Friday, March 27, 2009

Tracking the Metaphor

In a new project at Stanford University, researchers are teaching computers to analyze texts from “Plato to Pynchon” for metaphors. Their goal is to build a vast searchable database that will trace historic patterns of word usage.

“As a tool, it provides a really powerful way of thinking about a lot of literature at once,” explains Brad Pasanek, an English professor who is collaborating on the project. Digitized libraries and new methods of data-mining have combined to create a new discipline called “Digital Humanities,” which is an “intersection of computing and the study of languages, history, philosophy, and religion."

Panasek got the idea for developing this new tool when he was flipping through his well-used copy of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and noticed the highlighted and color-coded key phrases: “Through the tangled tale of Elizabeth, Darcy, and Wickham, ‘marking words that occurred again and again, I realized that you could see these motifs appear in an explosion of color, then disappear.’” The computer replaces the colored marker, he explains.

That Jane Austen. She just keeps popping up everywhere.


lisa b said...

That is so cool! Are you back home yet?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to read this again!

Stephanie said...

I got home last night. Had a wonderful time!