The Shakespeare Algorithm

The study focussed in part on function words, the heavy-lifting but unglamorous class that includes pronouns, articles, and prepositions—“I,” “you,” “the,” “a,” “an,” “on,” “in,” “under.” As Pennebaker has written, there are only about four hundred and fifty of them in English, but they account for fifty-five per cent of the words that we use, the linguistic glue that holds everything together but goes mostly unnoticed. “We can’t hear them,” Pennebaker told me recently. “You and I have now been talking for ten minutes, and you have no idea if I’ve used articles at a high rate or a low rate. I have no idea.” Everyone has a pattern, though, ..

.. Indeed, as Maria Konnikova reported in March, function-word patterns and other metrics may be able to establish not only an author’s voice but also her disposition and mood.

..  But Gary Taylor, an editor of the complete Oxford Shakespeare, sees something more than academic principle at play. “Many great writers and literary critics chose to concentrate on English because they hated math,” he told me.