Talking Business

Most action in a business context is carried out through language and as such communication can be said to constitute the foundation of organisations. Language is not exclusively a medium through which we transmit information in both spoken and written form but it also contributes to our construction of identity and interpersonal relations. Consequently, language use is a form of social action and when we speak we therefore act. Today we increasingly do so on social media.

Over the last few years, I’ve been researching such speech acts in blogs and microblogs to show how they can be more easily identified in large data collections and how language has adapted to the online environment. While this is of interest regarding language use in general, my most recent research project is specifically aimed at the language used for business communication purposes on social media. Especially in the field of customer communication, it is essential to know which linguistic behaviour triggers positive or negative reactions and how to separate positive from negative comments in a reliable manner.

This is where corpus linguistic studies can help. Corpus linguistics facilitates, on the one hand, the quantitative analysis of large samples of data, while, on the other hand, allowing for the analysis to consider the context in which linguistic constructions appear. Thus, contrary to other methodological approaches, texts are not broken up into single words but studied in their entire, original form. This is important as function words, which are often not regarded as carrying significant meaning, may determine whether a comment is positive or negative (e.g. Your service is shit vs Your new app is the shit, see Lutzky and Kehoe 2016).

In our previous studies, we started out from the concept of collocation, which is the calculation of the probability with which words appear in each other’s vicinity, in order to distinguish between often very different uses of words. We then introduced the new calculation of shared and unique collocates, i.e. the comparison of collocates that a word shares with others and those that distinguish them from each other. This innovative approach to the study of collocation allows for different uses of the same word to be separated in large corpora in order to narrow down the sentiments expressed by bloggers and microbloggers. For more information, see Lutzky and Kehoe (2016, 2017).

Panel at IPra 2017 in Belfast

Knowing me and knowing you

Reference and identity markers in public discourse

organised by Minna Nevala, University of Helsinki and Ursula Lutzky, Vienna University of Economics and Business

This panel studies the use of labelling in texts intended to be public, as reflected in their accessibility or distribution in the public domain. It approaches the importance of reference and identity markers in both synchronic and diachronic data and investigates their contribution to the construction of a potentially evaluative stance. The data studied will draw on a variety of text types and contexts, including newspapers, online media, political communication, business or legal texts, and therefore allow for a range of ‘real world’ settings to be considered, aligning the focus of this workshop with the conference’s overall theme.

The public nature of the data allows for self and other reference to be studied in contexts, where the exact composition of the audience may not be fully known. Nevertheless, considerations of ratified and unratified participants (cf. Goffman 1976; Lugo-Ocando 2015) will have affected the (potentially strategic) use of terms of address and reference and led to the creation of specific stylistic and pragmatic effects in diverse discourse situations. By studying these effects, it is the aim of this workshop to uncover new insights into discourse specific labelling patterns, both from a historical and present-day perspective, and to discuss their impact on self and other representation in the construction of identity in public texts. Social identities and intergroup relations are usually manifested in the so-called in-group and out-group discourse. Impoliteness, and negative labelling in particular, entails creating and maintaining negative impressions, which can be aided or achieved through the use of ‘labels of primary potency’ (Allport 1986). This means that certain characteristics, like male/female or criminal/law-abiding, carry more perceptual potency than others, and signal difference from what is considered mainstream (e.g. moral distinctiveness). While the diachronic dimension of this panel will allow for trends to be observed in the development of certain reference markers, the synchronic approach will facilitate the immediate application of findings to enhance our understanding and use of reference practices in more or less institutionalised contexts.

Allport, Gordon (1986). “The language of prejudice”. In Language Awareness, Paul Escholz, Alfred Rosa and Virginia Clark (eds), 261-270. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Goffman, Erving (1976). “Replies and responses”. Language in Society 5/3, 257-313.
Lugo-Ocando, Jairo (2015). Blaming the Victim: How Global Journalism Fails Those in Poverty. London: Pluto Press.

ESSE Book Award 2014



Award in Category B:

Lutzky, Ursula. Discourse Markers in Early Modern English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2012.

The book is an extensive corpus-based study that offers a very thorough, systematic and clear analysis of three discourse markers (marry, well, why) in Early Modern English.

Although the topic of discourse markers has received more than ample attention in both pragmatics and historical pragmatics, this study succeeds in providing valuable new insights by analysing three large multi-genre corpora, including the annotated Drama Corpus. The three discourse markers have been analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively, taking into account their frequency, functions, text-type and sociopragmatic distribution in terms of social status and gender.

The literature review offers an excellent, focused overview of the relevant domain, where the author has thoroughly analysed and commented upon the previous research, and clearly set her theoretical, methodological and terminological stance.

Each methodological choice that was made is elaborately justified, and the (quantitative and qualitative) analyses have been carried out meticulously. The sociopragmatic analysis is rare in historical corpus linguistics, but has been approached with apt attention for methodological issues, and may serve as a model for future research. The only drawback to the sociopragmatic analysis is that it considers each of the relevant factors separately without considering potential interrelations, but this limitation has been pointed out by the author herself as well.

Not burdened with overwhelming quantitative data, yet providing sufficient illustrative tables and charts to support the claims, the book excels in well-organized structure and coherent argumentation. Moreover, it is generally well-written, in a clear, precise and readable style.

The Committee has unanimously decided that this is a book that deserves the first prize.

The Virtual Theorist – a resource for studying literary theory

Over the summer I contributed to a project called The Virtual Theorist which aims to discuss and illustrate different approaches to the interpretation and analysis of literary texts. It introduces a variety of literary theories and shows how these theories can be applied when studying a specific literary text, in this case the poem ‘Goblin Market’ by Christina Rossetti.

My own contribution discusses the linguistic subdiscipline of Literary Linguistics or Stylistics and in the analysis of the poem I use a corpus stylistic methodology. While corpus stylistics is a methodology that has been applied, for example, in the study of novels and short stories, poems are a type of text that is usually not studied in this way. By using the tools available through WebCorp, I show how corpus linguistic means allow us to view a poem from a different perspective and add to our understanding of its themes, its use of word clusters or characterisation. You can find the introduction to Literary Linguistics, the analysis of the poem and a sample bibliography here:

(Note that this webpage was designed primarily for undergraduates.)

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

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.

Stylistic analyses with WebCorp

WebCorp is a set of tools that allows the study of the world wide web as a corpus and while it was initially developed to fulfill exactly this function, it can do much more. In fact, it is an ideal means when it comes to carrying out stylistic studies. All that is needed is a text in electronic form.

I have been using WebCorp for this purpose for three years now in my module Literary Linguistics at BCU. It is a convenient tool to be used in teaching, obviously, as it is available for free online and as more and more literary texts can be accessed in electronic form, it lends itself for the analysis of their features from a linguistic perspective.

How so? Well, WebCorp includes, for example, the wordlist tool function which allows a list of all words included in a text to be created and ranked according to their frequency. This, of course, can give readers but also analysts a first indication of who the main characters in a text are, what activities they engage in and what the general topic of a text is. Subsequently, this may lead into more detailed studies of semantic fields or transitivity processes. The wordlist tool, furthermore, offers the option of studying Ngrams, that is the sequence in which words (between 2 and 5) occur in a text and the frequency with which they are attested. Thus, in addition to individual tokens, also the study of word clusters is enabled and can lead to insightful results, for example, in the field of characterisation.

Additionally, through the advanced options in the search function, WebCorp equally allows the search for collocations to be restricted to a specific site, which in the case of a stylistic study can be a chosen literary text. Through this tool, specific words can be search for in a text and the output will show them attested in context, which by default is fifty characters to the left and right of the chosen word. Now, while one may already know which word’s collocations might be interesting to study, it is equally possible that one approaches an unknown text and hence does not have a clue as to which words to search for. In the latter case, doing a wordlist of the text first can be advantageous, as it provides a list of examples ranked by frequency.

I like using the collocation search function to find out more about characterisation. I do so by choosing the name of a character as my search term and then sort the concordance list, that is my output, according to the words in first position to the right or left of a character’s name. This can indicate, for example, which adjectives are used to describe a character or which verbs are used to account for their actions.

Some of the main advantages of using WebCorp are that it is available everywhere, anytime, online, and for free. This of course speaks in favour of WebCorp compared to other software packages which need to be purchased and might not be a priority when it comes to a department’s budget. Furthermore, WebCorp does not have to be downloaded and stored on a device but can be simply used in a browser – an advantage if download rights are restricted to certain members of staff, who may not always be available to meet your spontaneous course planning needs. Specifically in the field of stylistics, WebCorp can facilitate the study of several different aspects of a text, including but not being limited to, characterisation, transitivity theory, lexical choice, collocation, or grammar and style. What I consider particularly fascinating is that it can be used for any type of text, may it be novels, chapters of novels, short stories, plays or even poems. The possibilities are endless… So, what are you waiting for?

A sociopragmatic study of surprise markers in Early Modern English

I have been invited to a panel about “The role of identity in discourse-pragmatic variation and change” to be held at the i-Mean@UWE conference in Bristol, 18-20 April 2013. My panel contribution allows me to dig a bit deeper in the area of historical discourse marker research from a gender perspective. In one of my previous studies on the discourse marker why and its functions, I found that this marker was mainly used by male characters to signal surprise on the part of the speaker in Early Modern English (EModE) drama comedy. Since then, I have been wondering whether surprise markers in this EModE text type may show a gender-specific distribution; that is to say whether some of them are more frequently attested in male characters’ speech, whereas others are more commonly used by female characters. This is the question that I will attempt to answer during my talk in Bristol, as you can also see from my abstract:

A sociopragmatic study of surprise markers in Early Modern English

In previous research, discourse markers were often related to the sociolinguistic variable gender. Thus, it was said that prototypical discourse markers are gender specific and more frequently used by women (e.g. Brinton 1996, Lakoff 1975). However, different studies arrived at contrasting results, including historical studies analysing dramatic discourse: while Akimoto (2000) found the discourse marker pray to predominate in male characters’ speech in Farquhar’s plays, Demmen (2009) showed that the construction I pray you was statistically more frequent in female characters’ speech in her Shakespearean data.

In this study, I will focus on one particular pragmatic function of discourse markers and that is signalling surprise on the part of the speaker. In particular, I will elaborate on a previous study (Lutzky forthcoming) in which I found the discourse marker why with a surprise function to be more frequently used by males than females in Early Modern English drama comedy. By studying other forms with this function, I aim to find out whether surprise markers show a gender specific distribution and which of them are attested predominantly in female characters’ speech.

This study will be based on the sociopragmatically annotated Drama Corpus of Early Modern English (EModE), which builds on the Sociopragmatic Corpus and comprises drama comedy samples by a range of different authors from the period 1500 to 1760. I will draw on the sociopragmatic annotation of this corpus to study the surprise function of discourse markers in relation to the variables gender and social roles, both of which are reflected in the turn-by-turn annotation of the corpus for both the speaker and the addressee. The aim of this study is, consequently, to discover whether gender or social role specific tendencies can be identified for the fictional representation of a particular discourse marker function in EModE drama comedy.


Akimoto, M. 2000. “The grammaticalization of the verb ‘pray’”. In Fischer O., Rosenbach A., and Stein D. (eds.) Pathways of Change. Grammaticalization in English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Brinton, L. 1996. Pragmatic Markers in English. Grammaticalization and Discourse Functions. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Demmen, J.E.J. 2009. “Charmed and Chattering Tongues: Investigating the Functions and Effects of Key Word Clusters in the Dialogue of Shakespeare’s Female Characters”. Unpublished MA dissertation, Lancaster University, U.K.

Lakoff, R. 1975. Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaries. London: Harper and Row.

Lutzky, Ursula. Forthcoming. “Early Modern English discourse markers – a feature of female speech?” In Mazzon G. and Fodde L. (eds.). Perspectives on Early English Dialogue. Case Studies in Historical Pragmatics. Naples: Franco AngeliEditore.

Sociopragmatic Corpus. 2007. Annotated Under the Supervision of Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster University). A Derivative of A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560–1760, Compiled Under the Supervision of Merja Kytö (Uppsala University) and Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster University).