Three corpora for the study of language, literature and culture:
the WWW, ARTFL and NEFbase

Russon Wooldridge

University of Toronto

© 2001 R. Wooldridge

The World Wide Web provides a variety of resources, in general more current than what can be found in libraries, and also more dynamic in nature: a book may with time cease to be relevant but still continue to exist physically, whereas the relevance of certain web documents ceases with their disappearance, though increasingly more fossils also exist on the Web. The following examples show the relevance, at the time they were used, of various types of online documents used in the study of language, literature and culture. The University of Chicago ARTFL database and the University of Toronto's NEFbase are quoted here to show the complementarity of divergent approaches to the creation of online textual databases. The following text is succinct, the commentary also: it is left up to the reader to supply what is lacking.

1. Thematic exploration of the WWW in a first-year Practical French language course


1.1. Health

Reference to Médecins sans frontières in the manual Valette & Valette, À votre tour, 1995, p. 276-277 (D.C. Heath & Co., 1995). The MSF site ( contains the information that Médecins sans frontières was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1999. The student could read the information, listen to the award speech in English and French, see the awards ceremony in Real Video, learn what the prize money would be used for, and read the reactions of various people including MSF volunteers.

1.2. Family roots

V&V, p. 109: "Et en été, je passe les vacances dans la ferme de mes grands-parents en Auvergne. C'est là d'où vient ma famille. C'est donc là où je suis vraiment chez moi, parce que c'est là où sont mes racines." = "In summer, I spend my holidays on my grandparents' farm in Auvergne. That's where my family comes from, and where I feel my true home is, because that's where my roots are."

a) La semaine québécoise des familles ("Quebec family week"): "Ma famille, mes racines ... des forces pour la vie" = "My family, my roots, vital forces".

b) Haïda Nation web site, in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish: "Comme celles de la forêt, nos racines sont enchevêtrées" = "Like those of the forest, our roots are tangled".

The second example illustrates the dynamic nature of the WWW: the sentence comes from a flash introduction that has since been replaced.

2. The power of the WWW in advanced translation (fourth-year undergraduate course)


2.1. Gastronomy

Article on English cooking published in L'actualité, Montreal, April 1997: Language dictionaries are of course of no use in the translation of this sentence. The WWW has pages exemplifying each of these delicacies, so that the forewarned student is able to come up with: For example:

2.2. Early music

Article on the Montreal group La Nef published in L'actualité, February 1998: On the WWW one finds La Nef's web site:, with details of performances and records, which show that Le Jardin des délices is marketed by Dorian with the English title The Garden of Earthly Delights, as is confirmed, for example, at Bosch's painting can be found on various sites, including Carol Gerten's Virtual Art Museum Thus:

3. The WWW as a mirror of language usage: the Canadian French verb enfirouaper


A French colleague came across a sentence in L'Express de Toronto that used the word enfirouaper, completely unknown in Europe. This characteristically Canadian verb is defined in Canadian French dictionaries as meaning "to take in" in a negative, figurative sense. Exploration of the WWW reveals that it also means "to seduce; to twist round one's little finger or paw" in reference to the effect of words or music on the listener, or to a loved one or a pet animal reducing its lover, mistress or master to abject, but willing submission.

A quoi servent les mots? ( = dead link)

Denyse Mageau vue par ses trois chats (Bulletin de l’Association des auteures et des auteurs de l’Ontario français, The predominant use of the verb is however in aggressive contexts. For example, Feux Verts – Maîtres Chanteurs Chez Nous ( The dictionary does not show that the verb is also productive:

4. Online text databases: ARTFL and NEFbase

4.1. Marivaux

The principal differences between the two databases, in the case of Marivaux, are: 1) ARTFL includes works from a variety of genres, none complete, whereas NEFbase has only plays, but all of them; 2) ARTFL references indicate in which work a word occurs, whereas NEFbase indicates work (play), section (act and scene) and character.

0. Marivaux texts ARTFL NEFbase  
1. amoureuse – KWIC ARTFL NEFbase Comparaison
2. amoureuse – distribution by text ARTFL NEFbase Comparaison
3. amoureuse – distribution by voice   NEFbase  
4. beau – in Arlequin poli par l'amour ARTFL NEFbase  
5. beau – in Trivelin's speeches   NEFbase  

4.2. Maupassant

In the case of Maupassant, ARTFL has the Contes et nouvelles, FREbase the complete works. ARTFL references are to the dated volume, those of NEFbase to the title of the piece, plus year of publication. The following comparisons concern only the Contes et nouvelles.

Maupassant texts ARTFL = 1880-1890 NEFbase = 1875-1890  
tristement – KWIC ARTFL NEFbase Comparaison