Simulated Humanist Mind


Zipf’s Law, Style and the Literary – Puritan Style, Puritan Nature

(This is part 4 of my series on Zipf’s Law and literary style. Please see the last part, a disclaimer here) Puritan Style, Puritan Nature With my methodology thoroughly discussed, my first case study will be the effect of Puritan “plain style” as derived from (in my account) Ramist logic on the Zipfian structure of their writings. This puritan “plain style” though much discussed has no universal definition. The term itself does a decent job explaining the relevant aspects of this linguistic practice. Puritan writers would have been expected to eschew the metaphysical exhortations common to Anglican or Catholic writers in favor of more straightforward explications of the doctrines and usages embodied in God’s world.   Though Perry Miller notes that “considerable freedom was possible” in the actual process of writing, he also points out that the expectation of a simple style extended through all aspects of Puritan discourse. 1 Miller argues that this stricture was pervasive enough to devalue the concept of genre, leading to a literary field where “the authors of that [non-sermon] literature, who in most cases were divines, did not conceive of themselves as writing in literary genres.” 2 Indeed, literary genre took a back seat to the means and usages derived from the predominantly Ramist intellectual context that supported these Puritan writers. Ramism, a simplification of Aristotle’s system of logic promulgated by Petrus Ramus in the mid 1500s, aimed to expunge the rhetorical flourishes and (perhaps overly) intricate lines of theological thought common to the Scholastic writings that had long maintained dominance in the European universities. In order to do so, Ramus argued that his logically system had been embedded in our world through the mandate of God. By continually asserting God as a universally beneficial teleology (that is, there is no chance of him acting […]

Posted by Craig on February 10th, 2015


Zipf’s Law, Style and the Literary — Software and A Disclaimer

(This is part 3 of my series on Zipf’s law and literary stylistics. See part two here) Software and Statistics Today’s post continues the theme of my last, focusing on some technical aspects.  I will first quickly take you through the software I used in this study. I will then end with a bit of disclaimer that I feel is necessary whenever someone not formally educated in statistics delves into this subject. In order to facilitate my exploration of the case studies in my next post(s) I have relied heavily on the python module powerlaw authored by Jeff Alstott, Ed Bullmore and Dietmar Plenz. The functions provided by powerlaw allow for data to be fit to a power law distribution like Zipf’s and the value of to be inferred. Powerlaw also allows this fit to be compared to other similar distributions (lognormal, for example) to make sure that the phenomenon in question is indeed ruled by a power law. However, since natural language is generally considered to be ruled by Zipf distributions, I have deemed this step not necessary in this particular case. In addition, I programmed a graphical user interface in python that wraps powerlaw in order to make it easy to use for those unfamiliar with programming or command line tasks (See a screenshot below)     Results going forward will generated by these tools. To set a baseline for this study as it moves ahead, I have ‘checked’ Kenner’s work by processing both Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake in Zipf Explorer. The results are reproduced below:   Text Tokens (Length) Exponent Ulysses 219925 2.01 Finnegan’s Wake 268150 1.95 True to Kenner’s assertion of Joyce’s surprising regularity, both Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake fall just about in the normal 2-range for natural language, as per Cancho and others.  Though […]

Posted by Craig on February 3rd, 2015