Academic journal article Style

Collocational Analysis as a Stylistic Discovery Procedure: The Case of Flannery O'Connor's Eyes

Academic journal article Style

Collocational Analysis as a Stylistic Discovery Procedure: The Case of Flannery O'Connor's Eyes

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

A stylistic analysis seeks to do at least one of the following: (1) advance linguistic and/or stylistic theory or methodology, (2) advance our understanding of the author(s) under discussion in a way that would not be possible without the methodology or theoretical apparatus of stylistics. By its very nature, computational literary stylistics makes possible an analysis that otherwise would be very difficult, if not practically impossible, to perform. That is, in at least one variety, computational stylistics uses the computational power and convenience of the personal computer to search, re-search, calculate, and re-calculate linguistic patterns of interest in literary works. Ideally, the analysis produces insight into the remarkably finely detailed formal level at which some literary meaning is produced. The computer is of primary value in its searching and calculating capacities. One could theoretically, but not practically, search texts by hand, or eye, for the same patterns; however, the computer can help us find without error in seconds what it might take humans without computers days, weeks, or frequently months to find in much error-prone and tedious work. The same generalizations apply to the thousands of repetitive calculations for statistics, such as collocational t-scores and mutual information scores, which are frequently indispensable in stylistic analysis today.

This article illustrates computational stylistics through an examination of the use of the word eyes in the sacramentally rich fiction of Flannery O'Connor. Tools used in this study are the statistics program SPSS and my own internet-based text analysis program TEXTANT. The article also introduces the reader to the use of the first-generation Brown Corpus in computational stylistics. I have electronically scanned O'Connor's texts for this and other studies. The word eyes is an interesting test case for computational stylistics, first because the eye has been treated extensively, although nonstylistically, in the critical literature on O'Connor, and second because although eyes, as a token, is extraordinarily easy to search for with text-analysis programs, the grammatical contexts in which it appears and produces literary significance are much more resistant to computational discovery. The token eye is not considered in this article in order to keep the calculations and computation relatively simple. Once one has found all tokens of eyes and has tested the statistical significance of the frequencies, one can then use the computer as a concordancer to find all tokens in context for a detailed qualitative analysis. However, with a high-frequency word such as eyes, the analyst is still, at this stage, faced with a bewildering variety of uses. This article will illustrate the use of collocation analysis as a computational and statistical discovery procedure that helps narrow the search for interesting grammatical context. Inherent in a phrase such as "interesting grammatical context" is the inescapable qualitative core of most stylistic and literary analysis, even that which is aided by computers. Thus, the article will also include discussions of the grammatical context--voice--in which a significant number of collocations with eyes are involved.

2. Eyes in O'Connor versus Brown

As Table 1 illustrates, the word eyes is more common in O'Connor's fiction (2.02 tokens per 1000 words) than it is in the Brown fiction subcorpora (1.24 tokens per 1000 words). This difference is statistically significant to the .01 level.

There is quite a bit of information and more than a few assumptions contained in the form and figures of Table 1. Computational stylistics frequently relies on a comparative corpus in order to say anything meaningful, in a statistical sense, about the author(s) of concern. The Brown fiction subcorpora, used here for our comparative purposes, are collections of excerpts from written American English, all originally published in 1960-1961. …

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