9.526 the language of cant: software help?

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 21:10:12 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 526.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Mark Davies <mdavies@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu> (47)
Subject: Cant, 1566-1861

I am submitting this on behalf of Lee Beier (albeier@ilstu.edu), who is not
currently a member of HUMANIST. Please direct all replies to him. Thank you.


>From Lee Beier, Illinois State University:

I am engaged in research on English cant from 1566 to 1861. The period is
defined by the publication of lexicons specially devoted to cant, which its
compilers defined as the vocabulary of the criminal underworld and which is
also called Pedlar's French. The authors of plays, ballads, novels and poems
also used cant, and my research will eventually encompass these sorts of
materials. But the main aim at present is to analyze the argot listed in
glossaries and dictionaries in order to determine the semantics of cant. The
method is to use 18 categories of word including, for instance, references to
money and precious metals; to officials and penal systems; food and drink;
clothing and objects worn or carried (such as wigs, swords); to the church and
religion; etc. Three questions interest me. First. how did the numbers of
words in the 18 categories change over time. For example, did references to
penal systems rise of fall? What about citations concerning cash and precious
metals? This question is examined on two levels: 1) absolute increases or
declines compared to earlier and later benchmarks; 2) changes in the
propotions of the categories at a given time. The second issue is that what
new terms came into the vocabulary and which ones went out? So, as concerns
penal systems, was there an increase in refernces to hanging with the
proliferation of capital offences on the statute books after 1660? Thirdly,
how do words that persist in cant change over time in their definitions? Was
there a bowdlerization of the argot in the Victorian period? If so, what
alternative outlets were used for the publication of pornography?

To date, I have studied the period from 1566 to 1700 in a paper entitled
"Anti-language or Jargon? Canting in the English Underworld in the 16th and
17th Centuries,"which is in the book Languages and Jargons: Contributions to a
Social History of Language, Oxford, Polity Press, 1995, Peter Burke & Roy
Porter, eds., pp. 64-101. I am currently researching the 18th and 19th
centuries, but am finding that the volume of words demands the use of a
software program to process the data. Does anyone associated with Corpora or
Humanist know of any applications that would assist me? Such a program would
enable me, above all, to answer the three questions raised in the previous
paragraph. Some assure me there is a suitable program in S.P.S.S.; also,
possibly in a content-analysis program. Thus far I have coded several hundred
cant terms using Word 6.0 for Windows and have been told that this data can be
transferred into S.P.S.S. for Windows. But before I go any further I would
like to hear about any alternative programs, especially ones that might be
simpler and more user-friendly than S.P.S.S. Thanks in advance for any help!
Mark Davies, Assistant Professor, Spanish Linguistics
Dept. of Foreign Languages, Illinois State University
Normal, IL 61790-4300

Voice:309/438-7975 email:mdavies@ilstu.edu
Fax:309/438-8038 http://www.ilstu.edu/~mdavies/welcome.htm