Tuesday 20 February 2018 – Ruth Byrne – The Language of Migration in the Victorian Press: A Corpus Linguistic Approach

Venue: John S Cohen Room, N203

Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

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Ruth Byrne (Lancaster)

Trends towards digitisation have generated a wealth of resources for historians. However, this abundance can very swiftly become overwhelming. A search for the term ‘alien’ or ‘refugee’ in a digitised newspaper can produce hundreds of thousands of hits. One means of digesting this historical ‘big data’ is corpus linguistics, the computer assisted analysis of language in bodies of text which are too large to feasibly analyse by hand and eye alone. It is fairly ubiquitous in Linguistics, but is only really beginning to be utilised by historians. It can allow us to take a multifaceted approach to large texts, moving forwards and backwards between, for example, individual sentences and a whole newspaper run. It also can help us to detect language patterns which we might miss during a manual reading.

My research explores the potential of corpus linguistics as an approach to the British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspaper Collection, examining the language used to discuss immigrants and refugees in the Victorian press. This paper will summarise some of my findings. It will primarily focus upon how techniques such as collocation and concordance analysis can be used to explore the associations of the figure of the ‘alien’, who became the focus of much debate prior to the introduction of the 1905 Aliens Act. Although my research draws upon a selection of newspapers, this paper will specifically focus upon the Pall Mall Gazette and Reynolds’ Newspaper.


Ruth Byrne is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University in receipt of an ESRC CASE studentship in partnership with the British Library. Although her work now has a linguistic focus, she is a historian by training and is interesting in research which crosses disciplinary boundaries.

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