Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Algorithm makes tongue tree

22.01.2002


Compression helps a computer tell Dante from Machiavelli


New computer programme could settle literary debates.

To date, unlike us, computers have struggled to differentiate a page of Jane Austen from one by Jackie Collins. Now researchers in Italy have developed a program that can spot enough subtle differences between two authors’ works to attribute authorship1.

The program can tell a text by Machiavelli from one by Pirandello, Dante or a host of other great Italian writers. It constructed a language tree of the degree of affinity between 50 different tongues. The tree identifies all the main linguistic groups, such as Romance, Celtic, Slavic and so forth and highlights Maltese (an Afro-Asiatic language) and Basque as anomalies.



As well as settling a few literary arguments, the technique might be useful for comparing other information-rich sequences of data. These might include genetic sequences, medical-monitoring measurements and stock-market fluctuations.

Style over substance

Identifying the language of a particular text is generally not hard in itself: one need simply look for the greatest overlap between the words used and those in a reference list for each language. Classifying linguistic styles is altogether more tricky.

One obvious approach is to compare the range and frequency of words in the sample text against reference texts from various candidate authors. That might work for markedly different styles: it would quickly distinguish Shakespeare from Tom Clancy.

But literary scholars often argue furiously about attributions for old texts. The task can become immensely difficult even for those with a great deal of knowledge about the candidate authors’ writing styles.

Clash of symbols

So Dario Benedetto and colleagues at the Universita ’La Sapienza’ in Rome try a different approach. They start from the premise that written language is in the end no more than a string of symbols. It might look rather random, but it is not.

Some groups of characters recur commonly (such as ’the’ in English), and particular authors favour certain constructions and turns of phrase. These can be measured, rather than being reliant on subjective impressions or anecdotal comparisons.

The team begin from the classic insight of telecommunications engineer Claude Shannon in the 1940s that the information content of a message is related to its entropy. Roughly speaking, entropy is a measure of how much redundancy a message contains. It can be defined as the smallest program that will produce the original message as the output.

For a random string of characters, this program would simply specify every character - it would be the same size as the original message. For a string of just A’s, the program could be very concise: ’repeat A’. Most real messages lie somewhere in-between: they can usually be compressed a little without losing significant information. This is the basis of data-compression computer algorithms, used to make ’zip’ files, for instance.

Benedetto and his colleagues borrow the principles of data-compression algorithms to calculate a kind of relative entropy for two different character strings: a measure of how much they differ. This distance between two texts is smaller for two works by the same author than for two works by different authors.

References

  1. Benedetto, D., Caglioti, E. & Loreto, V. Language trees and zipping. Physical Review Letters, 88, 048702, (2002).


PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht New software speeds origami structure designs
12.10.2017 | Georgia Institute of Technology

nachricht Seeing the next dimension of computer chips
11.10.2017 | Osaka University

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

Im Focus: New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Hybrid material converts more sunlight and can weather seawater's harsh conditions

It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF...

Im Focus: Small collisions make big impact on Mercury's thin atmosphere

Mercury, our smallest planetary neighbor, has very little to call an atmosphere, but it does have a strange weather pattern: morning micro-meteor showers.

Recent modeling along with previously published results from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft -- short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

Conference Week RRR2017 on Renewable Resources from Wet and Rewetted Peatlands

28.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A single photon reveals quantum entanglement of 16 million atoms

16.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

The melting ice makes the sea around Greenland less saline

16.10.2017 | Earth Sciences

On the generation of solar spicules and Alfvenic waves

16.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>