"On Quoting ..." a Corpus-Based Study on the Phraseology of Well-Known Quotations

Topics: Hamlet, Phrase, The Breach Pages: 24 (9017 words) Published: January 2, 2013
"On quoting ..."
A corpus-based study on the phraseology of well-known quotations

Sixta Quassdorf
Department of English
University of Basel

Quotations are an interesting linguistic phenomenon in at least two respects: firstly they link ordinary language with the language of the poets, and secondly they typically represent creativity within formulaicity. To study quotations in more detail, a database of quotations from and allusions to Shakespeare's Hamlet, one of the most often-quoted literary artefacts, is being built at the University of Basel. The construction of the database is outlined and a first example of application is delivered. The study on historical phraseology concentrates on three lines from Hamlet, which despite their common source and their conceptual similarity vary considerably in their domains and periods of re-application. It is suggested that semantic, rhetoric, syntactic and discourse functional factors influence the choice of quotational use.

The title of this article defines its topic in two ways: it does not only denote it, but it is also an exemplification: On quoting is itself a quotation, which alludes to Bernard Levin's little sketch "On quoting Shakespeare" (Levin 1986: 98-9). There the author embedded some 40 quotations from Shakespearean plays into the reiterated formula of "if you [... say so-and-so ...] you are quoting Shakespeare." He thus echoes the widespread assumption that phrases such as "to vanish into thin air" from The Tempest (act IV scene 1) or "to make a virtue of necessity" from The Two Gentlemen of Verona (IV i) have become a natural part of the English language and that most people will no longer be aware of the fact that they are quoting. In other words, Levin suggests that quotations may leave their original context and become part of the English phrase stock. Shakespeare's influence on the English language has frequently been postulated on the grounds of intuitive perception or by more or less selective or even anecdotal accounts (cf. Bloomfield 1976, Bradley 1904, Jespersen 1958). To approach the question of how and why quotations from Shakespeare are conventionalised in a valid scholarly way, evidence from contexts outside the domains of Shakespeare criticism or performance history has to be traced and analysed. To such an end, a corpus of quotations from and allusions to one of Shakespeare's texts, Hamlet, is being built as a research tool for empirical studies in quotation theory and intertextuality studies by linguists, literary and cultural scholars.

2The HyperHamlet database
2.1Purpose and design
The HyperHamlet database has been developed to serve several purposes - most importantly to trace cultural history and the where, when, why and how a famous poet is quoted. The project team decided to concentrate on quotations from and allusions to Hamlet as it is allegedly Shakespeare's best known drama. However, the database is not only meant to simply collect quotations from Hamlet, but also to serve as a master plan for a future HyperShakespeare, or to be adapted to a HyperBible or a HyperHomer database to name only a few possible further applications. HyperHamlet offers the user a searchable Hamlet hypertext: clicks on a specific Hamlet line will prompt passages from texts where that line is quoted including bibliographical data. Furthermore, the user may search the database directly: full text searches for specific words or phrases, searches for authors, periods, genres and the like retrieve quoting texts corresponding to individualised selection criteria. The most important annotation parameters are listed in Table 1 below:

Parameter1st level annotation2nd level annotation
Russian in English translation

yearof publication
of composition
genreprose fictioncrime fiction, children's fiction, gothic, historical …
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