Two more corpora for Eurfa

November 13th, 2013 by donnek Leave a reply »

I’ve just added citations from the Siarad and Patagonia corpora to Eurfa. Both these corpora are GPL-licensed, and were put together by a team led by Prof. Margaret Deuchar. They contain transcriptions of actual spoken Welsh – and as with all languages, the spoken version can be a rather different beast from the formal written language – and Siarad in particular contains quite a few “codeswitches” (where the speaker uses a word from another language, in this case English, in utterances that contain the main language, in this case Welsh). In the past, people have criticised this sort of thing as a signal of poor Welsh, but in fact the evidence suggests that it is actually a marker of linguistic competence – only speakers who are equally capable in both languages tend to do this, while those who are less capable tend to stick to one language.

The corpora provide important data for looking at this and other bilingual phenomena, and among other things have been used to show that the degree to which a codeswitch becomes a loanword is related to its frequency, that “cognates” (words that are similar in both languages, eg siop/shop, or perswadio/persuade) tend to raise the likelihood of codeswitches being used for other words (especially nouns), and so on.

The Patagonia corpus tends to use codeswitching less than the Siarad one, with the speakers switching into the other language for entire utterances or passages, and of course the main codeswitching language in that corpus is Spanish rather than English.

For use in Eurfa, both corpora had to be stripped down a bit. If you look at the material on Bangortalk, you’ll see that it follows the CLAN transcription format, which includes various markers for pauses, hesitations, non-verbal interactions, and so on. To make things easier to read, it made sense to get rid of most of these, with the exception of the brackets to indicate elision, eg mae’n gets represented as mae (y)n.

Then utterances where the transcription was less than 20 characters were removed – about 45% of the original 78,000-odd utterances in Siarad, and about 53% of the original 37,500-odd in Patagonia. One of the things that is noticeable in these corpora is how short the average spoken utterance is compared to the written language.

The last thing was to remove the utterances that are entirely in a language other than Welsh. The CLAN format was changed a couple of years ago to incorporate what I consider a regression. Previously, a default language would be chosen for the transcription (usually the most frequent language in the conversation), and all words not in that language would be tagged. The new system allows a “precode” marker to be attached to utterances which are entirely in the non-default language, presumably on the grounds that this makes the transcriptions easier to read. However, the problem with this is that you can no longer tell simply from the word what language it is in: an untagged word could be Welsh if the the default language is Welsh, but it could also be English if there is a precode marker.

I chose the “easy” (aka “fast”) way to do this: deleting any items with precodes marking English or Spanish. Unfortunately, that still leaves items that were not marked with precodes because the default language of the transcription was English or Spanish! I looked at addressing this with Alberto Simões’ Lingua::Identify, but, as I expected, the results are variable: the utterances are mostly too short to give a good “fingerprint”, and this is compounded by the brackets, the lack of punctuation, and the codeswitches.

For Siarad, some 20 languages (cs, da, de, en, es, fi, fr, hr, hu, id, it, la, nl, pl, pt, ro, sl, sq, sv, tr) were given for about 31% of the utterances remaining after removing those with less than 20 characters. Most of these were in fact Welsh, and even the ones marked English were about 50% Welsh. I therefore left them all, giving a total of around 42,300 citations.

For Patagonia, the same 20 languages (cs, da, de, en, es, fi, fr, hr, hu, id, it, la, nl, pl, pt, ro, sl, sq, sv, tr) were given for about 32% of the remaining utterances. Again, most of these were in fact Welsh, but the ones marked as Spanish and Portuguese were predominantly Spanish, so I removed them, leaving a total of around 15,500 citations.

The upshot is that if in Eurfa you search for an English word, and then click to get citations from Siarad or Patagonia, there is a small chance you will get a “Welsh” equivalent of the English citation that is actually in English or Spanish!

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