Conference “Digital Stylistics in Romance Studies and Beyond”

José Calvo Tello and Ulrike Henny-Krahmer

From February 27th to March 2nd, the conference “Digital Stylistics in Romance Studies and Beyond” took place at the University of Würzburg. It was organized by the CLiGS group and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The goal of the conference was to bring together international experts in Digital Stylistics to discuss and further research in this interdisciplinary field which is concerned with the study of linguistic and literary style by means of computational methods. The title of the conference suggested a special focus on work with corpora in Romance languages but was also open to other languages (see the Call for Papers for details). The programme shows the range of topics, objects of study, languages and periods that was covered by the participants coming from all over Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. Two renowned keynote speakers were invited: Douglas Biber (Applied Linguistics) from the Northern Arizona University and Glenn Roe (Digital Humanities) from the Sorbonne Université in Paris. The conference took place at several venues in Würzburg: the main programme in the new building of the Graduate Schools of Life Sciences and Humanities on the campus Hubland Nord and the inauguration and keynotes in the Würzburg Residence in the city center.

Venue of the inauguration and the keynotes: the Würzburg Residence in the city center. Image source:
Venue of the main conference programme: the new building of the Graduate Schools of Life Sciences and the Humanities on the campus Hubland Nord.

For conferences in Digital Humanities it has become common practice to establish a Twitter hashtag which allows the participants to share information about the event with the wider audience of this social media channel. We did so for this conference, as well, and the tweets about “Digital Stylistics in Romance Studies and Beyond” can be found under the hashtag #dsrom as well as #digitalstylistics.

Wednesday. The conference started with the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday evening in a marvelous location, the Toscanasaal in the Würzburg Residence. After the warm welcoming words from Robert Hesselbach, the initiator of the project Christof Schöch, and the Vice-President of the University, Baris Kabak, it was time for the keynote of Douglas Biber. He is one of the most influential linguists of the last decades and a pioneer in the linguistic analysis of groups of texts (text types, genres, registers). He used the method Factor Analysis (and Principal Component Analysis) to observe the correlations between words and linguistic annotations, observing that there are two functional dimensions or components that tend to reappear, independently of the language and corpus used: narrative vs. non-narrative, and oral vs. literate discourse.

The first keynote speaker Douglas Biber (Northern Arizona University) giving his talk “Using corpus-based analysis to study fictional style: A multi-dimensional analysis of variation among and within novels”.
At the conference inauguration in the Toskana Hall of the Würzburg Residence. From left to right: Daniel Schlör (CLiGS), Ulrike Henny-Krahmer (CLiGS), Douglas Biber (Northern Arizona University), Robert Hesselbach (CLiGS), Glenn Roe (Sorbonne Université), José Calvo Tello (CLiGS), Fotis Jannidis (Chair of Computational Literary Studies at the University of Würzburg), Christof Schöch (University of Trier, CLiGS initiator), Baris Kabak (Vice-President of the University of Würzburg).

Thursday. The conference kept going the next day with three talks that used linguistic annotation to study several aspects of literary texts. First, Simon Gabay (Neuchâtel) gave the talk “Français vs francois: does linguistic normalisation affect stylometric results?” analysing the Molière-Corneille case. He compared the results of stylometric analysis (cluster analysis using the distance measure Cosine Delta) using either tokens or lexical information extracted with NLP tools. The second talk was by Andreas van Cranenburgh (Groningen):  “Dutch weak and strong pronouns as a stylistic marker of literariness”. He was part of the project The Riddle of Literary Quality, showing several results, such as that literary perception is to a certain degree predictable, and that the perception of literariness has correlations with pronouns (less pronouns, more literary)  and the proportion of strong pronouns (the more literary, the higher the proportion of strong pronouns). The third talk was given by Sascha Diwersy, who presented the Project PhraseoRom, funded by the French and German ministries and based at several universities. In this project the goal is to analyze syntactic-lexical patterns in a corpus of contemporary novels in French, German and English. Between the coffee break and lunch, two more talks explored other topics: first Martin Wynne from Oxford discussed rhetorical patterns in a corpus of letters (Electronic Enlightenment). Then George Mikros from Athens talked about the application of the General Imposters’ method to Elena Ferrante’s non literary production, with the results that she is probably Domenico Starnone in her novels, but that the journalistic production seems to be produced by several hands of the publishing house.

After lunch, two talks focused on the topic of literary complexity, but from different perspectives, concerning different languages and data. First, Katharina Dziuk Lameira, a PhD candidate from Kassel, presented her project based on a Spanish corpus, in which she observes the relation between linguistic features (among them lexical and syntactic complexity), literary phenomena such as several types of metaphora, and the perceived difficulty for German learners. The following talk was by Fotis Jannidis, who also analyzed text complexity, using a very large collection of dime novels (Heftromane) from the German National Library, wondering whether the assumptions that high-brow literature has a greater sentence complexity or richer vocabulary can be confirmed. His results show that high-brow literature tends to have longer sentences, but it does not contain a richer vocabulary than specific subgenres of the dime novel such as science fiction or adventure novels. The two other talks of the day were also given by researchers from the University of Würzburg: first, Julian Schröter explored the style of the German Novelle (short novels), applying Topic Modeling and PCA, observing historical patterns in the evolution of this genre. Finally, Daniel Schlör presented a bootstrapping approach for the annotation of rare classes in a text type dataset. In his work, human annotators decided whether segments of novels were descriptive, argumentative or narrative, finding that the last ones were easiest to recognize.

Friday. The talks on Friday morning were concerned with poetic style in different languages and periods. The first speaker was Jan Rohden from Göttingen, who analyzed the distinctive elements of Petrarca’s style when compared to his contemporaries and successors, using the tool stylo. He found out that Petrarca and his successors tended to avoid verbs and prefer nouns, especially nouns referring to the body and landscape. The second talk was given by Laura Hernández Lorenzo from Sevilla about the application of Digital Stylistics to Spanish Golden Age poetry, in particular to the author Fernando de Herrera. She discussed the question whether Herrera can be considered a transitional poet between Renaissance and Baroque, also using stylo as a tool. The third speaker in the morning was Anne-Sophie Bories from Basel with a presentation on “A Tempo for Negritude in Césaire’s Cahier” in which she analyzed the proportion of different syllable types in the verse lines of this long poem. After the coffee break, Jonathan Armoza from New York talked about non-negative matrix factorization as a method to examine the parts of speech in Emily Dickinson’s Fascicles, around 1,800 poems collected in manuscript books. He gave an introduction into matrix factorization, before he presented his approach of comparing the resulting part of speech profiles of the different texts. The last talk of the morning session was given by Nanette Rißler-Pipka on cross-linguistic stylometry. She examined Picasso’s writings in Spanish and French with stylo, using the same parameters for both languages. She asked if the change of language entails a change of style in Picasso’s writings but came to the conclusion that he uses the same system of deconstructing language in both Spanish and French.

In the afternoon, the conference continued with two talks by members of the CLiGS group: Ulrike Henny-Krahmer and José Calvo Tello presented work from their PhD projects. In her talk with the topic “Family Resemblance in Genre Stylistics”, Henny-Krahmer introduced into different concepts of the genre as a category: classes, types, and families. She then presented a case study for historical novels from Argentina, Mexico and Cuba, analyzing the internal structure of the subgenre by topics and most frequent words in a network of nearest neighbours, showing that subtypes of historical novels can be identified through a chain of relationships. José Calvo tackled the question about which type of features (linguistic frequencies vs. literary metadata) work best for subgenre classification, finding that using only features generated from linguistic annotation or only features based on metadata do not surpass clearly the classification’s results by simple tokens, but that their combination does.

In the evening, the second keynote of the conference was held by Glenn Roe, Professor of Digital Humanities at Sorbonne Université in Paris, about “Voltaire’s Style: A Study in Digital Methods”. In his talk, he outlined the notion of style as it developed in computational literary approaches, from early authorship attribution studies and small-scale stylistic analyses to quantitative studies of literary style in recent years, taking Voltaire as a test-case to argue for the need to revisit the stylometric notion of style. Also this keynote took place in the beautiful ambience of the Würzburg Residence’s Toscana Hall. After the keynote, all the participants joined for the conference dinner in the restaurant Alter Kranen close to the Main river.

Glenn Roe, Professor of Digital Humanities at Sorbonne Université in Paris, giving his talk about “Voltaire’s Style: A Study in Digital Methods”.

Saturday. The morning started with two talks about stylometry applied to Spanish texts. First Álvaro Cuéllar González (Kentucky) presented a large collection of Spanish theatre from the Golden Age period, evaluating stylometric methods for authorship attribution in non disputed cases, and later applying these methods to specific cases such as La adversa fortuna de don Bernardo Cabrera (traditionally attributed to Lope, but after the stylometric analysis to Amescua) or Mujeres y criados, recently discovered and confirmed to be very close to the style of Lope. He was followed by José Manuel Fradejas Rueda (Valladolid) who presented a complicated case of the application of stylometry to the different versions of the medieval law text Las siete partidas. The last two talks studied different aspects of French and Italian texts. First, Clémence Jacquot (Montpellier) and Ilaria Vidotto (Grenoble) gave more information about the specific lexical-syntactic constructions (‘motifs’) analyzed in the PhraseoRom project: to descend the stairs, to appear on the screen, to look through the window, observing the advantages of linguistically motivated units, but also the challenges of identifying them across paradigmatic and syntactic variation. The last talk was held by Simone Rebora (Verona), who analyzed a collection of literary reviews of several types (from social platforms, magazines, and scientific journals), using Machine Learning algorithms to automatically detect the types of review.

A final discussion was lead by Robert Hesselbach and Christof Schöch who summarized the variety of languages, genres, periods, and topics covered by the speakers of the conference, showing that the participants’ contributions matched the theme of the conference quite well. The span of subjects already offers promising perspectives on “Digital Stylistics in Romance Studies and Beyond” which will be taken up in the organization of the conference proceedings, to be edited by Christof Schöch and the members of the CLiGS group.

As the local organizers of this conference, we thank all the speakers for their contributions and all the participants for their interest and the lively discussions after every talk. We hope that everyone enjoyed this event as much as we did!

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