Taking a Sip from a Corpus

By Laura Vivanco on

Phraseology and Style in Subgenres of the Novel: A Synthesis of Corpus and Literary Perspectives, edited by Iva Novakova and Dirk Siepmann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), is the result of

a four-year collaborative research project PhraseoRom on the phraseology of contemporary novels, co-funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). It is one of the few international projects to truly bring together researchers from both literary studies and linguistics. The book, whose ten chapters report on selected results of this project, revolves around a detailed analysis and classification of recurrent fiction-specific patterns found in fictional genres and their general functions, as revealed by sophisticated corpus-driven enquiry. It focuses both on patterns found in the novel generally and genre-specific patterns shared by various literary genres. (v)

This isn't an approach I've ever used, and I can't say I understand the methodology, but it clearly can throw up some intriguing patterns:

the expression take a sip [... is] much more common [...] in romance novels [...] than in the other genres. It suggests an affinity between take a sip and the “romantic universe” typically created in this genre. A closer look at the examples, however, reveals that alcoholic beverages are not necessarily what is consumed by the characters in this genre. In fact, we find roughly the same statistical distribution for the expression take a sip used with all kinds of beverages (including coffee, tea, water, etc.) before sorting and after sorting for the same expression when used with terms denoting alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, whisky, vodka, etc.). These findings suggest that it is the manner of drinking expressed by the motif take a sip rather than any particular type of drink that is characteristic of English romance novels—which empirically supports the assumption that certain demeanours on the part of the characters may be deemed typical of a particular literary genre. In French, siroter (to sip) when followed by a noun referring to alcohol plays a similar role and is in fact well represented in romances. (143-144)


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