Usage Fluctuation Analysis
A new way of analysing shifts in historical discourse
This article introduces a methodology for the diachronic analysis of large historical corpora, Usage Fluctuation Analysis (UFA). UFA looks at the fluctuation of the usage of a word as observed through collocation. It presupposes neither a commitment to a specific semantic theory, nor that the results will focus solely on semantics. We focus, rather, upon a word’s usage. UFA considers large amounts of evidence about usage, through time, as made available by historical corpora, displaying fluctuation in word usage in the form of a graph. The paper provides guidelines for the interpretation of UFA graphs and provides three short case studies applying the technique to (i) the analysis of the word its and (ii) two words related to social actors, whore and harlot. These case studies relate UFA to prior, labour intensive, corpus and historical analyses. They also highlight the novel observations that the technique affords.
Keywords: collocation, time series data, usage change, Early Modern English, non-parametric regression
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Published online: 01 November 2019
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