06/03/2014 Order! Order! Researchers to study Parliamentary language
Linguistics experts are launching the first project to measure how UK Parliamentary language has changed over the past 200 years.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow will analyse over 2.3 billion words compiled from Parliamentary speeches made between 1803 and 2003 and use them to chart the popularity of various topics such as war, honesty, honour, homosexuality and terrorism.
The research hopes to build up a picture of when and why certain topics are raised in Parliament and how their use and significance has evolved over time. They will also be looking at how the language of individual MPs changed over the course of their terms in office.
The 15 month project use Hansard, the official Westminster records, which contain reports of all Parliamentary speeches, votes, ministerial statements and parliamentary questions given in the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The project is split into two phases; in the first researchers will develop a computer programme which is capable of sorting through and aggregating the huge amounts of lexical data.
In the second part of the project, the team will use the software to home in on key phrases and concepts that recur in the corpus over time. By measuring the frequency and context of the appearances, they will build up the most detailed analysis yet of the shifting concerns of Parliament over the past two centuries.
Lead Investigator, Dr Marc Alexander from the University of Glasgow, said: “Today we are recording more information than ever before and having all this information at our fingertips is potentially very useful if we know how to analyse it effectively. What this project is allowing us to do is develop a more sophisticated analysis technique for searching through big sets of data and identifying what’s important.
“Looking at Hansard will hopefully reveal big-scale patterns in our society and culture. We will use it to analyse how Parliament anticipates or reacts to major global events and social issues. We can even use it to look at how the language of individuals, such as Thatcher or Churchill, changed over the course of their political careers.”
The technology developed as part of the SAMUELS (Semantic Annotation and Mark-Up for Enhancing Lexical Searches) project can also be applied to other texts, opening up the potential for future research on many different texts.
The project is being funded by the investment by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in Big Data, which addresses the challenges of working with large data sources and making such information more accessible and easier to interpret by a lay audience.
First published: 6 March 2014