Degaetano-Ortlieb, Stefania; Piper, Andrew

The Scientization of Literary Study

Proceedings of the 3rd Joint SIGHUM Workshop on Computational Linguistics for Cultural Heritage, Social Sciences, Humanities and Literature at NAACL 2019, Association for Computational Linguistics, pp. 18-28, Minneapolis, MN, USA, 2019.

Scholarly practices within the humanities have historically been perceived as distinct from the natural sciences. We look at literary studies, a discipline strongly anchored in the humanities, and hypothesize that over the past half-century literary studies has instead undergone a process of “scientization”, adopting linguistic behavior similar to the sciences. We test this using methods based on information theory, comparing a corpus of literary studies articles (around 63,400) with a corpus of standard English and scientific English respectively. We show evidence for “scientization” effects in literary studies, though at a more muted level than scientific English, suggesting that literary studies occupies a middle ground with respect to standard English in the larger space of academic disciplines. More generally, our methodology can be applied to investigate the social positioning and development of language use across different domains (e.g. scientific disciplines, language varieties, registers).