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 Ling 131: Language & Style

 Topic 6 (session A) - Style and Style variation > Authorial and text style > Task B

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Session Overview
Style Variation in USA
Language Variation: Dialect
Language Variation: Register
Style Variation in a poem
Style: What is it?
Authorial and text style
Style Variation Checksheet
Topic 6 'tool' summary
Useful Links
The Passages

Authorial and Text Style

Task B - Comparing sentence lengths

accessible / text version of taskNow we have some initial impressions, let's do a little bit of elementary statistical work to begin to characterise the styles of the different writers. As styles have to do with overall tendencies in writing, quantitative analysis will often be revealing (though we should remember that as the passages we are looking at are small - in order to keep your workload down - the statistical work we do will be limited and illustrative rather than conclusive).

For each passage, count the number of words in each sentence and record them by filling in the relevant cells in the table below. How does what you find correlate with your initial impressions of the styles of the different passages? Compare your conclusions with ours below. You can find a link to the passages under 'Useful Links' on the left hand menu.

Note that, for comparative purposes, we have given you a sentence length average 'norm' for prose writing, calculated in the 1970s by a Swedish linguist called Ellegård. His "norm" was based on a 1 million words corpus of 20th century American English writing called the Brown Corpus (the corpus was collected at Brown University in 1964).

A Statistical Comparison of the Passages

our analysis

Our Statistical Comparison of the passages

Category Austen Steinbeck Lawrence Ellegård Norm









S-Length average





Don't worry if you did not get exactly the same answers as us (but if they are a long way out, check your maths!). It turns out that even counting words in passages is not as simple as it seems, because there are different ways to define what a word is!

For example, you have to decide whether to count 'good-looking' and brother-in-law' in the Austin passage as one word each or as two and three words respectively, and whether to count 'wasn't' in the Lawrence passage as one word or two. What matters is that you use the same understanding of what a word is when counting each passage.

Use the buttons below to build up comparative graphs of the passage averages compared with the Ellegård norm:

chuckle stop



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