Collections of Parliamentary Records

Collections of Parliamentary Records
by Ulrike Wuttke

By the end of this submodule, you will be able to…

  • Understand the specific institutional and societal circumstances that shape the content, structure and language of parliamentary discourse
  • Understand the importance and potential of parliamentary proceedings for society and Digital Humanities research

Parliamentary proceedings in the Digital Age

The parliament is the most important political institution in a democratic society. In parliamentary democracies, parliaments serve as the centre stage for law-making and overseeing the government by democratically elected members. This is why journalists, members of the civil society, and humanities and social sciences scholars have always paid close attention to the debates conducted in parliaments.

Recently, through Freedom of Information Acts, a growing number of countries have started providing free and transparent access to parliamentary proceedings, often in common formats such as PDF and HTML. This enables informed participation by the public, improves effective functioning of democratic systems and also makes the datasets more readily available for researchers with heterogeneous backgrounds to look into the characteristics of parliamentary institutions, detect policy changes, conduct diachronic and transnational comparative analyses, etc. Among the latest hot research topics are issues such as the societal paradigm shifts that lead to political polarisations and the emergence of popular and populist movements.

For more details on this, see Working with parliamentary corpora.

The importance of parliamentary debates for cross-disciplinary research

Parliamentary discourse is governed by strict rules and conventions and is therefore characterized by specific institutional discursive features. Furthermore, parliamentary speeches are motivated by a wide range of communicative goals, such as position-claiming, persuasion, negotiation, agenda-setting and opinion-building, which follow a specific ideology or party line. As such, parliamentary discourse is heavily characterized by role-based commitments and confrontation and the constant awareness of a multi-layered audience.

Due to their unique content, structure and language, records of parliamentary sessions have always been an important resource for a wide range of research questions from a number of disciplines, such as political science, communication studies, and history, but also in applied linguistics, such as discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, and multilinguality. While parliamentary discourse has been a major research topic in various fields for several decades, it has only recently started to acquire a truly interdisciplinary scope. The technological and methodological developments have enabled cross-fertilization of the relevant disciplines and comprehensive exploration of various socio-political research questions by investigating this highly specific kind of language data.

With an increasingly decisive role of parliaments and their rapidly changing institutional relations with the public, the mass media, the executive branch and international organizations, further empirical research and development of integrative analytical tools is needed in order to achieve a better understanding of the commonalities and specificities of parliamentary discourse as well as its wider societal impact, in particular with studies that represent diverse parts of society (women, minorities, marginalized groups) and cross-cultural studies.

For more details on this, see Boosting Digital Humanities research with parliamentary data.

Parliamentary proceedings and research infrastructures

The good availability of parliamentary proceedings in digitized form and granted access rights to public information in the EU countries have motivated a number of national as well as international initiatives to compile, process and analyse parliamentary corpora. They are available for most countries within the CLARIN ERIC research infrastructure for language resources and technology, with the UK’s Hansard Corpus being the largest (1.6 billion tokens) and spanning the longest time period (1803-2005) while corpora from other countries are significantly smaller (most comprise between 10 and 100 million tokens) and cover shorter periods (mostly from the 1970s onwards). Most of these corpora can be directly downloaded from the national CLARIN repositories or queried through online search environments. They are also richly annotated and available under open licences.

For more details on this, see Parliamentary corpora in CLARIN Resource Families.