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Keywords and plays (part 1)

Watch Jonathan Culpeper explain how a keyword analysis can shed light on the style(s) of a play.
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In this talk, we’re going to look at the keywords of plays, the linguistic forms that are significantly more frequent in a particular play and therefore characterise the language of that play. Looking ahead, first we’re going to examine a framework for analysing keywords. This could apply equally well to plays, characters, or any other data you wish to study. Then we’ll look at the method for deriving play keywords. The procedure is very similar to that which we use for character keywords. So let’s look at the framework for analysing keywords. We start from the premise that all key linguistic forms are potentially indicators of style or discourse.
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So in addition to nouns, verbs and adjectives being keywords we can also have key prepositions, articles and pronouns, which contribute to stylistic effects. For our framework, we turn to the linguist Michael Halliday and his functional grammar. Functional grammar does what it says on the tin. It describes language forms in terms of their function in the language system. Hallliday describes three metafunctions of language. The ideational, which covers the language we use to talk about how we perceive the world. The interpersonal, language that covers our interactions with others. And the textual, the language we need to give structure to language itself. If we apply these metafunctions to keywords then, the ideational could cover keywords relating to nationality or food and so on.
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The interpersonal would cover keywords such as oaths, pronouns like “you” and “thou,” et cetera. And textual keywords would be words like “and,” “therefore” and so on. As with any classification system, there can be grey areas with some keywords fitting more than one category. If you’d like to read more about this approach, take a look at the paper in the supplementary materials folder. Now let’s look at the method for deriving play keywords. Our study corpus will be the play we wish to study. The example we will look at in the next talk is King Henry IV, part 1. Our reference corpus is all other Shakespeare plays, excluding King Henry IV, part 1.
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As with character keywords, the computer programme will provide raw and normalised frequencies and use statistics to calculate which words are key. As regards the results, we should note that plays generally produce around 200 to 300 key lemmas. So we have far more data to examine than we did with character keywords. Also, when you do your own investigations, you will notice that the first 20 or so lemmas are character and place names particular to the play. This is unsurprising. If you think about it, the character Gadshill, for example, only appears in King Henry IV, part 1. So let’s wrap up by summarising some of the points we’ve talked about so far.
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We pointed out that all keywords are potentially indicators of style or discourse. We’ve also proposed that Halliday’s metafunctions of language can provide a framework for analysing keywords in terms of function. We can classify words as ideational, interpersonal, or textual. Though, some words may fit more than one category. In the next talk, we will put things into action.

This video-talk, though voiced by Jonathan Culpeper, incorporates the words of Sean Murphy.

A keyword analysis can be used to identify a style in any body of language data. Here, and in the next video-talk, the focus is on the styles of plays.

As a preliminary, and this is the focus of this video-talk, we are going to show you another way of thinking about groups of keywords, and in turn another way of thinking about differences in styles and discourses. This way of grouping keywords draws on Michael Halliday’s functional grammar, which describes three metafunctions of language: ideational (capturing how we construe the world), interpersonal (capturing how we relate to each other), and textual (capturing how we organize our texts, our language).

More extensive illustration of these groupings follows in the next video-talk. If you have any preliminary questions about the nature of those groups or anything else, do add them to the comments.

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Shakespeare's Language: Revealing Meanings and Exploring Myths

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