Discourse, Power and Écriture Féminine: Text Mining Gender Difference in 18th and 19th Century French Literature

  1. 1. Shlomo Argamon

    Linguistic Cognition Lab - Illinois Institute of Technology

  2. 2. Jean-Baptiste Goulain

    Linguistic Cognition Lab - Illinois Institute of Technology

  3. 3. Russell Horton

    Digital Library Development Center - University of Chicago

  4. 4. Mark Olsen

    ARTFL Project - University of Chicago

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It is well documented that men and women use informal
language, such as conversation and correspondence, in
rather different ways, reflecting a wide variety of cultural forces
and practices (Tannen 1990, Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 2003).
Recent work has suggested that gender differences may also
be found in more formal, written communications. Koppel,
Argamon, et al (2002) have shown that gender of author can
be accurately predicted between 70 and 80 percent of cases of
published samples from the British National Corpus, using
machine learning and text mining techniques. Using simple
statistical and collocation techniques, Olsen (2005) has argued
that there are distinct gender differences in literary French from
the 17th to the early 20th centuries. He (Olsen: 2004) further
proposed that the differences between male and female writing
during this time does not appear to support a "two cultures"
model (Liberman 2004), but that it was a more conscious
political activity of domain specific writing in which men and
women deployed the same language.
We are addressing several issues that arise from our previous
work on gender and public writing in this study. The first is to
apply machine learning and data mining techniques to the same
sample used by Olsen to examine the degree to which
conclusions found in Koppel, Argamon, et al. can be replicated
for larger sample of French literary texts. The methodologies
used by Koppel, Argamon, et al. and Olsen may have privileged
identification of particular features, with Koppel focusing on
more stylistic aspects of writing and Olsen examining
significant frequency differences of content words. Use of a
common approach will allow us to examine the degree to which
gender differences can be compared between cultures and time
periods. We also expect use of machine learning techniques
will allow us to test Olsen's claim that gender differences in
French literature are best explained as examples of what
Liberman describes as "dominance" theories of gender
distinction. If the features that best characterize gender
difference are more "stylistic", this would suggest that
"difference" or two culture models are more applicable, but if
differences are shown in content words and these words are
used in similar ways, we would argue that the "dominance" or
political theory may be a more effective explanatory model.
And finally, we are comparing several distinct statistical
techniques, most notably Support Vector Machine (SVM) and
information gain models, to see which are most effective at
extracting weighted features that can be used to interpret
observed differences in male and female writing, comparing
these with more traditional examinations of differences in term
frequency. Becuase of the need to pick apart the learned model
to examine its inner workings, with the model itself as the end
product of the learning process, some Digital Humanities
applications of machine learning techniques will differ in
emphasis from more common data mining tasks, where the end
goal is often to maximize performance on the classification of
unknown data, and the model may be viewed as a black box.
This study is based on the creation of two samples of 300 texts
roughly balanced by genre, collection and time period driven
by texts by French women writers available to us. For each of
the 300 texts by 67 female authors (18.5 million words), we
selected the chronologically closest male document by genre
and, where available, by collection, leading to a comparison
collection of 300 texts by 170 authors (27 million words). As
noted in Olsen (2005), the samples are largely drawn from the
18th-early 20th centuries with strongest representation in the
19th century, owing to the predominance of romantic novelists
in the available collections of female writers. The sample is
also skewed by the presence of many works by particular
notable authors, in particular George Sand. The ARTFL project
is currently adding a large block of texts to our collection of
French Women Writers (FWW) and these will be integrated
into the full study, depending on how much is available in time.
Each text in the corpus has been prepared by first tokenizing
it and running it through TreeTagger to determine lemmas and
parts-of-speech for each token. In cases of uncertainty, each
possible assignment is assigned a probability value between 0
and 1 by TreeTagger; currently, we only consider the most
likely analysis for each token (though we will apply more
sophisticated techniques in the sequel). We consider in the study several types of lexical features by which to represent
the texts numerically: Word Frequencies (WF), Lemma
Frequencies (LF), Part-of-speech Frequencies (PF), Word
Bigram Frequencies (WBF), Lemma Bigram Frequencies
(LBF), and POS Bigram Frequencies (PBF). For each such
feature set, we compute a vector of numeric values for each
text, where elements of the vector represent the relative
frequencies of various features in the set. For example, a WF
vector may contain entries for "la", "l'", "femme", and
"femmes", while the corresponding LF vector will contain
entries just for "la" and "femme", and the corresponding LBF
vector may contain an entry for "la/femme". Features that occur
less than 10 times in the entire corpus are elided; in some
experiments, more stringent criteria for feature inclusion will
be used, to see how few features we can get away with.
For classification, we are applying the SVM method; SVMs
are one of the most successful modern methods for text
categorization (Joachims 2002). We are currently working with
the Weka (Witten & Frank 2005) implementation, using a linear
kernel and the default parameters. (Other options do not appear
to improve accuracy by much, so we used the simplest option,
which also enables easier interpretation of the results.) As the
work progresses, we will be evaluating computational
efficiency, and may switch to other, faster, software codes if
necessary. The classification model constructed is a "linear
model", which means that it assigns a single numeric weight
to each input feature, positive for one input class (say, "femme")
and negative for the other (say, "homme"). The magnitude of
the weight corresponds to the importance or influence of the
feature's value for classification; high weights indicate those
features with the most effect on the classification of a given
text (in a specific model). Once classified by the SVM method,
we apply the information gain and other metrics (Forman et al.
2003) to identify those features that are most relevant to the missing the strong preference noted in Olsen for abstractions
and numbers. However, when examining the PoS measures,
ordinal numbers are preferred by male writers. These variations
arise from using the IG measure as opposed to differences in
relative frequencies to assess "importance" and examination of
a small but more random sample, issues which will be explored
in the full paper.
Text mining techniques can identify gender of author using a
variety of models with impressive accuracy. The features ranked
most highly in learned classification tend to confirm previous
results and point to the possibility of cross-language patterns
of gendered language use. The full paper will explore the
reasons for the higher accuracy performance in identifying male
authors and examine in more detail the male and female author
feature sets with specific reference to the differences in ranked
features arising from different techniques. Finally, we will
address the larger question of whether the clear distinctions of
male and female public writing in this sample arise from a "two
cultures" interpretation or more conscious political stances by
a systematic analysis of word collocations around particularly
gender specific terms.
Software Sites
• PhiloLogic:<http://philologic.uchicago.e
• TreeTagger:<http://www.ims.uni-stuttgart
• Weka 3: <http://www.cs.waikato.ac.nz/ml/
Argamon, Shlomo, Moshe Koppel, Jonathan Fine, and Anat
Rachel Shimoni. "Gender, Genre and Writing Style in Formal
Written Texts." Text 23.3 (2003): 321–346.
Eckert, Penelope, and Sally McConnell-Ginet. Language and
Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Forman, George, Isabelle Guyon, and André Elisseff. "An
Extensive Empirical Study of Feature Selection Metrics for
Text Classification." Journal of Machine Learning Research
3.7-8 (2003): 1289-1305.
Koppel, Moshe, Shlomo Argamon, and Anat Rachel Shimoni.
"Automatically Categorizing Written Texts by Author Gender."
Literary &Linguistic Computing 17.4 (2002): 401-12.
Liberman, Mark. "Sexing Rivka." Language Log. May 8, 2004.
Liberman, Mark. "Gender and Tags." Language Log. May 9,
2004. <http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/langu
Mitchell, Tom. Machine Learning. McGraw Hill, 1997.
Olsen, Mark. "Making Space: Women's Writing in France,
1600-1950." Paper presented at ALLC/ACH 2004 Conference,
Göteborg, Sweden.
Olsen, Mark. "Gender Representation and histoire des
mentalités:Language and Power in the Trésor de la langue
française." Histoire et measure VI (. 1991. 349-73.
Olsen, Mark. "Écriture Féminine: Searching for an Indefinable
Practice?" Literary & Linguistic Computing 20 (2005): 147-164.
Tannen, Deborah. You Just Don't Understand. William Morrow,
Witten, Ian H., and Eibe Frank. Data Mining: Practical
Machine Learning Tools and Technique. 2nd. Morgan
Kaufmann, 2005.
classification task. Tokens and lemmas found in this step will
be compared to differential frequency tables already used by
Preliminary classification results using Weka Sequential
Minimal Optimization (SMO) implementation of a support
vector classifier with 10 fold cross-validation confirm that
author gender in this sample can be detected with surprising
reliability. For the entire sample, gender of author was correctly
identified 85.9% of the time using word lemmas and 85.7% on
tokens, with lower performance for both generic POS (73%)
and more specific POS (75%). A second test on paired 100
document male/female collections, to reduce the number of
works by Sand and smooth other main sample anomalies,
achieved slightly better performance, with correct classification
by author gender at 87% for both surface word forms (tokens)
and lemmas, with POS again performing less well at 76.5%
and POSgroups (abstract POS) at 72%. The accuracy
performance of classifications based on tokens and lemmas
(86% and 87%) is somewhat higher than the 70-80%
performance for a sample modern English documents reported
by Koppel et al. (2002) This may be due to our use of all of the
words in this experiment, suggesting that men and women tend
to write about different things and use somewhat different
Table 1 shows the confusion matrix from the Weka SMO
classification expressed as the correct classification rate broken
down by feature type. In both samples, the highest performing
features (tokens and lemmas) are considerably better at
identification of male authors than female authors. We have
noted this difference in other recent work on modern English
data. Surprisingly, the opposite is true (in 3 of 4 instances) for
part of speech features, though it is unlikely that the differences
are statistically significant.
Table 1
Using a variety of techniques, we can effectively distinguish
between male and female authors. Examination of the highest
weighted features using the information gain (IG) measure on
the 2x92 subset sample reveals clear agreement with previous
work. Female authors show a strong preference for writing
about women (noted by the pronoun elle), adopt a more personal
and reflective frame (je, me), and address (vous). This is
consistently shown in both selected tokens and lemmas, and is
also indicated in the part of speech analysis by a preference for
the use of personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns and possessive
pronouns. Examination of tokens assigned a high information
gain in the subset selected to correct for sample biases reveals
the same female concern for descriptions of internal, subjective
and emotive states described by Olsen (2005). These terms
include émotions, amitié, chagrin, courage, craint* esprit*
desire. generosité, larmes, motifs, peines, penser, plaisirs,
réflexions, sensible, sentiment, sentis, soin*, and souffrance.
The IG measures are notable for some striking absences from
Olsen's examination, including terms like amour* and aim*
which were strongly correlated to female discourse, as well as
many kinship terms (oncle, maman, enfant, parents, etc.). Terms
with high information gain values that are more common in
male than female writers are less clearly grouped and are

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2007

Hosted at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States

June 2, 2007 - June 8, 2007

106 works by 213 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (2)

Organizers: ADHO

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