Exploring verbal aggression in English historical texts using USAS

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This article investigates the ways in which we might use the UCREL Semantic Annotation System (USAS) to explore pragmatic phenomena relating to verbal aggression within Old Bailey trial texts dating from the late eighteenth century. Specifically, I demonstrate how this automated system can be used to identify potential leads into what I have called an <i>aggression space</i>, by way of the words, phrases and multi-word units captured by six USAS semantic-field tags: speech acts (Q2.2), im/politeness (S1.2.4+/-), (lack of) respect (S7.2+/-) and violence/anger (E3-). As these semtags, as they are known, have been designed with modern data in mind, I also discuss the problems which arise when using the tool to explore historical courtroom proceedings, and outline some potential solutions to these problems.


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