Linguistic DNA.

The name is odd, but the description is enticing: “Linguistic DNA seeks to understand the evolution of early modern thought by modelling the semantic and conceptual changes which occurred in English printed discourse between c.1500 and c.1800.” The About page has more:

For the early part of our period, we are working with the ca. 58,000 texts digitised as part of the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership collaboration (EEBO-TCP). From 1700, our major source is Gale Cengage’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). These resources allow an unprecedented level of comprehensiveness in the analysis of language, semantics, and conceptual history in the Early Modern period. The project applies computational tools to these resources to analyse details of Early Modern English vocabulary and semantics, including instances of social and cultural keywords and their shifting frequencies, meanings, and uses in various contexts over time. The result will be a rigorous, systematic, and scientific account of Early Modern conceptual history via its linguistic data.

In addition, the project also incorporates the recently completed Historical Thesaurus of English. The thesaurus serves as a taxonomy of language history as it is captured in the Oxford English Dictionary; it organises the 793,000 word senses in the OED and other sources into semantic categories, which can nest inside wider categories in a taxonomy up to twelve layers tall. As such, the architecture and database of the thesaurus are key to identifying concepts in the texts explored in this project.

Using the resources described above, it is possible to discern trends, relationships, and anomalies across an enormous amount of linguistic data to identify the often surprising complexities, continuities, and discontinuities inherent to linguistic and conceptual change.

I look forward to seeing what they come up with. Thanks, Stan!


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