Archives Parlementaires: lèse collocations

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The collocation table function of PhiloLogic is a quick way to look at changes in word use. Lèse majesté, treason or injuries against the dignity of the sovereign or state, is a common expression. The collocation table below shows terms around "lese | leze | lèse | lèze | lése | léze" in ARTFL Frantext (550 documents, 1700-1787) with majesté being by far the most common.

It is interesting to note that the construction "lèse nation" does not appear once in this report. Searching for "lèse nation" before the Revolution in ARTFL-Frantext finds a single occurrence, in Mirabeau's [1780] Lettres écrits du donjon de Vincennes, where he complains that "toute invocation de lettre-de-cachet me paraît un crime de lèse-nation". The collocation table for lEse in the current sample of the Archives Parlementaires (there are no instances of the lEze in this dataset), shows the lèse nation construction to be far more frequent.

There have been discussions* of the transition from lèse majesté to lèse nation, which is clearly shown here. Now, a reasonable objection to this is that this report includes the entire (as much as we have at the moment) revolutionary period. But we see roughly the same rates and ranking for lèse in 1789.

It would appear -- I would not put too much credit in these numbers -- that the shift from majesty to nation, and all that this implies in terms of the way state is envisaged, was well under way by 1789. This either happened very quickly in the years leading up to the Revolution, since the construction just once in ARTFL-Frantext before, or was a development that took place in types of documents not found in the rather more literary/canonical sample in ARTFL-Frantext, such as journals, pamphlets, and other more ephemeral materials. I guess data entry projects will never end.

One other observation. I like the collocation cloud as a graphic. But if you examine the table, you may notice that the cloud does not really represent the frequency differences all that well. The second table -- all of the AP -- shows that nation occurs more than 6 times as frequently as majesté, but differences of that magnitude tend to be rather difficult to show in a cloud. So, the compromise of providing both is probably the best approach.

* G. A. Kelly, "From Lèse Majesté to Lèse nation: Treason in 18th century France", Journal of the History of Ideas, 42 (1981): 269-286 (JStor).

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