Wp4: Applications

This project will bring forth tools for computationally detecting lexical and semantic changes as well as word sense induction for Swedish. These tools give us a chance to study language changes in their own right but also overcome hurdles with research on historical text. We will bring together historical linguistics with NLP and data science, a unique collaboration needed to study semantic change and lexical replacements in full.

We believe the results of the project will advance the field in several research areas, offer benefits for researchers in the DHSS and lower the threshold for the public to make use of our textual resources.

The plan

The application areas aim to highlight all kinds of change and apply to researchers as well as the public.

Close reading (Simplify research) In this use case, we will help users (researchers and laymen) to firstly find, and secondly understand content in digital archives by (1) implementing features that suggest extension to search queries with relevant word replacements and their validity periods, and (2) in a text, highlight words that have changed their meaning. Changes will be accompanied with the original passages of text such that users can verify the results, or get new entry points into the corpus.

Distant reading (Quantify Research hypothesis) Many researchers are moving into DHSS (as seen by the increasing number of centers for Digital Humanities across Swedish universities), drawn in by the promise of large amounts of data and automatic methods for analyzing them. In this use case, we will collaborate with three research groups to help quantify their hypotheses.

Firstly, we will collaborate with social scientists on analyzing differences in meaning for concepts in politics (e.g. democracy, freedom, immigration) for different political parties, this relates primarily to word sense induction on 20th century Swedish political party programs and election manifestos.

Secondly, we will collaborate with a group of concept historians to investigate the rate and spread of abstraction of the market, that goes from a concrete time and place to an abstract concept, like job or stock markets. We will study the interplay of these concept and investigate when the market becomes an agent that affects people rather than the other way around. Once the first abstract market has been established as a concept, does the process move faster and faster with new abstract markets and can we quantify this rate?

Thirdly, we will work with historical linguists to show that scientific texts in the 18th century attributed human-like features to animals and plants, see e.g., Linné and Bjerkander. By applying semantic change detection to the Royal Science Academy texts, as well as to texts from other contemporary genres, we can help quantify the hypothesis, and find spread and change rate. This collaboration will take place after the digitization of the relevant texts, pending a funding application.


L. Borin, M. Forsberg, and J. Roxendal. Korp – the corpus infrastructure of Språkbanken. LREC, 2012.

S. Vejdemo and T. Hörberg. Semantic Factors Predict the Rate of Lexical Replacement of Content Words. PLOS ONE, pages 1–15, Jan. 2016.