Coming to CASS to code: The first two months

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After working at Waseda University in Japan for exactly 10 years, I was granted a one-year sabbatical in 2014 to concentrate on my corpus linguistics research. As my first choice of destination was Lancaster University, I was overjoyed to hear from Tony McEnery that the Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) would be able to offer me office space and access to some of the best corpus resources in the world. I have now been at CASS for two months and thought this would be a good time to report on my experience here to date.

Since arriving at CASS, I have been working on several projects. My main project here is the development of a new database architecture that will allow AntConc, my freeware corpus analysis toolkit, to process very large corpora in a fast and resource-light way. The strong connection between the applied linguistics and computer science at Lancaster has allowed me to work closely with some excellent computer science faculty and graduate students, including Paul Rayson, John Mariani, Stephen Wattam, and John Vidler. We just presented our first results at LREC 2014 in Reykjavik.

I’ve also been working closely with the CASS members, including Amanda Potts and Robbie Love, to develop a set of ‘mini’ corpus tools to help with the collection, cleaning, and processing of corpora. I have now released VariAnt, which is a tool that finds spelling variants in a corpus, and SarAnt, which allows multiple search-and-replace functions to be carried out in a corpus as a batch process. I am also just about to release TagAnt, which will finally give corpus linguists a simple and intuitive interface to popular freeware Part-Of-Speech (POS) tagging tools such TreeTagger. I am hoping to develop more of these tools to help the corpus linguists in CASS and around the world to help with the complex and time-consuming tasks that they have to perform each day.

I always expected that I would enjoy the time at Lancaster, but did not anticipate that I would enjoy it as much as I am. Lancaster University has a great campus, the research facilities are some of the best in the world, the CASS members have treated me like family since the day I arrived, and even the weather has been kind to me, with sunny days throughout April and May. I look forward to writing more about my projects here at CASS.

“My research trip to the CASS centre” by visiting PhD student Anna Mattfeldt

Several times a year, the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science welcomes visiting researchers, from PhD students to professors. Past visitors include Will Hamlin (Washington State University, USA) and Iuliia Rudych (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany); current visitors include Laurence Anthony (Waseda University, Japan) and Anna Mattfeldt (Heidelberg University, Germany). Before returning to her home university, Anna wanted to share a few thoughts about her experience here at CASS:


I am a PhD student from Heidelberg who has just spent eight wonderful weeks at Lancaster University on a research trip. Before I went, some friends and colleagues asked me why I would go to so much trouble when I could just as easily write my thesis back home in Heidelberg. In the following post, I will try to answer why a research trip to another country and another university was the right decision for me – and why I can absolutely recommend it to other PhD students as well. I would also like to thank my main supervisor, Prof. Ekkehard Felder, for giving me the great chance to spend these eight weeks of research here at Lancaster.

I am doing my PhD at the German department of Heidelberg University. We have been doing corpus linguistic research in discourse analysis for quite some time, with big thematic corpora like HeideKo that were collected for research and teaching purposes. A bilingual corpus project, focusing on the depiction of Europe in German and Hungarian newspapers, is currently under way with the German department of The ELTE in Budapest, Hungary.

We approach data from a mainly qualitative point of view, accompanied by quantitative analysis. We focus on so-called “semantic battles” in a pragma-semiotic approach, which means we try to find instances of disagreement or agreement between speakers and how they are played out on the linguistic surface-level. Some may come up so often in specific discourses that they can be seen as central to the discourse. We are interested in the concepts behind the discourse, and how we can deduce them from the actual linguistic devices used in texts.

In my PhD, I am looking at environmental media discourses (especially concerning Hurricane Sandy and hydraulic fracturing, the so-called “fracking” in the US, the UK and Germany), in order to do a linguistic discourse analysis. Moreover, I am trying to find a way to detect conflictive topics and concepts in the various discourses. So, for a project that focuses different languages, corpora, research questions, I need corpus linguistic software, like WMatrix, AntConc, CQPweb and WordSmith. My co-supervisor, Prof. Busse, recommended a stay with the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster University. The CASS centre at Lancaster is known for its high scientific expertise with huge corpora and different kinds of software. This is why I came up with the idea to also look for support somewhere else.

Hence I sent an email to Tony McEnery. To my great delight, after sending in a few documents, I was actually invited to come and do some research here. After figuring everything out at work, sending applications for scholarships to fund all this and chatting online with local property owners, I finally arrived on the 15th February and spent eight amazing weeks here.

The CASS centre has helped me a lot in my research, especially with tricky data. I was also confronted with lots of interesting ideas, and I loved the atmosphere of picking one another’s brains and inspiring one another. I liked the working atmosphere, the many interesting talks that were given, and the wonderful library with all the literature of the different fields, and last but not least the beautiful campus in an idyllic landscape. I was inspired to work more closely with quantitative approaches and to see how they could be used to see the bigger concepts “between the lines”. I also got a lot of my analysis done, made a lot of progress and still managed to see a bit of England as well during the weekends.

Thus, I can wholeheartedly recommend going abroad during a PhD for a research trip:

  • You get to talk to experts who can help you find solutions for the challenges you have been stuck with.
  • You get lots of new ideas just by talking to different people, being in a new environment or experiencing a different research philosophy.
  • Believe it or not, it immensely furthers the writing process to work in a new environment without any distractions.
  • If you are going to a country with a different language than your own, it is a great opportunity to brush up your language skills.
  • You broaden your horizons by living abroad, not only as far as your PhD is concerned.

So if you feel that you can profit in any way by going abroad, I recommend you do that – and hopefully come to Heidelberg! If you have any further questions concerning my project or visiting Heidelberg University for your own research trip, just send me an email (anna.mattfeldt at gs.uni-heidelberg.de).


Are you interested in being a visiting researcher/scholar at CASS? Email us at cass(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancs.ac.uk to discuss research aims and availability.

Summer visitors to the Centre

This summer, we have had the pleasure of hosting two visitors at the centre. Read a bit about them and their experiences here in Lancaster, in their own words below.


hamlin

My name is Will Hamlin, and I am a Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Washington State University. I was a visiting researcher at CASS/UCREL during late May and early June 2013.

At the time I was beginning a new project on the micro-evolution of religious language in English during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and I found the Centre to be an extremely productive place to work. Paul Rayson (Director of UCREL, CI at CASS), made me feel very much at home, and I met and talked with quite a few faculty and staff members who were unfailingly helpful.

As a literary historian I knew nothing about the analytic techniques of corpus linguistics, but I learned a good deal during the short time I was at the Centre, and I’ve learned much more since I left — mostly by following up on readings and suggestions provided by various faculty members with whom I’ve corresponded, in particular CASS Co-Investigator Jonathan Culpeper, Alison Findlay, and CASS Deputy Centre Director Andrew Hardie.

My general impression is that CASS and UCREL, and especially the CREME group (Corpus Research in Early Modern English), is comprised of people who are very active in their respective fields and extremely open to interdisciplinary conversation. I felt entirely welcome there and I hope to return for another visit in the near future.


rudych

My name is Iuliia Rudych and I’m visiting the Centre in August and September 2013. I am from a beautiful country – Ukraine. I am 22 years old and currently I am a Masters student in English Language and Linguistics at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in Germany. I am a member of Rotaract Club, an international youth charity organization, which is sponsored by Rotary International. I like travelling and exploring interesting places. I like reading, playing the piano and snowboarding as well.

The project I am working on at the moment is Changing Climates, which is a corpus-based investigation of discourses around global warming, energy and mobilities. The focus of my research is the changes of climate in Russia, discovering how the problem of climate change in general, ecosystems and the natural environment are discussed in the public sphere in Russia.

This is my first time in the UK and I am very glad to be here. I expected nasty weather, but Britain is welcoming me with lovely weather. The accent is so charming here and people pronounce London as /Lundn/ which seems to be so sweet. I hope I can immerse myself in the English culture more within my staying here!


Check back periodically for more news on researchers joining our Centre for visits throughout the year. If you are interested in visiting CASS yourself, feel free to email us at cass(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancs.ac.uk to discuss research aims and availability.