Summer school reflections

Claire McGann, a first year PhD student in the English Literature and Creative Writing Department at Lancaster University, discusses attending Lancaster University’s Summer School in Corpus Linguistics.

In June I attended several of the events held at Lancaster University’s Summer School in Corpus Linguistics. Andrew Hardie’s introductory session provided a great initial overview of corpus linguistics, and his own CQP web resource. Similarly, Carmen Dayrell’s session on generating collocational networks using GraphColl familiarised me with a range of new terminologies and techniques. Following this introduction, the engaging sessions conducted by Helen Baker and Alison Findlay illustrated how these techniques had assisted their own research on early modern England— my own area of study!

My PhD research explores printed prophecies produced in early modern England. Many men and women gained textual authority through claims to divine inspiration, as numerous pamphlets recorded their ‘messages from God’. Scholars have noted that these prophetic accounts increased during the turbulence of the English Civil War, as the nation sought direct spiritual instruction during a time of upheaval.

The skills I developed during the Summer School in Corpus Linguistics have helped me to trace this phenomena through the Early English Books Online corpus. For example, a quick CQP web search for the keyword ‘prophecy’ displays a sharp increase in appearances of the word in Civil War era publications. Usage of ‘prophecy’ rises from a frequency of 31.58 uses per million words in 1630-1639 to 59.36 uses from 1640-1649. Thus, mentions of ‘prophecy’ nearly double during this period, which corroborates academic arguments for the significance and prevalence of prophecy as a Civil War era discourse.

However, rather than simply providing evidence to support existing hypotheses, it will be interesting to see how corpus linguistics can help me to make new arguments about early modern writing. In his plenary lecture, Jonathan Culpeper discussed using the Encyclopaedia of Shakespeare’s Language to not only examine long-held myths about Shakespeare’s language, but also to prompt new research questions and arguments. Importantly, Lancaster’s Summer School provided me with the skills to not only answer my existing research questions, but to start formulating some new ones. Many thanks to everyone involved in running the event!

About Mathew Gillings

PhD Linguistics student at Lancaster University.
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