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Stylistics and stylometry. What is “style”?. Term not much loved by linguists Too vague Has connotations in neighbouring fields (“style” = good style, ie a value judgment)

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what is style
What is “style”?
  • Term not much loved by linguists
    • Too vague
    • Has connotations in neighbouring fields (“style” = good style, ie a value judgment)
  • Many books/articles make reference to etymology of the word (Lat. stilus = ‘pen’), so it follows that style is mainly about written language
  • Various definitions, some very close to things already seen (especially “register”)
  • Two main aspects widely supposed:
    • style is choice
    • style is described by reference to something else
style as choice
Style as choice
  • For any intended meaning there are a range of alternative ways of expressing that meaning
  • Different choices express nuances
    • of meaning
    • of other things (style?) eg buy vs purchase
  • Example:
    • Visitors are respectfully informed that the coin required for the meter is 50p; no other coin is acceptable
    • 50p pieces only
    • Propositional meaning is the same; difference in expression conveys something else (register etc)
style as choice4
Style as choice
  • Style is a choice, but often the “choice” is somewhat predetermined
  • ie a choice between appropriate and inappropriate style
  • So maybe “style” is just another word for register?
style and the norm
Style and the norm
  • Some writers define style as
    • “individual characteristics of a text”
    • “total sum of deviations from a norm”
  • But what is the “norm”?
    • Is there some form of the language that is neutral as regards style/register?
    • Note also that the norm shifts: eg Bible AV was written in the vernacular of its time
  • Literary stylistics focuses on the exceptional
Even if there is no norm, we can describe style comparatively
    • Stylistics mainly involves comparing and contrasting texts
    • and associating linguistic variance with contextual explanation
  • Some authors see style as being what is added to the text
stylistic analysis
Stylistic analysis
  • Gulf between literary vs linguistic stylistics
    • Lit crit focuses on effect on the reader, intended or otherwise, so largely intuitive and subjective
    • Linguistic stylistics looking for characterisations of style (including literary style) in terms of linguistic phenomena at the various levels of linguistic description
stylistic analysis8
Stylistic analysis
  • Inventory of linguistic devices and their effect
    • usually in a contrastive way:
    • in contrast with other writers in a similar genre
    • in contrast with other genres
  • Linguistic devices described in terms of the usual linguistic levels of description: phonology, morphology, lexis, grammar, etc.
  • Effects can be directly expressive, or indirectly, by association
    • example: onomatopoeia vs alliteration as a phonological device
stylistic analysis crystal davy 1969 investigating english style
Stylistic analysisCrystal & Davy (1969) Investigating English Style
  • Informally identify stylistic features felt to be significant
  • Devise a method of analysis which facilitates comparison between usages
  • Identify the stylistic function of the features so identified
types of features
Types of features
  • “Invariable” features due to the individual or the time – usually of little interest
  • Discourse features
    • medium (= Halliday’s mode), what features distinguish written language from spoken language
    • participation: eg monologue vs dialogue
  • Province (= field) lexis and syntax
  • Status (= tenor) features relating to relative social standing of writer/speaker and reader/listener
  • Modality (= text type) eg message delivered as a letter, postcard, text message, email, etc
  • Singularity: deliberate occasional idiosyncracies
method and function
Method and function
  • Methods and features determine each other
    • you can only measure features that you can extract
    • simple counting features are easy to extract
    • more complex features can be extracted thanks to NLP techniques of corpus annotation (tagging, parsing, etc)
  • Describing the function of observed differences
    • could be based on intuition
    • or (see later) partially automated (factor analysis)
what to count
What to count
  • Simple things may characterise different styles
    • average sentence length
    • average word length
    • type:token ratio (vocabulary richness)
      • number of types = number of different words
      • number of tokens = total number of words
    • vocabulary growth (homogeneity of text)
      • number of new types in 1st, 2nd, …, nth 1000 words
      • in rich varied text, number will climb steadily
  • Especially when used comparatively
what to count13
What to count
  • More complex analyses can give a more interesting picture
    • specific syntactic structures
    • degree of modification in NPs
    • types of verbs (eg verbs of persuasion, speech verbs, action verbs, descriptive verbs)
    • distribution of pronouns (1st/2nd/3rd person)
    • etc … (anything you can think of)
  • Quite sophisticated mathematical techniques can give an overall picture
    • eg factor analysis: identifies from a (big) range of variables which ones best identify/characterize differences

Normalization and significance

  • Always important to compare like with like
    • It is usual when counting things to “normalize” over the length of the text
    • If one text is longer than the other, of course you would expect higher frequencies of everything
  • Issue of statistical significance
    • Small differences may not really tell you anything
    • Various measures can confirm whether difference is statistically significant or due to random fluctuation

How to count

  • How to recognize paragraph breaks?
  • How to recognize sentence breaks?
    • Headlines don’t end in a fullstop
    • Not all sentences end in a fullstop
    • Not all full stops are sentence ending (abbreviations)
  • How to count words
    • Hyphenated words, contractions e.g. don’t
  • How to measure word-length/complexity
    • length only roughly corresponds to complexity
    • number of characters vs number of syllables
    • cf. through vs idea
    • counting syllables implies either a dictionary or an algorithm
more sophisticated counting
More sophisticated counting
  • Tagging and parsing allows you to look at grammatical and lexical issues
    • Use of particular POSs (conjunctions, pronouns, auxiliaries, modals)
    • Use of particular features (tenses, …)
    • Use of particular constructions (passives, interrogatives)
quantifying register differences
Quantifying register differences
  • Much work based on corpora trying to quantify and characterize register differences
  • Work pioneered by Douglas Biber
  • Simple counts like the ones suggested
  • Also, more complex computations

From D. Biber, S. Conrad & R. Reppen, Corpus Linguistics: Investigating

Language Structure and Use, Cambriufge University Press, 1998.

Ch 5: the study of discourse characteristics

multidimensional analysis
Multidimensional analysis
  • Collect a huge range of measures of a wide variety
    • some simple word counts
    • syntactic features
    • classes and subclasses of N,V,Adj,Avd
  • Factor analysis
factor analysis
Factor analysis
  • Statistical method to take large number of apparently random variables and group them together into “factors”
  • Factors will be groups of (+ve and –ve) features
  • Linguist might then try to characterize the factors in terms of some psycholinguistic feature
  • Biber took two Google classifications of text types: “Home” and “Science”
  • Harvested ~1500 webpages in each category (3.74m words)
    • originally got ~2500 webpages, but some were not suitable text types.ppt