‘Counting’: quality and quantity in literary language and tools for investigating it

by Jonathan Hope (Strathclyde University, Glasgow)

The transcription of a substantial proportion of Early Modern English books by the Text Creation Partnership has placed more than 60,000 digital texts in the hands of literary and linguistic researchers. Linguists are in many cases used to dealing with large electronic corpora, but for literary scholars this is a new experience. Used to arguing from the quality, rather than quantity of evidence, literary scholars have a new set of norms and procedures to learn, and are faced with the exciting, or perhaps depressing, prospect that their object of study has changed.

 In this talk I’ll look at some specific case studies that illustrate the potential, and the problems, of quantity-based studies – and will highlight key areas where literary scholars need to reassess their expectations of ‘evidence’, and the texts we use. A possible alternative title might be ‘Learning to live with error: gappy texts and crappy metadata’.

A screencast of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in Oxford, Wolfson College, on Saturday, 11 March, 4.15pm.

Ethnopoetic philology and the power of narrative for endangered voices

by Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)

Ethnopoetics lies at the juncture of linguistics, comparative literature, anthropology, and activist politics. It is more of an approach than a discipline, and was inspired by the realization that indigenous oral literature, or ‘orature’ was of equal literary merit to that of the ancient and modern literary languages. Ethnopoetic analysis requires close attention to the form and performance of oral narratives, looking for patterning in phonology, morphology, syntax, as well as repetitions in word use and larger units. I will present some examples of the power of stories in the lives of Koryaks, who are indigenous to Kamchatka, Russia. The material comes from a documentation project by Valentina R. Dedyk and me (funded by a grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Project).

A video of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 10 February, 4.15pm.