For this week’s WordLab discussion, we read David L. Hoover’s 2012 article, “The Tutor’s Story: A Case Study of Mixed Authorship.” (From English Studies 93:3, 324-339, 2012). In this article, Hoover looks at The Tutor’s Story, a novel by Victorian author Charles Kingsley, finished by his daughter Mary St Leger Kingsley Harrison, writing under the name Lucas Malet. Hoover uses this text as a test case to compare a range of authorship attribution methodologies, including Burrows’s Delta, Craig’s version of Burrows’s Zeta, and t-tests.
Hoover compares his results to an annotated version of the published text, discovered partway through his research, containing Malet’s own markings about which parts of the text are hers and which are Kingsley’s.
We spent most of our time today piecing out the specifics of the different methods. There seem to be two stages to the process–1) selecting the words which will compose the “fingerprint” of the author’s style, and 2) analyzing the statistical similarity of these words. More of Hoover’s explanation covers variations on the first part. For example, Delta uses the most frequent words in each text, while Zeta is based “not on the frequencies of words, but rather on how consistently the words appear” (329). Our consensus was that we were interested in reading more about this, and we may move to some of the original articles on the Delta method in future weeks. The R-stylo package also apparently has commands for Delta and Zeta which we could explore.
Big Picture Questions
Our discussion also brought up some larger conceptual issues around the question of authorship attribution. How are the results affected based on what we choose to use as the master corpus? How much does an author’s style vary based on different genres? (Malet’s only children’s book, Little Peter, is mentioned multiple times as disrupting the analysis, perhaps because of the smaller word range in a children’s book.) How is the relatively clean-up choice between two potential authors this different from the problems faced when we have more possible authors?
Significantly, Hoover’s results sometimes disagree with Malet’s markings, but it also is not entirely clear when Malet made those markings and how reliable they are. How confident do we need to be in the machine’s results before we start trusting the machine over the human?
Further Implications & Links