Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics

Characterisation in the representation of speech and body language from a corpus linguistic perspective

The CLiC Dickens project demonstrates through corpus stylistics how computer-assisted methods can be used to study literary texts and lead to new insights into how readers perceive fictional characters. As part of the project we are developing the web app CLiC, designed specifically for the analysis of literary texts. CLiC Dickens started at the University of Nottingham in 2013, it is now a collaborative project with the University of Birmingham.

Visit the CLiC website.


Overview: Corpus Linguistics and Cognitive Poetics

The computer-assisted study of literary texts is not new, nevertheless approaches that genuinely integrate corpus linguistic and literary concerns are still rare. There is a real challenge of addressing research questions that both move the discipline forward and simultaneously require the design of new tools.

In this project, the methods we employ and develop are mainly situated in the wider field of corpus linguistics, in which digitised versions of texts and customised software are used to find recurrent textual patterns which operate both above and below the level of explicit conscious awareness. Many frequently-occurring literary patterns fall below consciousness, and yet have been demonstrated to have lingering readerly effects and important consequences for the process of characterisation. This insight has important implications for the cognitive poetic work of literary linguists, as we will show with our project. We suggest an innovative approach by combining corpus linguistic methods with research questions from cognitive poetics, specifically the way that readers engage in 'mind-modelling' in the process of characterisation.

The CLiC tool

The current project aims to significantly extend our previous work by developing a tool - CLiC - that supports the analysis of fictional speech and literary body language. CLiC (Corpus Linguistics in Cheshire) will be a freely available web-based tool. Initially, the texts that can be searched will be Dickens’s novels and novels written by other 19th century authors. CLiC enables the user to search in particular parts of the texts, e.g. in quotes, which typically contain the direct speech if fictional characters in the novels.


Events, Conferences and Workshops

The project team are giving talks at a number of conferences and workshops in 2014-2015



At this year’s ICAME36 conference in Trier (27-31 May 2015), Johan de Joode, Michaela Mahlberg & Peter Stockwell won the Stig Johansson prize for best poster.

For information on the CLiC project see the project website.

Public engagement

Public lecture

Professor Michaela Mahlberg from the School of English will deliver her Inaugural Lecture "Applying Corpus Linguistics". The Lecture will be hosted by Professor Stephen Mumford, Dean of the Faculty of Arts. After the Inaugural Lecture there will be a reception in the Senate Chamber. Please register your attendance using the link above.

Applying Corpus Linguistics: exploring language and literature

Corpus linguistics investigates language on the basis of electronically stored samples of naturally occurring language. The focus on natural data emphasises the social dimension of language. In contrast to made-up examples, the texts in a corpus are used by people in real communicative situations. So corpus linguistics can contribute to the investigation of what people do with language and how they view the world. Corpus data is stored electronically in a format that allows further processing with computer tools. The data can be searched and displayed in a number of ways, and the computer makes it possible to look at language from different points of view. The lecture will discuss how the application of corpus linguistic methods and concepts affects our linguistic world view. In particular, it will explore the fuzzy boundaries between literary and non-literary texts looking at examples from Dickens’s novels. 


Open educational resources

Find out more about fictional minds in the video trailer below, and in this MOOC resource.

Project team

Collaborative partners


Advisory panel:

Arts and Humanties Research Council


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Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics

The University of Nottingham

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5900
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 5924