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Monday, February 13, 2012

Stylet,text and frequency:-The problem of "measuring style"

If style is regarded as a function of frequency,it seems reasonable to suppose that style can be measured.Some definitions of style have been based on this assumption.As example often quoted is that of Bernard Baloch,who defined the style of the text as the message carried by the frequency distributions and transitional probabilities of its linguistic features,especially as they differ from those of the same features in the language as a whole.Such definitions appeal to the empiricist,who would like to reduce subjectively perceived phenomenon to something objective,but they tend to alarm the student of literature.We hope to reassure the latter by showing that quantification is a less essential part of stylistics than this definition suggests....
                                                                            The principal underlying Baloch's formulation is simple enough.To find out what is distinctive about the style of the certain corpus or text we work out the frequencies of the features it contains and then measures these figures against equivalent figures which are normal for the language in question.The style is then to be measured in terms of deviations-either higher frequencies or lower frequencies-from the norm...........
                                     Many impressionistic statements about style would gain meaning for such a comparison.We often read statements or suggestions that writer X "favors" is fond of tend to use language feature Y: for example,that Hemingway tends to use short sentences,or that Johnson's favor abstract vocabulary.Such statements may be based on strong conviction and close observation,and may even felt to be self-evident,but they appear to have no empirical status-are merely we might say guesses-unless supported by frequency data.Under Baloch's type of analysis,the statement that Hemingway uses "short sentences amounts to a claim that the average length of the Hemingway sentence is shorter than the average length of an English sentence:something which can in principle be verified or falsified.....
                                                                           But even this simple illustration exposes the difficulties of the quantitative definition of style.How does one determine the average length of an English sentence?Does one use conservation,written prose,modern novels,etc as one's standard for determining the norm of the language as a whole?None of these individually could be regarded as representative.To arrive at the average length of an English sentence,one should ideally amass a complete corpus of the language at a given period.Leaving aside the problem of what time period to specify,we should have to ransack the libraries of the world to find a complete list of published works written during the period.This would still leave out manuscript compositions and spoken language.The operation would be totally impracticable.Even,it it were not,there would be other problems,such as whether a book read by millions would count equally,in the corpus,with a private letter;whether some publications would be weightier in determining the norm for the language,than others,In this situation the obvious resort is to sampling;but without some clearcut notation for statistical purposes,of what is meant by the "language as a whole",any sampling procedure is bound to involve subjective decisions.The norm of the language as a whole is not the objective reality that it seems to be in Baloch's definition ,and some less absolute standard of comparison has to be found...................
                                               

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