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Shakespearean dictionaries: A corpus-based approach to the word ‘good’

Watch Jonathan Culpeper elaborate on what a corpus-based Shakespeare dictionary is like, taking the word "good" as his main illustration.

The word “horrid” occurs so infrequently in Shakespeare that it is easy to read through the examples of a concordance. What if there are too many examples to read? And even if you could read them over an extended period of time, by the time you got to the end, you would forget the examples at the beginning.

One solution is to look at a concordance consisting of randomised examples. In this way, theoretically, just reading through a few examples would reveal the major patterns. But this would probably not be enough for a detailed picture. Enter collocations! This technique may ring some bells, because we discussed it in our treatment of the word “bastard”. A collocation is a regular word or lexical co-occurrence pattern (again, think word associations).

The word “good” has far too many instances to read through the patterns, and thus is ideal for examination of collocates, which we can extract with the aid of a computer. The collocates of “good” turnout to reflect the way in which the drama is constructed.

Furthermore, in this video we compare Shakespeare’s use of “good” with that of his contemporaries (not just playwrights) in the EEBO-TCP corpus. This reveals some striking differences, including that Shakespeare seems to take a rather more secular view of what it is to be good. Finally, we reflect on what a corpus-based dictionary entry for “good” might look like.

If you have any queries about the method discussed in this video, put them in the comments, otherwise in the next step we get going on the real business of this course – we will tell you how to do put things into practice yourself!

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Shakespeare's Language: Revealing Meanings and Exploring Myths

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