Friday, December 24, 2010

"Idiolect": Your voice, your word choice

I was reading a short book on Shakespeare by Bill Bryson, and he mentioned Shakespeare's "idiolect" as an indicator that Shakespeare himself wrote his plays. That is, now with computer analysis, we can quite accurately know what words and terms Shakespeare used and didn't use and how often. The distinguishing pattern of word choice in an author is the "idiolect," the person's idiosyncratic lexicon.

So, for example, Bryson says that Shakespeare seldom used the word "also". And he used the old-fashioned term "brethren" instead of the more common "brothers". He used many leather tanning terms (his father was a glover) and built new images and metaphors around the flowers of his rural youth. No one else is likely to get this combination of word choice, this idiolect-- it's sort of like a voice fingerprint.

Anyway, not that anyone's likely to run computer analysis of our own lexicon, but if someone did, what would be the markers of your idiolect?

I know mine would be kind of boring, because my most common words would be "just" and "then". What about yours?


JohnO said...

After I'd moved away from Canada for at least 15 years, I read a well known newspaper columnist in the Toronto Star -- and was amazed at how similar our styles were.

I'll wager someone could develop a tool to identify your idiolect without too much difficulty. Consider something like Wordle, which makes word clouds of a longer piece. All you'd need to do is compare your word frequencies against a norm (say, Google Books in the last 10 years).

Everyone has their pet phrases, and words they lean on too much. I could see your idiolect as a helpful too for helping to identify that.

Stacy McKitrick said...

I think my favorite is "Of course." I have to stop myself from using it too much!

Merry Christmas!

Wes said...

Mine is definitely archaic words and phrases I heard oldtimers use when I was a kid on my family farm.

Robin Lemke said...

I think I can ask Page Four to give me most used words, but I'm sure they'll be boring. ;) Also, it depends a little bit on if I'm writing contemporary or steampunk. Or how long it's been since I've seen a Gilmore Girls rerun, because that ups my usage of the word "unbelievable" by a lot. ;)

But I know I tend to talk about coffee a lot - even in historical writing, although then I do try to talk about tea. But it's visceral. Any character I relate to drinks copious amounts of coffee and feels strongly about it. In fact, probably all of my sketchy or unreliable characters don't really care for coffee...

Jami Gold said...

I use a lot of contrast: "but", "however", and em-dash sentence endings. I also use the "not only" sentence construction more frequently than most. I'm trying to cure most of those issues. :)

Edittorrent said...

That's a good idea about Wordle! I should try that.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about my writing, but when I met my husband (he'd been living in Toronto, Cananda for almost a year) he forever mimicked me saying "actually". I never realised how much I said "actually", not until he picked me up every single time I said it, lol!

Merry Christmas :)

BTW - I'm enjoying your book, Alicia :)