The 11th Sinclair Lecture was delivered by Professor Michaela Mahlberg, Chair in Corpus Linguistics and Director of the Centre for Corpus Research.
This year’s Sinclair lecture was also Professor Mahlberg’s inaugural lecture to mark her new position at the University of Birmingham.
John Sinclair was one of the founding fathers of corpus linguistics - a discipline that has radically changed theories about language and approaches to the study language. Research in corpus linguistics uses computer-assisted methods to identify and quantify patterns in naturally occurring language data.
Since the early days of corpus linguistics developments in computing power and the increasing availability of data have contributed to pushing the boundaries of corpus linguistics. Probably most importantly, corpus methods are becoming increasingly relevant beyond linguistics and across disciplines to help us make sense of diverse sets of language data.
This year’s Sinclair lecture considered the potential and challenges of this development in view of the tension between reading a particular text and looking at the cumulative picture provided by texts. The cross-disciplinary nature of corpus linguistics was illustrated specifically with examples from the study of Dickens’s fiction and the socio-cultural context of the time.