New online tool to study the works of Charles Dickens

Academics from The University of Nottingham have designed a new online linguistics tool that will help researchers and students to study the language used in novels from the 19th Century.

Professor Michaela Mahlberg from the University’s Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics (CRAL) is leading a project team to develop the CLiC online interface — this 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 to allow the user to search for words in different types of 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.

Novels from the 19th Century

The project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, focuses particularly on the study of Dickens’s novels, but the newly released CLiC 1.0 is now also available for use with 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 make it possible to 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 CLiC project is specifically innovative as it aims to combine research in corpus linguistics with cognitive poetics where textual patterns contribute to ‘mind-modelling’ in the process of characterisation.

How characters become real

Professor Peter Stockwell, who is 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 results of the research will be used directly in teaching at the University. CLiC 1.0 will be used in some of next year’s modules as well as in Distance Programmes run by the School of English. The team will also be presenting CLiC 1.0 at the ‘Nottingham Potential Summer School’ this month, which is run for pupils from local schools.