The Sylistic Analysis Kit

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Agoston Toth

    College of Wooster

  2. 2. Larry L. Stewart

    College of Wooster

  3. 3. Peter L. Havholm

    College of Wooster

Work text
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EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Macintosh computer running System 7+

The Stylistic Analysis Kit, an application designed by the writers, is a compiled program for the Macintosh that produces a concordance and shows basic data for the stylistic analysis of any text. Although individual features of the SAK are not unique, its combination of these features and its ease of use make it particularly useful in the classroom with undergraduate students. This demonstration of the SAK will allow users to experiment with the program’s basic features and will show results and examples of its use in the undergraduate classroom. As well, we will be pleased to give copies of the program to anyone at the conference.

Unlike many of the sophisticated concordance and analysis programs used by scholars, the SAK has almost no learning curve. The user opens any text-only file from within the SAK , selects “analyze,” and in a single window is given basic statistics and a scrollable word list arranged alphabetically, by frequency, or according to user-defined word lists. Selecting a word allows all instances of the word to be seen in context.

The basic statistics given are similar to those found in some word processors but not always available in concordance programs: number of words, average word length, number of unique words and percentage of unique words, number of sentences and paragraphs, average number of words per sentence and paragraph, and percentage of “long” and “short” sentences and paragraphs. Users may define “long” and “short” simply by keyboarding in the numbers, for example, perhaps defining long sentences as those over twenty-five words and short sentences as those under six words.

Users may choose to display the scrollable word list alphabetically, by frequency, or according to user-defined lists and may move at will from one display to another. Each display lists all words, the number of times each word appears, and its percentage of the total words. Clicking on a word displays a scrollable list of all uses of the word, and clicking on a particular usage of the word takes the user to the place that usage occurs in the complete text.

Although alphabetical and frequency lists are self-explanatory, some comment concerning user-defined lists may be helpful. The user, if he or she wishes, may create any number of user-defined lists simply by creating a text-only file containing those words. For example, a user interested in financial imagery in a text could create a list of words relating to finance, for example, “money,” “wealth,” “pound,” “shilling,” “debt,” etc. If the user then chooses to display the word list as a user-defined list, all usages of those words will be displayed as well as the frequency and percentage of use of that particular list.

This brief explanation of the SAK may suggest some of the reasons for its usefulness in the undergraduate classroom. Students with no knowledge of computing beyond word processing are able to use the SAK, usually with less than five minutes of instruction, and then are able to perform their own analyses either on literary texts or, in writing courses, on texts of their own creation.

At this point, the writers of this paper, have used the SAK both in writing courses and in literature courses in order to encourage students to look more closely at individual textual features and at strategies used by writers. For example, in one writing course, students had read several essays about cultural icons and then wrote essays on something that they considered a cultural icon. In using the SAK to analyze both the professional essays and her own essay, one student was amazed to discover that in a seven-hundred-word essay, she had used the term “icon” twenty-three times; in no professional essay was the word used more than four times. The student then began to look at strategies used by professional writers to avoid repetition. What seems important here is that by using this simple program the student was able to make her own analysis and her own discovery. It is doubtful that the instructor’s admonitions to “avoid repetition” would have been nearly as effective.

Similar results have occurred in literature courses when using the SAK. For example, in a discussion of Jane Austen’s Emma, students were asked what traits or characteristics seemed to be particularly valued in the world of this novel. Among the answers were “wealth” and “wit.” Because the class was being held in a seminar room equipped with a computer for each student, the instructor was then able to suggest that students use the SAK to look at specific instances of the trait in the text. Students were surprised to discover that the words “wit” and “witty” were associated almost entirely with characters whom they did not admire. There followed an interesting discussion about the reasons for the discrepancy between their perception and what seemed to be the actuality. Some argued for a distinction between what was valued in the world of the text and what was valued by the text; others more simply saw their perceptions as having been distorted by their own stereotypes about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century society. However, those on both sides of the argument came to attend more closely to the specific language of the text.

Our experience has been that after such a classroom exposure to the SAK, many students routinely use the program to gather data for papers and discussions of literary texts. Because the program is free and easy to use, most install it on their own computers and use it frequently on electronic texts which they download from the web.

We have not yet had enough experience with the SAK to know if students eventually will graduate to using more fully-developed concordance programs and become interested in more sophisticated quantitative analysis. However, conversations with students suggest that both may indeed occur. At the least, students seem intrigued by and interested in a form of analysis that seems relatively infrequent in most undergraduate classrooms.

Our demonstration will allow participants to experiment with the SAK and to determine for themselves whether it might be a useful tool for their students.

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Conference Info

In review

"Virtual Communities"

Hosted at Debreceni Egyetem (University of Debrecen) (Lajos Kossuth University)

Debrecen, Hungary

July 5, 1998 - July 10, 1998

109 works by 129 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ALLC (10), ACH/ICCH (18), ALLC/EADH (25)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC