Every word leaves a fingerprint - Macleans.ca

Every word leaves a fingerprint

Physicists develop a formula to determine authorship


Using the books of Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence and Herman Melville, Swedish physicists have developed a formula that analyzes different writing styles and texts in order to calculate what they call an author’s “literary footprint.” Published in the New Journal of Physics, the concept uses the frequency with which writers use new words in their literature to find distinct patterns in styles. The formula, which equates linguistic style with linguistic ability, also uses the speed at which this drops off as their books progress. Their evidence shows that the rate of unique word drop-off varies for different authors and, most significantly, is consistent across the entire works of any one of the three authors they analyzed. The statistical analysis was applied to entire novels, sections from novels, complete works and amalgamations from different works by the same authors—they all had a unique word-frequency ‘fingerprint’. The physicists believe the calculation could be used to end disputes over literary authorship and discover lost works by famous writers.

The Telegraph

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Every word leaves a fingerprint

  1. I listened to a CBC radio program a while ago that explored a researcher's work on Agatha Christie's body of work. Using some of the same features discused in this article, the researcher noted a drop off in the use of new words and increased use of repetitive phraseology. To her, this indicated a graph of mental decline, perhaps even a predictor of Agatha's eventual dementia.

    Taken together, I wonder what the value of a "fingerprint" taken of early work will be in evaluating later work if there can be such a noticeable difference.