A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760

Released in Spring 2006, A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760 (CED) is a 1.2-million-word computerized corpus of Early Modern English speech-related texts. The CED is part of the research project “Exploring spoken interaction of the Early Modern English period (1560-1760)" (see e.g. Culpeper and Kytö 1997, 2000, and 2010), and was compiled by Merja Kytö and Jonathan Culpeper, in collaboration with Terry Walker and Dawn Archer, at Uppsala and Lancaster Universities. In the following, we explain the background and structure of the corpus. We comment on the text types, sampling criteria, and coding. We also give word counts for the entire corpus and for the stretches coded for direct speech. For full details, see the corpus guide (Kytö and Walker 2006).

The CED was compiled as a tool for the study of the language of the Early Modern period; the focus was placed on dialogues because interactive face-to-face communication is known to be an important factor in language change. The corpus was designed to offer easy access to a substantial quantity of data for variationist studies and research into historical pragmatics, as well as the study of speech presentation: it was compiled with particular variables in mind, such as text type, time, gender, and social rank. As the CED focuses on spoken interaction in the past, it facilitates the study of topics such as politeness phenomena, and conversational structure. The CED also includes various modes of speech presentation, e.g. direct and indirect speech, making the material of especial value to those investigating how speech is presented in writing.

There are 177 text files in the CED, yielding a total of 1,183,690 words. The CED contains texts representative of five text types (plus a mixed bag of dialogues labelled ‘Miscellaneous’), which divide into two categories: these are ‘authentic dialogue’, which is written records of real speech events (Trial Proceedings and Witness Depositions), and ‘constructed dialogue’, in which the dialogue is constructed by an author (Drama Comedy, Didactic Works, and Prose Fiction). Furthermore, the text types may consist of dialogue in which the intervention of the narrator is minimal, limited to identifying the speaker, or marking scene changes and the like, as in Drama Comedy, Didactic Works, and Trial Proceedings, whereas other text types contain considerable intervention by the scribe or narrator, with dialogue embedded in a third person narrative, as in Witness Depositions and Prose Fiction.

The text types can be briefly described as follows. Trial Proceedings are reports of the proceedings in court, typically recorded by an official scribe (records written by those involved in the trial, such as the defendant, were excluded from the CED). The dialogue is recorded as direct speech, generally in the form of questions and answers. Witness Depositions are written records of the oral testimony of witnesses, usually given before the trial proceedings themselves, which are rendered by a scribe as a third person narrative, with legal formulae inserted. Occasionally, dialogue from earlier speech events cited by a witness is rendered as direct speech by the scribe. Drama Comedy contains dialogue in the form of direct speech, invented by an author. The text type Didactic Works also consists of texts constructed by an author with the dialogue presented as direct speech. These are handbooks and instructional treatises, typically containing dialogues between ‘instructor’ and ‘instructee’. Language teaching handbooks are a small group of texts set apart from the other Didactic Works (which are hence labelled ‘Other’ i.e. ‘other than language teaching’): the language of the dialogue can be contrived for didactic purposes, and is likely to be influenced by both the target language and the author’s native language. Prose Fiction texts include fictional, constructed dialogue, but unlike Drama Comedy the dialogue can be presented in the form of direct or indirect speech, and is surrounded by narration by the ‘storyteller’. ‘Miscellaneous’ is not a text type at all, but a collection of dialogues presented as direct speech which could not be classified as belonging to any of the above text types.

Table 1 illustrates the overall structure of the CED outlined above, and also gives the overall word counts for each text type and the Miscellaneous texts. (These counts were obtained using the Hcount computer program, excluding foreign language, editorial comments, and text added by the corpus compilers.)

Table 1: Overall structure of the CED and word counts for each text type (and Miscellaneous texts)

Authentic dialogue

Constructed dialogue

Minimum narratorial intervention

Trial Proceedings
285,660 words 

Drama Comedy
238,590 words 

Didactic Works
A. Other
162,250 words
B. Language Teaching
74,390 words 

25,970 words 

Considerable narratorial intervention

Witness Depositions
172,940 words 

Prose Fiction
223,890 words 

Total word count



In the CED, the 200-year period 1560-1760 is divided into five 40-year periods, as shown in Table 2. This table also gives the word counts for each period for all text types (and Miscellaneous texts) taken together.

Table 2: The periodization of the CED and the period word counts (for all five text types plus Miscellaneous texts)


Period totals













Where possible, we sampled one or more extracts amounting to around 10,000 words from each text. However, shorter texts that otherwise fulfilled our selection criteria were also used. The main criteria for selection were that the texts should:

  • belong to one of the text types described above
  • include speech presentation, preferably in the form of direct speech
  • preferably include speakers of both sexes
  • preferably include speakers representative of a range of social ranks
  • represent the language of the period 1560-1760
  • preferably be the earliest extant printed version.

Some few Trial and Deposition texts had no printing contemporaneous with the speech event, and in this case later text editions were used, providing these could be verified against a manuscript record (time and funding considerations prevented the use of manuscript records as CED source texts).

Coding in the CED has been added with a view to offering computerized texts which remain as close as possible to the original versions, while facilitating computer searches. Font changes, foreign language, headings, editorial comments, and text added by the compilers (comments on source text peculiarities etc.) have been marked off from the running text by coding. As the CED is primarily designed for the study of dialogue, the compilers have taken two additional measures: long narrative passages have been omitted and replaced by a short summary (coded as compilers’ comments), and direct speech has been distinguished from the rest of the running text. The latter was done by marking off text other than direct speech, although it was not always unproblematic to mark e.g. where indirect speech ended and direct speech began. Based on our interpretation, in Table 3 we give the overall word counts for direct speech in the five 40-year periods.

Table 3: Period word counts for direct speech (for all five text types plus Miscellaneous texts)


Period totals













The CED is intended for non-commercial research or teaching purposes only. It has been deposited at the Oxford Text Archive (see http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/), and will be available on the forthcoming ICAME CD-ROM. The CED exists in two formats: plain text and XML. Both the plain text and the XML versions comprise 177 individual text files.

Publications making use of the CED should include a reference as follows:

A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760. 2006. Compiled under the supervision of Merja Kytö (Uppsala University) and Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster University).


The CED team gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Swedish Research Council/Vetenskapsrådet (grant number F0588/1998), the English Department at Uppsala University, the Arts and Humanities Research Board, U.K. (RG-AN2887/APN8599), and the British Academy (SG-AN2887/APN3846, and for the SPC project, SG-30252).


Culpeper, Jonathan and Merja Kytö. 1997. Towards a corpus of dialogues, 1550-1750. In Heinrich Ramisch and Kenneth Wynne (eds.). Language in Time and Space. Studies in Honour of Wolfgang Viereck on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday(Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik - Beihefte, Heft 97), 60-73. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Culpeper, Jonathan and Merja Kytö. 2000. Data in historical pragmatics: Spoken interaction (re)cast as writing. Journal of Historical Pragmatics 1 (2): 175-199.

Culpeper, Jonathan and Merja Kytö. 2010. Early Modern English Dialogues: Spoken Interaction as Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kytö, Merja and Terry Walker. 2006. Guide to A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760 (Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia 130). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.