The BLUR ("Blues Lyrics collected at the University of Regensburg") corpus is the result of a research project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in the years between 1997 and 2002. Its primary goal was to compile and investigate early blues lyrics as evidence of earlier African American Vernacular English and thus contribute to the ongoing discussions on this varieties emergence and evolution, especially in the post-Civil-War period. However, BLUR’s appeal also extends to musicologists, cultural historians and literary critics (Miethaner 2001).
The BLUR corpus consists of 7,341 song texts, mostly field and studio recordings from the 1920s to the early 1940s and has a size of ca. 1.49 million words, thus establishing it as one of the largest corpora of nonstandard English. As is customary in corpus linguistics, some formatting and mark-up was introduced. Each song is preceded by a header which identifies singer, song title, song number, recording context (place, time), etc. and there is a footer with source information. It is accompanied by a relational database with biographical and discographical information on the singers.
Miethaner (2005) supports his claim that the BLUR corpus is a valid representation of earlier AAE in two ways. First, from a theoretical perspective: for example, the blues performers represent a cross-section of lower-class African Americans with respect to region, gender, and age; the potential effects of the recording situation (observer’s paradox) are basically not an issue for the blues recordings; most importantly, the overall flexibility of the blues structure allows for the documentation of a wide spectrum of linguistic features and their variability in appropriate contexts.
Second, from an analytical perspective: The qualitative analyses unearthed documentation not only for all the nonstandard features which have been typically listed as core elements of the earlier AAE grammar, but also for the vast majority of the marginal features of the AAE grammar (e.g. absence of overt adverb marking). In addition, BLUR documents almost all of the supposedly divergent features (e.g. habitualbe2 + V-ing), features the use of which has significantly increased within the past century (e.g. y’all), and a number of features which had previously not been listed as elements of the (earlier) AAE grammar (e.g., begin/start/commence + to + V-ing). The comparison of several nonstandard features in BLUR and other earlier AAE sources not only illustrates a high level of correspondence with respect to the formal and functional properties of the features under investigation (e.g. verbal –s deletion), but also the presence of a higher number of different types of the given phenomena inBLUR (e.g. nonstandard preterite and past participle forms of irregular verbs).
Miethaner, Ulrich. 2000. “Orthographic transcriptions of nonstandard varieties: The case of earlier African American English.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 4: 543-60.
Miethaner, Ulrich. 2001. “The BLUR (Blues Lyrics Collected at the University of Regensburg) corpus: Blues lyricism and the African American literary tradition."Copas II.
Miethaner, Ulrich. 2005. I Can Look through Muddy . Analyzing Earlier African American English in Blues Lyrics (BLUR). Frankfurt am Main and New York: Peter Lang. Originally Ph.D. dissertation, University of Regensburg 2004.
Schneider, Edgar W. and Ulrich Miethaner. 2006. “When I started to using BLUR. Accounting for unusual verb phrase patterns in an electronic corpus of Earlier African American English.” Journal of English Linguistics 34,3: 233-56
Dr. Ulrich Miethaner, Gymnasium Neutraubling, Regensburg