Tracking The Evolution of Literary Style Via Dirichlet-Multinomial Change Point Regression

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Abstract

It is typical in stylometry to assume that authors have a unique writing style which is common to all their published writings and constant over time. Based on this assumption, statistical techniques can be used to answer literary questions, such as authorship attribution, in a quantitative manner. However the claim that authors do indeed have a constant literary style has not received much
investigation or validation. We propose a collection of statistical models based on Dirichlet Multinomial change point regression which are able to capture the evolution of writing style over time, including both gradual changes in style as the author matures, and abrupt changes which can be caused by extreme
events in the author’s life. To illustrate our framework, we study the literary output of the celebrated British author Sir Terry Pratchett, who was tragically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during the last years of life. Contrary to the usual assumptions made in stylometry, we find evidence of both gradual changes in style over his lifetime, and an abrupt change which corresponds to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We also investigate the published writings of Agatha Christie who is also rumoured to have suffered from Alzheimer's towards the end of her life, and find evidence of gradual drift, but no corresponding abrupt change. The implications for stylometry and authorship attribution are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-167
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A
Volume183
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020

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