Formula Follows the Evolution of Writing Styles
How does literary style evolve? Surprisingly, clues lie in words with seemingly little meaning, such as “to” and “that”. By analyzing how writers use such “content-free” words, mathematician Daniel Rockmore and colleagues at Dartmouth College were able to conduct the first, large-scale “stylometric” analysis of literature.
Content-free words are indicative of writing style, Rockmore says. While two authors might use the same words to describe a similar event, they will use content-free “syntactic glue” to link their words in a different way. Interestingly, the research team found that writers are most influenced by their contemporaries rather than the great works of the past.