“Language and Linguistic Evidence in The 1641 Depositions”

This project aims to explore how a computer environment can be created in which scholars interested in historical and corpus linguistics can work collaboratively with historians and other specialists to interrogate the 1641 Depositions, in ways not currently possible, by exploiting effective language technology. The principal objective of the project is to create a personalised computer environment in which linguistic researchers can conduct sophisticated discovery, analysis and visualisation of the digitised 1641 Depositions, and collaborate in real time with colleagues on these resources. The long-term outcome of this research can help to drive a revolution in the way linguistic and historical research is conducted in the Digital Humanities. 

Recorded in Early Modern English, the Depositions provide evidence of linguistic variation in Ireland on the micro-level, while on the macro-level they represent (quasi-)legal discourse and the discourse of massacre. EME variability coupled with shifting voices in the Depositions present linguists (and computer analysts) with particular challenges and will require considerable interdisciplinary consultation.

Within the overall aims of the project, the specific linguistic objectives are as follows: to develop language models for seventeenth-century English in Ireland; to develop ontologies of seventeenth-century English, surnames and place names; to investigate the possibility of localizing morphological and lexical variants in mediated text; to investigate 17th century legal discourse as it is represented in the texts, with particular attention to the framing of the discourse, leading to a linguistic assessment of the quality and nature of the evidence in the Depositions; and to investigate the discourse of massacre, atrocity and ethnic cleansing presented in the witness testimony.

Extended contact between specialists in a variety of fields, from Computer Science to History, to Atrocity Studies, to Linguistics, and between industry and academia, is an outstanding feature of this proposal, which hinges upon real knowledge exchange and resource enhancement.