Theory, Method, and Practice in Computer Content Analysis

By Mark D. West | Go to book overview

3

Redeveloping Diction: Theoretical Considerations

Roderick P.Hart

I have found virtually every stereotype about computerized content analysis to be untrue. It is alleged to be mechanical, but I have found it creative. It has been decried as oafish, but I am fascinated by its subtlety. It is said to be reliable but not valid, and yet I see its validity as its greatest strength. It is said to be reactive, colorless, and arcane; I have found it to be heuristic, exciting, and altogether normal. I have reached these conclusions after tinkering with computerized language analysis since 1968. Since I began these studies, enormous strides have been made in the area. Today, scholars are turning verbal text into sophisticated data matrices (Roberts, 1989), using logistic regression techniques to track language relationships (Eltinge & Roberts, 1993), and exploring a variety of algorithms for measuring prosody effects (Hawthorne, 1994) and lemmatization (Klein, 1991).

My own specialty—lexical analysis—is far more basic. I am interested in the words people use and why they use them. Some scholars snort at such endeavors, since word choice seems the least consequential of the complex decisions people make when communicating with one another. But trying to understand why some words are preferred over others (“economical” vs. “cheap”), why certain words are never used (“cunctator”), why other words are considered nonpareil (such as “nonpareil”), why some words come (“cybernetic”) and why some words go (“cool”)—this has always been enough work for me. I have chosen to study words because they are so often underestimated. For the last three decades I have tried to estimate these underestimations.

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