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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Style,Text and frequency:-Relative norms

It is time to return the question of "norm" on which the notion of deviance depends.Given that the ideal of a completely description of style in a myth,we can only aim at relatively reliable statements about what is frequent  or infrequent in a text....
                                Some kind of comparison outside the text or corpus is necessary,otherwise statements of frequency are vacuous.For example,discovering that x per cent of Gibbon's nouns are concrete,and only y per cent abstract is of little use by itself.This might be treated as evidence that Gibbon uses an abnormally large number of abstract nouns,but of course it cannot,for we might then discover that a preponderance of abstract noun is quite normal in the prose of Gibbon's contemporaries,and that Gibbon's language in this respect is not exceptional.We might even discover that he uses a lower number of abstract nouns than other writers of his time.Thus what at first appeared to be evidence in favor of one hypothesis  might turn out to be evidence against it.This example teaches us that a statement "x" is frequent in A is only meaningful if it acts as a shorthand for x is more frequent in A than in B'.
                                                             This object lesson leads to the use of a relative norm of comparison.Where an absolute norm for English cannot be relied on the next best thing is to compare the corpus whose style is under scrutiny with one or more comparable corpuses,thus establishing a relative norm.For example,Milic, in his study of Swift's prose style,confirms Swift's predilection for clause connectives by comparing his results for a sample of Swift with those for equivalent samples of Addison,Johnson and Macaulay.
             Percentage of initial connectives in 2000-sentences samples of Addison,Johnson,Macaulay and Swift.....
             Connective                Addison      Johnson         Macaulay           Swift
               C                             5.5              5.8                      7.4                 20.2
                 S                             7.1              6.2                  4.1               5.4
               SC                           3.3            1.4                    1.5                 8.3
          Total                           15.9             13.4                  13.0              33.9
Swift's habit of reinforcing connections between clauses sometimes reaches the extreme  of sequences such as and therefore if not with standing.........Milic sees this habit as having a role in Swift's persuasive rhetoric:as helping to create an impression of consummate logical clarity.This table is fairly convincing since there is a strong supposition that the markedly lower figures for other writers come closer to an absolute norm than those for Swift.The more comparable writers we study,the less likely it is that they are out of step with the norm of the language rather than Swift.The same technique may be used within the canon of a single author.For instance,Corbett,in support of the observation that Swift uses abnormally long sentences in A modest Proposal,cities a much lower sentence length  from a sample A tale to a Tub.The long sentences in Swift's ironic essay in support of cannibalism are explicable as a stylistic expression of the persona he adopts in order to intensify the impact of his outrageous proposal:in Corbett's words,we seem to be listening to a man who is so filled with his subject,so careful about qualifying his statements and computations,so infatuated with the sound of his own words,that he rambles on at inordinate length.The greater the range and size of the corpus which acts as a relative norm,the more valid the statement of relative frequency.But a small sample for comparison is better than nothing at all.......
                                        There are manifest dangers in the way a relative norm is chosen,but one it is accepted that relatively validity is all we can aim at these need to worry us unduly.It is obvious that a suitable norm of comparison.should be what Enkvist calls a contextually related norm.There would be little point in comparing Jane Austen's style with that of contemporary legal writs or twentieth-century parliamentary reports.What counts as the same category of writing,However can be defined to different degrees of narrowness.The books of Jane Austen could be compared with other prose writings of the period,(b) with other novels of the period,with other novels with similar subject matter,and so forth.The narrower the range of comparison,the surer we shall be that the stylistic features we are attributing to Jane Austen are peculiar to her style,rather than to the style of a larger category of writings which includes hers.....

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