Pull out all the stops: textual analysis via punctuation sequences


Darmon, A
Bazzi, M
Howison, S
Porter, M

Publication Date: 

21 September 2020


European Journal of Applied Mathematics

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Whether enjoying the lucid prose of a favorite author or slogging through some other
writer’s cumbersome, heavy-set prattle (full of parentheses, em dashes, compound adjectives, and Oxford commas), readers will notice stylistic signatures not only in word choice
and grammar, but also in punctuation itself. Indeed, visual sequences of punctuation from
different authors produce marvelously different (and visually striking) sequences. Punctuation is a largely overlooked stylistic feature in “stylometry”, the quantitative analysis
of written text. In this paper, we examine punctuation sequences in a corpus of literary
documents and ask the following questions: Are the properties of such sequences a distinctive feature of different authors? Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on
their punctuation sequences? Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time? Are
we on to something interesting in trying to do stylometry without words, or are we full of
sound and fury (signifying nothing)?

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Publication Type: 

Journal Article