to measure story world absorption. Scientific Study of Literature, 4(1), 89–122. doi: 10.1075/ssol.4.1.05kui.

Rebora, S., Kuijpers, M. M., & Lendvai, P. (2020). Mining Goodreads. A Digital Humanities Project for the Study of Reading Absorption. In Sharing the Experience: Workflows for the Digital Humanities. Proceedings of the DARIAH-CH Workshop 2019. Neuchâtel: DARIAH-CAMPUS.