Chapter published in:Keeping in Touch: Emigrant letters across the English-speaking world
Edited by Raymond Hickey
[Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics 10] 2019
► pp. 87–118
Chapter 5Homesickness, recollections and reunions
Topics and emotions in a corpus of female Irish emigrant correspondence
This study uses corpus and computational methods to explore topics and emotions in a collection of nineteenth-century migrant correspondence. Specifically, it examines letters by two sisters, Annie and Julia Lough, who migrated from Ireland to America in the late 1870s and early 1880s. First, a close reading of the letters is carried out to identify topics and emotions in the discourse. Then, three topics are examined in detail (“Homesickness and Separation”, “Recollection” and “Reunion”), using the Interesting Items Visualisation Tool (IIVT) and Sketch Engine to identify local grammars – words, phrases and structures that are statistically more likely to occur in one topic over another. Our findings show that certain linguistic patterns emerge. For example, in the topic “Homesickness and Separation”, the material verbs CROSS, COME and GO are used when writing about the physicality of separation, while the mental verbs SEEM, LOOK, SEE and WISH are used when writing about psychological aspects of homesickness. Additionally, verbs to do with remembering, forgetting and dreaming (or not dreaming) are statistically significant in the topic “Recollection”. Although working with a very small dataset, our findings demonstrate how this type of analysis might complement more qualitative methods, providing insight into what female migrants wrote about and how, through language, they maintained relationships with family back home.
Keywords: Migration history, Irish migration, nineteenth-century correspondence, migrant letters, corpus linguistics, visualization tools, emotions history, social history
- 2.The Lough letters
- 3.1Topic annotation
- 3.2Interesting items analysis
- 4.1Semantic domains
- 4.3Part of speech
- 5.Discussion and conclusion
Published online: 28 November 2019
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