Interrogating corpora

Once you’ve built a corpus, you can search it for linguistic phenomena. This is done with the interrogate() method.


Interrogations can be performed on any corpkit.corpus.Corpus object, but also, on corpkit.corpus.Subcorpus objects, corpkit.corpus.File objects and corpkit.corpus.Datalist objects (slices of Corpus objects). You can search plaintext corpora, tokenised corpora or fully parsed corpora using the same method. We’ll focus on parsed corpora in this guide.

>>> from corpkit import *
### words matching 'woman', 'women', 'man', 'men'
>>> query = {W: r'/(^wo)m.n/'}
### interrogate corpus
### interrogate parts of corpus
>>> corpus[2:4].search(query)
>>> corpus.files[:10].search(query)
### if you have a subcorpus called 'abstract':

Corpus interrogations will output a corpkit.interrogation.Interrogation object, which stores a DataFrame of results, a Series of totals, a dict of values used in the query, and, optionally, a set of concordance lines. Let’s search for proper nouns in The Great Gatsby and see what we get:

>>> corp = Corpus('gatsby-parsed')
### turn on concordancing:
>>> propnoun ='p', '^NNP'})
>>> propnoun.table()

          gatsby  tom  daisy  mr.  wilson  jordan  new  baker  york  miss
chapter1      12   32     29    4       0       2   10     21     6    19
chapter2       1   30      6    8      26       0    6      0     6     0
chapter3      28    0      1    8       0      22    5      6     5     1
chapter4      38   10     15   25       1       9    5      8     4     7
chapter5      36    3     26    4       0       0    1      1     1     1
chapter6      37   21     19   11       0       1    4      0     3     4
chapter7      63   87     60    9      27      35    9      2     5     1
chapter8      21    3     19    1      19       1    0      1     0     0
chapter9      27    5      9   14       4       3    4      1     4     1

>>> propnoun.table().sum()

chapter1    232
chapter2    252
chapter3    171
chapter4    428
chapter5    128
chapter6    219
chapter7    438
chapter8    139
chapter9    208
dtype: int64

>>> propnoun.conc() # (sample)

54 chapter1             They had spent a year in  france      for no particular reason and then d
55 chapter1   n't believe it I had no sight into  daisy       's heart but i felt that tom would
56 chapter1  into Daisy 's heart but I felt that  tom         would drift on forever seeking a li
57 chapter1       This was a permanent move said  daisy       over the telephone but i did n't be
58 chapter1   windy evening I drove over to East  egg         to see two old friends whom i scarc
59 chapter1   warm windy evening I drove over to  east        egg to see two old friends whom i s
60 chapter1  d a cheerful red and white Georgian  colonial    mansion overlooking the bay
61 chapter1  pen to the warm windy afternoon and  tom         buchanan in riding clothes was stan
62 chapter1  to the warm windy afternoon and Tom  buchanan    in riding clothes was standing with

Cool, eh? We’ll focus on what to do with these attributes later. Right now, we need to learn how to generate them.

Search types

Parsed corpora contain many different kinds of things we might like to search. There are word forms, lemma forms, POS tags, word classes, indices, and constituency and (three different) dependency grammar annotations. For this reason, the search query is a dict object passed to the interrogate() method, whose keys specify what to search, and whose values specify a query. The simplest ones are given in the table below.


Single capital letter variables in code examples represent lowercase strings (W = 'w'). These variables are made available by doing from corpkit import *. They are used here for readability.

Search Gloss
W Word
L Lemma
F Function
P POS tag
E NER tag
I Index in sentence
S Sentence index
R Coref representative

Because it comes first, and because it’s always needed, you can pass it in like an argument, rather than a keyword argument.

### get variants of the verb 'be'
>>>{L: 'be'})
### get words in 'nsubj' position
>>>{F: 'nsubj'})

Multiple key/value pairs can be supplied. By default, all must match for the result to be counted, though this can be changed with searchmode=ANY or searchmode=ALL:

>>> goverb = {P: r'^v', L: r'^go'}
### get all variants of 'go' as verb
>>>, searchmode=ALL)
### get all verbs and any word starting with 'go':
>>>, searchmode=ANY)

Grammatical searching

In the examples above, we match attributes of tokens. The great thing about parsed data, is that we can search for relationships between words. So, other possible search keys are:

Search Gloss
D Dependency (depgerep)
T Syntax tree
>>> q = {G: r'^b'}
### return any token with governor word starting with 'b'

Governor, Dependent and Left/Right can be combined with the earlier table, allowing a large array of search types:

  Match Governor Dependent Coref head Left/right
Word W G D H A1/Z1
Lemma L GL DL HL A1L/Z1L
Function F GF DF HF A1F/Z1F
Word class X GX DX HX A1X/Z1X
Distance from root A GA DA HA A1A/Z1A
Index I GI DI HI A1I/Z1I
Sentence index S GS DS HS A1S/Z1S

Syntax tree searching can’t be combined with other options. We’ll return to them in a minute, however.

Excluding results

You may also wish to exclude particular phenomena from the results. The exclude argument takes a dict in the same form a search. By default, if any key/value pair in the exclude argument matches, it will be excluded. This is controlled by excludemode=ANY or excludemode=ALL.

>>> from corpkit.dictionaries import wordlists
### get any noun, but exclude closed class words
>>> corpus.pos(r'^n')

In many cases, rather than using exclude, you could also remove results later, during editing.

What to show

Up till now, all searches have simply returned words. The final major argument of the interrogate method is show, which dictates what is returned from a search. Words are the default value. You can use any of the search values as a show value. show can be either a single string or a list of strings. If a list is provided, each value is returned with forward slashes as delimiters.

>>> example ={W: r'fr?iends?'}, show=[W, L, P])
>>> list(example.results)

['friend/friend/nn', 'friends/friend/nns', 'fiend/fiend/nn', 'fiends/fiend/nns', ... ]

Unigrams are generated by default. To get n-grams, pass in an n value as gramsize:

>>> example ={W: r'wom[ae]n]'}, show=N, gramsize=2)
>>> list(example.results)

['a/woman', 'the/woman', 'the/women', 'women/are', ... ]

So, this leaves us with a huge array of possible things to show, all of which can be combined if need be:

  Match Governor Dependent Coref Head 1L position 1R position
Word W G D H A1 Z1
Lemma L GL DL HL A1L Z1L
Function F GF DF HF A1F Z1F
Word class X GX DX HX A1X Z1X
Distance from root A GA DA HA A1A Z1R
Index I GI DI HI A1I Z1I
Sentence index S GS DS HS A1S Z1S

One further extra show value is 'c' (count), which simply counts occurrences of a phenomenon. Rather than returning a DataFrame of results, it will result in a single Series. It cannot be combined with other values.

Working with trees

If you have elected to search trees, by default, searching will be done with Java, using Tregex. If you don’t have Java, or if you pass in tgrep=True, searching will the more limited Tgrep2 syntax. Here, we’ll concentrate on Tregex.

Tregex is a language for searching syntax trees like this one:

To write a Tregex query, you specify words and/or tags you want to match, in combination with operators that link them together. First, let’s understand the Tregex syntax.

To match any adjective, you can simply write:


with JJ representing adjective as per the Penn Treebank tagset. If you want to get NPs containing adjectives, you might use:


where < means with a child/immediately below. These operators can be reversed: If we wanted to show the adjectives within NPs only, we could use:


It’s good to remember that the output will always be the left-most part of your query.

If you only want to match Subject NPs, you can use bracketting, and the $ operator, which means sister/directly to the left/right of:

JJ > (NP $ VP)

In this way, you build more complex queries, which can extent all the way from a sentence’s root to particular tokens. The query below, for example, finds adjectives modifying book:

JJ > (NP <<# /book/)

Notice that here, we have a different kind of operator. The << operator means that the node on the right does not need to be a child, but can be a descendant. the # means head—that is, in SFL, it matches the Thing in a Nominal Group.

If we wanted to also match magazine or newspaper, there are a few different approaches. One way would be to use | as an operator meaning or:

JJ > (NP ( <<# /book/ | <<# /magazine/ | <<# /newspaper/))

This can be cumbersome, however. Instead, we could use a regular expression:

JJ > (NP <<# /^(book|newspaper|magazine)s*$/)

Though it is beyond the scope of this guide to teach Regular Expressions, it is important to note that Regular Expressions are extremely powerful ways of searching text, and are invaluable for any linguist interested in digital datasets.

Detailed documentation for Tregex usage (with more complex queries and operators) can be found here.

Tree show values

Though you can use the same Tregex query for tree searches, the output changes depending on what you select as the show value. For the following sentence:

These are prosperous times.

you could write a query:

r'JJ < __'

Which would return:

Show Gloss Output
W Word prosperous
T Tree (JJ prosperous)
p POS tag JJ
C Count 1 (added to total)

Working with dependencies

When working with dependencies, you can use any of the long list of search and show values. It’s possible to construct very elaborate queries:

>>> from corpkit.dictionaries import process_types, roles
### nominal nsubj with verbal process as governor
>>> crit = {F: r'^nsubj$',
...         GL: processes.verbal.lemmata,
...         GF: roles.event,
...         P: r'^N'}
### interrogate corpus, outputting the nsubj lemma
>>> sayers =, show=L)

Working with metadata

If you’ve used speaker segmentation and/or metadata addition when building your corpus, you can tell the interrogate() method to use these values as subcorpora, or restrict searches to particular values. The code below will limit searches to sentences spoken by Jason and Martin, or exclude them from the search:

>>>, just_metadata={'speaker': ['JASON', 'MARTIN']})
>>>, skip_metadata={'speaker': ['JASON', 'MARTIN']})

If you wanted to compare Jason and Martin’s contributions in the corpus as a whole, you could treat them as subcorpora:

>>>, subcorpora='speaker',
...                    just_metadata={'speaker': ['JASON', 'MARTIN']})

The method above, however, will make an interrogation with two subcorpora, ‘JASON’ AND MARTIN. You can pass a list in as the subcorpora keyword argument to generate a multiindex:

>>>, subcorpora=['folder', 'speaker'],
                       just_metadata={'speaker': ['JASON', 'MARTIN']})

Working with coreferences

One major challenge in corpus linguistics is the fact that pronouns stand in for other words. Parsing provides coreference resolution, which maps pronouns to the things they denote. You can enable this kind of parsing by specifying the dcoref annotator:

>>> corpus = Corpus('example.txt')
>>> ops = 'tokenize,ssplit,pos,lemma,parse,ner,dcoref'
>>> parsed =
### print a plaintext representation of the parsed corpus
>>> print(parsed.plain)
0. Clinton supported the independence of Kosovo
1. He authorized the use of force.

If you have done this, you can use coref=True while interrogating to allow coreferent forms to be counted alongside query matches. For example, if you wanted to find all the processes Clinton is engaged in, you could do:

>>> from corpkit.dictionaries import roles
>>> query = {W: 'clinton', GF: roles.process}
>>> res =, show=L, coref=True)
>>> res.results.columns

This matches both Clinton and he, and thus gives us:

['support', 'authorize']


Interrogating the corpus can be slow. To speed it up, you can pass an integer as the multiprocess keyword argument, which tells the interrogate() method how many processes to create.

>>>{T: r'__ > MD'}, multiprocess=4)


Too many parallel processes may slow your computer down. If you pass in multiprocessing=True, the number of processes will equal the number of cores on your machine. This is usually a fairly sensible number.


N-gramming can be generated by making gramsize > 1:

>>>{W: 'father'}, show='L', gramsize=3)


Collocations can be shown by making using window:

>>>{W: 'father'}, show='L', window=6)

Saving interrogations


Interrogation savenames will be prefaced with the name of the corpus interrogated.

You can also quicksave interrogations:

>>>, r'/NN.?/', save='savename')

Exporting interrogations

If you want to quickly export a result to CSV, LaTeX, etc., you can use Pandas’ DataFrame methods:

>>> print(nouns.results.to_csv())
>>> print(nouns.results.to_latex())

Other options

interrogate() takes a number of other arguments, each of which is documented in the API documentation.

If you’re done interrogating, you can head to the page on Editing results to learn how to transform raw frequency counts into something more meaningful. Or, hit Next to learn about concordancing.