Saturday December 20, 2003

Verse Meter Analyzer

In The Eyre Affair (a Thursday Next novel), author Jasper Fforde describes Thursday's introduction to the Verse Meter Analyzer:

He opened the door to another side office. A pair of identical twins were operating a large computing engine. The room was uncomfortably hot from the thousands of valves, and the clicking of relays was almost deafening. This was the only piece of modern technology that I had seen so far in the office.

"These are the Forty brothers, Jeff and Geoff. The Fortys operate the Verse Meter Analyzer. It breaks down any prose or poem into its components — words, punctuation, grammar, and so forth — then compares that literary signature with a specimen of the target writer in its own memory. Eighty-nine percent accuracy Very useful for spotting forgeries. We had what purported to be a page of an early draft of Antony and Cleopatra. It was rejected on the grounds that it had too many verbs per unit paragraph."

The Verse Meter Analyzer exists only in Thursday's alternate universe, but something very much like it exists in our own.

Stylometry is the science of measuring literary style.

Stylometry is now entering a golden era. In the past 15 years, researchers have developed an arsenal of mathematical tools, from statistical tests to artificial intelligence techniques, for use in determining authorship. They have started applying these tools to texts from a wide range of literary genres and time periods, including theFederalist Papers, Civil War letters, and Shakespeare's plays.

"We can now pretty accurately identify authorship—under the right conditions," says John Burrows, an emeritus English professor of the University of Newcastle in Australia.

What's more, the tremendous growth of computer power and electronic archives of literary texts is allowing stylometrists to carry out mathematical analyses on a scale previously unimaginable.

[cf. Bookish Math: Statistical tests are unraveling knotty literary mysteries, Erica Klarreich, Science News Online, Week of Dec. 20, 2003; Vol. 164, No. 25 ]

Truth is occasionally stranger than fiction... in this case, it's only just as strange.

Verse Meter Analyzer ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Sat, 20 Dec, 13:56 Pacific | «e»