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Consumption patterns and life-style in Swedish literature – novels 1830-1860

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Project description

The research program has two specific goals: Firstly to deepen the knowledge of the creation of the consumer society, and Secondly to develop new methods by the use of literature during the period 1830-1860 as a main source for understanding the context of consumption in this period.

In order to accomplish this it is crucial to analyze a rather large amount of books. One of the most important methods for this is to use full text databases. In our research program we have successfully used Litteraturbanken (a digital repository of classical Swedish literature in scientifically validated editions) where some older Swedish novels have been digitized and more texts are being added continuously. So far we have used the database search facility for searching for words for objects like porcelain, mirrors, furniture, clocks and so on. These items are example of the new way of living among average people. The novels also provide a context, that is how, why and by whom the new consumer items were used. The aim is to study the “new way of life” mirrored in the new romantic literature and analyze the descriptions in the texts against what we know of actual consumption from other sources. Another important task for the research program is to reconstruct the new world-view and life-style of the emerging modern citizen.

After consultation with colleagues in natural language processing, specifically in Språkbanken – a language resource and language technology tool providing unit at the University of Gothenburg – we are led to believe that it would be within the capabilities of today’s state of the art to ask for a semantically organized lexical resource with a morphological analysis component. Språkbanken already has a digitized version of Dalin’s dictionary, a large Swedish dictionary originally published in 1850–1853, reflecting the language of the novels, a language which is markedly different from today’s Swedish in vocabulary, morphology and spelling. There is at present no morphological analysis module for this historical language variety, but one could be developed fairly quickly on the basis of the modern Swedish morphology module developed for the SALDO modern Swedish lexical resource (the morphology of 19th century and modern Swedish differ in details, but agree in general structure). This would allow text access on the level of lexical entries, rather than text words, already a gain for researchers working with these texts. In addition, with a limited amount of additional work, most entries in Dalin‘s dictionary could be linked to the corresponding entries in SALDO, which would provide access to the thesaurus structure of SALDO, enabling a kind of semantic search, which we believe will be very useful for our research. This would also provide access to the texts through the modern spelling, an additional decided advantage.

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