Evidence-based work on authorship over recent decades has shown that writers create an individual style with a precision of detail and a consistency which would hardly have been predicted by traditional stylistics, let alone by the more recent understanding of literary production that foregrounds collective forces, such as institutions, ideologies, genres and language itself. Meanwhile cognitive linguistics and neuroscience have been exploring the connections between the language of the individual and physical structures in the brain from the perspective of the mechanisms of language production. This work takes the question of language individuation beyond literary style to wider questions of how individuals create styles in language in general, in everyday writing and speech. If our picture is of language users who cannot help transforming the undifferentiated common resource of language into highly specific recognisable idiolects, how best can we study this phenomenon, and establish its nature and limits?
The symposium honours John Burrows, the founder of computational stylistics. Burrows showed in his book Computation into Criticism: A Study of Jane Austen's Novels and an Experiment in Method (1987) that a quantitative study of function word use can reveal subtle and powerful patterns in Austen's language. The book also pioneered the application of Principal Component Analysis to language data. In subsequent work Burrows proposed a series of new techniques, Delta, Zeta, and Iota, all of which are now very widely used in computational stylistics. Burrows' work both before and after his retirement in 1989 has put authorship study on a rigorous basis and provided a model for an unusual and productive combination of statistical and literary analysis.
Contact: Hugh Craig
Australian Research Council (DP0880351)
Humanities Research Institute, The University of Newcastle
The University of Newcastle