For the purposes of this project, we're examining and quantifying changes in the German novel by examining, categorizing and quantifying changes in the nouns in the novels. In effect, we're saying that, if German novels change as a result of changes in Germany's material culture, then we should see a change in the categories of nouns.
We understand a noun's "category" to be its place in a taxonomy of terms, similar to the taxonomy found in the hyponym-hypernym relationships in a formal lexicon like Wordnet (for more about Wordnet, see the article about it in Wikipedia). For example, a novel might use the noun "chair". "Chair" is a type of "Furniture", which is a type of "Artifact", which is a type of "Concrete Object."
To support this kind of categorization of nouns, we implemented a database and web front-end using our standard combination of MySQL and Django. We added an additional set of functions to permit users to quickly assign categories to nouns.
Our first version of the database included just two novels, which Professor Erlin and and a couple of students categorized manually. We pulled results from the database, and Professor Erlin presented his findings at a conference in the fall of 2009.
Our next version of the database includes 114 novels. And, since it's obviously time-consuming to manually categorize so much data, we're exploring ways of automatically categorizing nouns.