Tracking Our Literary Style

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Is there a distinct difference between our everyday, colloquial speak and written literary language? Fiction has gone through some major evolution since the 19th century when written prose and the vernacular of the time diverged, but this dichotomy has transformed.

Linguist Ben Zimmer discusses how language has evolved, and the tools that are being used to track this change in this age of digitized texts. Digitized fiction can be compared to blogs or news, academic writing or transcribed texts taken from spoken English. This linguistic research is illuminating—not only does it reveal the frequency of individual words used over time, in terms of their context, but it examines the use of “collocations”or word-pairings and idioms and all the popular descriptive literary tricks fiction writers frequent. Turns out we’re part of a literary style, and it’s linguistically quantifiable.


Sam Riley is an adult who works at McSweeney's. More from this author →