Psycholinguistically Plausible Events and Authorship Attribution

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Patrick Juola

    Duquesne University

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Plausible Events and
Authorship Attribution
Juola, Patrick
Duquesne University
Authorship attribution (Juola, 2008) is an
important emerging subdiscipline of digital
scholarship, but it suffers from a lack of
connection to other areas and disciplines,
which in turn strongly limits both applicability
and uptake. It is now unquestionable that
computers can infer authorship attributes with
high accuracy, but the accurate inference
processes tend not to inform us about the
actual authors (Craig, 1999). Among the best
methods, for example, are the analysis of
the most frequent function words such as
prepositions (e.g., Binongo, 2003), but knowing
that a particular person uses the word "above"
a lot tells us little about that person. Argamon
(2006) has provided a theoretical analysis of
one particular method, but in the unfamiliar
and "inhuman" language of statistics, which
again sheds little light on authorial language and
authorial thought. By contrast, studies of gender
differences in language (e.g., Coates, 2004) offer
not only lists of differences, but explanations in
terms of the social environment.
This is in marked contrast to some of the early
(pre-computer) work in authorship analysis,
which attemped to infer authorship on the basis
of personality traits or psychological attributes.
For example, one of the oft-suggested measures
is vocabulary size, which we can easily associate
with both high intelligence (a personal trait)
as well as high education (a background trait).
This idea can be attributed both to Simpson
(1949) and Yule (1944) as well as to Talentire
(1976) [which admittedly is not pre-computer].
Similarly, average word length has been often
proposed [going back to De Morgan (1851)] but
never successful.
Why? Why the apparent disconnect between the
useful measures (such as preposition count) and
meaningful measures like vocabulary richness?
And in particular, why does this disconnect
persist when we can find both linguistic patterns
that predict personality (Argamon et al, 2005;
Nowson and Oberlander, 2007) and well as
medically useful linguistic diagnostics (Brown
et al, 2005). We suggest two possibilities; first,
that the meaningful measures proposed may
not be sufficiently fine-grained, and second,
that the statistical measures performed lose too
much information. As an example of the first,
consider that very few words, even in high-level
educated writing, exceed eight letters, meaning
that "word length" is an extremely coarse-
grained discretization of language. Similarly, the
standard method of calculating "averages" (or
even means and variances) reduces the entire
data set for a given author to two numbers. Many
authors have suggested (and recent findings
tend to support) that multivariate analysis
methods should work better for authorship
In this paper, we explore a set of multivariate
analyses of well-established psycholinguistic
variables. The English Lexicon Project (Balota
et al, 2007) provides standardized behavioral
data for a set of approximately 40,000 words,
including average time for lexical decision tasks
(seeing a string of characters on the screen
and determining whether or not they form
a word), and naming time (seeing a set of
letters on the screen and naming the word they
form). These are widely regarded as measures
of the cognitive load involved in processing that
particular word, i.e. a measure of the mental
"difficulty" of that word. Following similar
logic to De Morgan and Yule, we assume that
some people (smarter people?) will be more
comfortable using "difficult" words, and that
difficulty is more appropriately measured via
behavioral data than via either frequency or
However, rather than focusing purely on
average difficulty, we apply more complex
multivariate statistics to the data distribution,
for example, by calculating the Kolmogorov-
Smirnoff distances between the distributions,
a distance that can be substantial even in
instances where the means and variances
of the data sets are identical. The JGAAP
software package (Juola, 2009) provides many
different combinations of analysis methods
and preprocessing, allowing us to provide a
fairly comprehensive discussion of the accuracy

and usefulness of these measurements in
comparison with control techniques such as
simple lexical statistics.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None