PhD Dissertation, University of Helsinki (2006)
This study reports a corpus-based study of medieval English herbals, which are texts conveying information on medicinal plants. Herbals belong to the medieval medical register. The study charts intertextual parallels within the medieval genre, and between herbals and other contemporary medical texts. It seeks to answer questions where and how herbal texts are linked to each other, and to other medical writing. The theoretical framework of the study draws on intertextuality and genre studies, manuscript studies, corpus linguistics, and multi-dimensional text analysis.
The method combines qualitative and quantitative analyses of textual material from three historical special-language corpora of Middle and Early Modern English, one of which was compiled for the purposes of this study. The text material contains over 800,000 words of medical texts. The time span of the material is from c. 1330 to 1550. Text material is retrieved from the corpora by using plant name lists as search criteria. The raw data is filtered through qualitative analysis which produces input for the quantitative analysis, multi-dimensional scaling (MDS). In MDS, the textual space that parallel text passages form is observed, and the observations are explained by a qualitative analysis.
This study concentrates on evidence of material and structural intertextuality. The analysis shows patterns of affinity between the texts of the herbal genre, and between herbals and other texts in the medical register. Herbals are most closely linked with recipe collections and regimens of health: they comprise over 95 per cent of the intertextual links between herbals and other medical writing. Links to surgical texts, or to specialised medical texts are very few. This can be explained by the history of the herbal genre: as herbals carry information on medical ingredients, herbs, they are relevant for genres that are related to pharmacological therapy. Conversely, herbals draw material from recipe collections in order to illustrate the medicinal properties of the herbs they describe.