Monthly Archives: October 2006

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey as a linguistic corpus

One of the suggestions given after I delivered my paper on the history of multiple negation at the Perspectives on Prescriptivism syposium in Ragusa earlier this year was that I might find some useful spoken language data in this database. So I decided to spent some time searching the Old Bailey records. At first sight it looks like a wonderful resource, but I soon discovered a number of problems. To begin with, the database is not searchable for high-frequency words such as no or not. Neither proved less frequent, which allowed me to search for the kind of construction that I know is still regularly used in the eighteenth century. I thus found instances like: "but not so drunk neither" (1727) and "but the Money was not ready then neither" (1733). One instance was particularly useful, as the speaker identified himself as a servant (this was the kind of information I was actually looking for), and it is moreover also possible to identify the sex of the speaker. But other than that I found there was little I could do with the information found. There do seem to be increasing numbers of instances as the century progresses, but there is no way I can relate absolute numbers to amount of text. I would say therefore that the database is of limited use, other than to discover that a particular form or construction is indeed used in reported speech, by men as well as women and by people accused of having committed a crime (which does not of course assign them to any particular social class).

But I also found that parts of the text were scanned but not subsequently corrected, so that long <s> at times occurs as <f>, and nor as not. I have the impression that things got better the further I progressed into the eighteenth century, but it is worrying all the same.

I’d be interested in learning about other people’s experiences with this databse.

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Monthly Lunch Meetings

For the 7th Monthly Lunch Meeting, Klaske van Leyden will give a presentation on her paper "The linguistic situation in Orkney and Shetland."  Everyone who is interested is welcome to attend on the 17th of November from 12 to 1 in room 1168/005.


Penny Post

According to Lynda Mugglestone, in her own chapter on nineteenth-century English (Lynda Mugglestone, ed., The Oxford History of English, just out), the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 led to a phenomenal increase of private letters. While in 1839, approximately 75 million letters were sent, ten years later this figure had risen to 347 million! Quite a few of those should be available for the historical sociolinguist to analyse: very promising indeed (Mugglestone 2006:276).

Project presentation

On the 13th of October we presented the project to fellow scholars in the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. For the results of the past year, see the attached file. Download file

Monthly Lunch Meetings

The Codifiers and the English Language have started their Monthly Lunch Meetings again. The next meeting will be on 20 October from 12 to 1 in building 1168 room 005. Annegien Theunissen will be our speaker and will present her paper "Criteria of word classification in Japanese grammars in the 18th and 19th century."

All those who are interested are welcome to attend!

Compulsory grammar lessons in English public school

The Education Guardian reports that the head of Brighton College, Richard Cairns, has introduced compulsory grammar lessons in his school as he had noticed the lack of grounding in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Most interestingly, the task of teaching the basics of grammar to the pupils has been allocated to classics rather than English teachers. Follow the link to read the article:,,1891979,00.html