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Online tool reveals how Dickens characters become real

Date: 11/07/2014

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

Professor Michaela Mahlberg from the University of Nottingham'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 project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), 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.

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.

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.

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.

For more information on the project you can visit the website (opens in new window).

More information is available from Professor Michaela Mahlberg in the School of English at The University of Nottingham on 0115 951 5569 or Michaela.malhberg@nottingham.ac.uk

For media enquiries contact: Charlotte Anscombe (Nottingham) on 0115 74 84 417 orcharlotte.anscombe@nottingham.ac.uk or Alex Pryce (AHRC) on 01793 41 6025 ora.pryce@ahrc.ac.uk.

Notes to editors

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. www.ahrc.ac.uk
  • The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is 'the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain' (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university among graduate employers, the world's greenest university, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for 'Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development'. It is ranked in the World's Top 75 universities by the QS World University Rankings.
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