eMargin as an annotation tool for narrative analysis

This week I’m at the International Conference on Narrative at Manchester Metropolitan University. I will be talking about Early Modern English witness depositions and their narrative structure. Basically, I am studying the depositions given by witnesses which were recorded by scribes in written form, often before the actual proceedings were held in court. Now, while they were originally spoken texts, the scribes noted them down in written form and usually transformed them to some extent. For example, they would render them as third person narratives instead of first person ones and include different types of legal formulae and phrases in order to disambiguate certain references (see e.g. Kytö and Walker 2006, Kytö, Grund and Walker 2011).

For my study, I made use of the (collaborative) text annotation tool eMargin, which was developed by the Research and Development Unit for English Studies (RDUES) at Birmingham City University. eMargin is an online tool that is available for free and allows users to upload texts and then annotate them, for example, for qualitative linguistic analyses. It allows them to highlight parts of text in different colours, attribute functions to these colours and add comments to their annotations. In addition to colours, tags can be created and visualised in form of a tag cloud.

Now, while I am using eMargin for this project individually, it can also be used collaboratively through the function of groups. That is to say that several eMargin users can be added to the same group and then work on the annotation of a text collaboratively. While this is an option for specific research projects, it also lends itself very well for classroom activities. Thus, students could as part of reading and analysing a text, whether that is from a linguistic, literary or other point of view, annotate it together and thereby share their ideas on the use of particular constructions, themes, or passages.

Coming back to Early Modern English witness depositions, I used eMargin to annotate them specifically for their narrative structure. I started out from the Labovian (1972) narrative model which he derived from his recordings of spoken, first person narratives. While this model is based on contemporary data, I applied it to Early Modern English texts to see if the different sections of abstract, orientation, complicating action, resolution and coda can be identified in these primarly third person narratives too (see also Grund and Walker 2011). My main interest was, however, to find out what types of internal and external evaluation are attested in these texts and to draw some conclusions as to their purpose and use.


eMargin, developed by Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee, Research and Development Unit for English Studies, Birmingham City University. Available online at http://emargin.bcu.ac.uk/.

Grund, Peter J. and Walker, Terry. 2011. “Genre characteristics.” In Testifying to Language and Life in Early Modern England, Merja Kytö, Peter J. Grund and Terry Walker (eds), 15-56. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Kytö, Merja and Walker, Terry. 2006. Guide to A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760. Uppsala: Uppsala University.

Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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