More please: A feast for Dickens scholars

January 20th, 2015

A new online linguistics tool will help researchers and students study the language used in novels from the 19th century.

The CLiC online interface, developed by Professor Michaela Mahlberg and a team from the University’s Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics, can be used to employ computer-assisted methods to study literary texts, which will in turn lead to new insights into how readers perceive fictional characters.

The CLiC interface uses corpus linguistic methods, which use computer software to study and analyse large collections of texts (corpora). This allows the user to search for words in different  contexts, for example, in fictional speech, or
in narrative stretches likely to contain body language; the tool provides frequency information, different display options for words in context, and enables comparisons of frequency data across texts.

The project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, focuses on Dickens’s novels, and now CLiC 1.0 is available for other novels from the 19th century.

Professor Mahlberg said: “CLiC 1.0 enables us to take a fresh look at Dickens’s language and linguistic techniques of characterisation more widely. Corpus linguistic methods view textual patterns in a systematic way and bring phenomena to the attention of the analyst that may not be easily discovered by reading alone.”

The innovative CLiC project aims to combine research in corpus linguistics with cognitive poetics where textual patterns contribute to ‘mind-modelling’ in  characterisation.

Professor Peter Stockwell, co-investigator on the project, said: “These techniques are beginning to allow us to understand very precisely how characters can become almost real in readers’ minds.”

The research will inform teaching at the University. CLiC 1.0 will be used in modules next year and Distance Programmes run by the School of English. The team presented CLiC 1.0 at the Nottingham Potential Summer School for local pupils.


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