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The Expression of Self and Grief in the Nineteenth Century: An Analysis through Distant Readings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2020

Elizabeth Monzingo
Affiliation:
The Ohio State Universitymonzingo.1@osu.edu
Daniel Shanahan
Affiliation:
The Ohio State Universityshanahan.37@osu.edu

Abstract

When writing about grief, Peter N. Stearns and Mark Knapp (‘Historical Perspectives on Grief’, in The Emotions: Social, Cultural and Biological Dimensions, ed. Rom Harré and W. Gerrod Parrot (London: Sage Publications, 1996): 138) speculate that ‘[i]n contrast to eighteenth-century songs about death, which were set in the artificial pastoral world of shepherds and written in the third person, Victorian grief songs were personal and immediate’. Inspired by this claim, we investigated the usage of pronouns, as well as topics surrounding grief, in ballads taken from broadsides in the nineteenth century. We found that the use of first-person pronouns increases over the nineteenth century, and that this was not a linear trend; there were sharp increases in the usage of first-person pronouns beginning in 1815, which leveled off in the third quarter of the century. Additionally, we examined the usage of lyrical topics about death, grieving, negatively valenced emotion and sadness, and asked whether such topics correlated with the increased usage of first-person pronouns. We found that there was not a strong correlation with the usage of pronouns and such topics, though there was a small correlation between the usage of such pronouns and sadness and a stronger positive correlation between a focus on the present and positively valenced emotion. These findings suggest that first-person pronouns are not reliable indicators of lyrical topics surrounding grief, or vice-versa. Using personal pronouns as a measure of intimacy, we conclude that songs written in the beginning of the nineteenth century did see a rise in intimacy in song lyrics. However, this increase does not appear to be tied to songs about grief, specifically. Despite the existence of many personal grief songs in the Victorian period, our distant reading reveals linguistic trends and interrelations that challenge the intuition that nineteenth-century grief songs were more personal than earlier ones.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press, 2020

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References

1 Luciano, Dana, Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: New York University Press, 2007): 2Google Scholar.

2 Stearns, Peter N. and Knapp, Mark, ‘Historical Perspectives on Grief’, in The Emotions: Social, Cultural and Biological Dimensions, ed. Harré, Rom and Parrot, W. Gerrod (London: Sage Publications, 1996): 138Google Scholar.

3 Moretti, Franco, Distant Reading (Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2013)Google Scholar.

4 Pennebaker, James W., The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Content words, in contrast to function words, provide meaning. Some examples of content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Some examples of function words are articles, prepositions, and pronouns.

5 Plamper, Jan, ‘The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns’, History and Theory 49 (2010): 253CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Stearns and Knapp, ‘Historical Perspectives on Grief’, 138.

7 Mytum, Harold, ‘Public Health and Private Sentiment: The Development of Cemetery Architecture and Funerary Monuments From the Eighteenth Century Onwards’, World Archaeology 21/2 (1989): 295CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

8 Stearns and Knapp, ‘Historical Perspectives on Grief’, 138.

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10 Stearns and Knapp, ‘Historical Perspectives on Grief’, 139.

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13 Stearns and Knapp, ‘Historical Perspectives on Grief’, 136.

14 Luciano, Arranging Grief, 2.

15 Harold Mytum, ‘Public Health and Private Sentiment’, 295.

16 Herat, Manel, ‘The Final Goodbye: The Linguistic Features of Gravestone Epitaphs from the Nineteenth Century to the Present’, International Journal of Language Studies 8/4 (2014): 138Google Scholar.

17 Harold Mytum, ‘Public Health and Private Sentiment’, 295.

18 Buckham, Susan, ‘Commemoration as an Expression of Personal Relationships and Group Identities: A Case Study of York Cemetery’, Mortality 8/2 (2003): 161CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Stearns and Knapp, ‘Historical Perspectives of Grief’, 138.

20 Schmalfeldt, Janet, ‘In Search of Dido’, Journal of Musicology 18/4 (2001): 614CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Glass, Beaumont, Schumann's Complete Song Texts: In One Volume (Geneseo, NY: Leyerle Publications, 2002): 85Google Scholar.

22 Taruskin, Richard, Music in the Nineteenth Century: The Oxford History of Western Music, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006): 61Google Scholar.

23 Taruskin writes that ‘Truth (not “the” truth) is found in individual consciousness (or conscience), not decreed by public power’. Taruskin, Music in the Nineteenth Century, 62.

24 Taruskin, Music in the Nineteenth Century, 63.

25 See Moretti, Distant Reading, and Jockers, M.L., Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Moretti, Distant Reading, 136.

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29 National Library of Scotland, ‘The Word on the Street’ (2004), https://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/index.html, accessed 14 July 2018.

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31 See Wollstadt, Lynn, ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Positive Masculinity in the Ballads Sung by Scottish Women’, in The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies, ed. by McKean, Thomas A. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003): 6776CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Dossena, Marina, ‘“And Scotland Will March Again”, The Language of Political Song in 19th-and 20th-Century Scotland’, in After the Storm: Papers from the Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ulster Triennial Meeting; The Languages of Scotland and Ulster 4 (Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen, 2012): 141–65Google Scholar, available at www.abdn.ac.uk/pfrlsu/volumes/vol4/. Adam Fox also comments on previous research into the English broadside as a unique window into the culture of the time in ‘The Emergence of the Scottish Broadside Ballad in the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 31/2 (2011): 169–94.

32 It is important to note that any collection of songs will have its biases. We hope this analysis will inspire additional analyses, so that a more generalizable understanding of the intimate treatment of grief in the nineteenth century may be reached.

33 J.W. Pennebaker, R.J. Booth, R.L. Boyd and M.E. Francis, ‘Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count: LIWC2015’, Pennebaker Conglomerates, 2015, www.LIWC.net.

34 The use of what is known as ‘incremental repetition’ contributes to a deep-structure meaning; in this case, ‘each one has their ills’ and ‘the engine runs on wheels’ do not add information to the beginnings of their lines (‘each one has their troubles’ and ‘but time and tide it will not wait’, respectively), rather they allow the listener time to dwell in the meaning longer in order to wholly feel its impact. See Lyle, Scottish Ballads, 18.

35 See Meyer, Leonard B., Style and Music: Theory, History, and Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)Google Scholar and Labov, William, Principles of Linguistic Change, Social Factors (Malton, MA: Wiley, 2001)Google Scholar. For a discussion of this in jazz standards, see also Broze, Yuri and Shanahan, Daniel, ‘Diachronic Changes in Jazz Harmony: A Cognitive Perspective’, Music Perception 31/1 (2013): 3245CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Note that any corpus study will only provide correlational data. It is commonly understood that a corpus study can, at best, examine correlations in usage and specific events, but it is nearly impossible to draw direct lines of causation, although a number of statistical analyses, such as Path analysis and a number of Bayesian models, attempt to do just that. The most straightforward method for examining a type of change might be to compare multiple models and see which provides the best fit.

37 The average of ‘I’ usage in the eighteenth century was 3.45 pronouns per 100 words, as opposed to only 1.7 in the nineteenth; the average of ‘you’ usage was 1.61 pronouns per 100 words in the eighteenth century as opposed to .76 in the nineteenth.

38 Colour versions of the figures are available in the online version of the article: www.cambridge.org/core/journals/nineteenth-century-music-review.

39 A regression model incorporating these variables accounts for much more variance when predicting the year (adjusted R2=.30). This regression model, with significant predictors indicated, can be seen in Table 3. Interestingly, both positive and negative emotions are significant predictors of year.

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