Methodology
Style

Style

As an addition to the toolkit of philology, the study of style offers certain advantages.

There is what you say, the content of your message; and there is how you say it. The latter is what we call style. Stylistics has many aspects, but in perhaps its purest form, it consists of the study not of content words, the message carriers, but of function words or connectives, the words which articulate the content words, but do not themselves carry content. It is this end of the lexicon, the high-frequency connectives or particles, with which we are here concerned.

Mary McCarthy once said, of her enemy Lillian Hellman,

Every word she writes is a lie, including "and" and "the."

This is a witty remark, but in what does the wit consist? In consists in the fact that "and" and "the" are precisely the sort of high-frequency connectives and function words we have just been talking about. "And" connects two content words or two clauses; it does not of itself carry message. It thus cannot lie, for the same reason that it cannot tell the truth: it works below the level at which statements of any kind are made.

Style has many aspects, and awareness of style is a literary skill, which not everyone has in equal degree. (Just as in the chemistry lab, some people are better than others at pouring A into B, and those who pour B containing water, into A, containing sulfuric acid, will be better off if they are wearing their lab goggles at the time). The charge of subjectivity, impressionism, personal bias, or whatnot, is perpetually leveled against those who practice history, or do philology, or judge literary quality. Not always without justice, to be sure, but not invariably with justice. The virtue of a test of style like the one here introduced is that, for once, its results are exactly the same for all workers. The interpretation of these results lies with the human investigator, but the results themselves are objective. By whomever calculated, they present the same data to the human investigator for interpretation.

BIRD (after Karonen)

This section contains a description of the BIRD (Brooks Index of Rhetorical Difference) cluster of tests, and some recent examples of its application to both classical Chinese and early Christian texts. The method itself is not closely described, lest doing so terrify and thus discourage the standard average innumerate reader of these pages. A description, for those who can use it, will be found in an article in Warring States Papers v3. Here, the way the method works, and why it is adequate to the material with which it deals, must be taken on faith. We anticipate that the required faith will be strengthened by noticing that, most conspicuously in the New Testament field, to which the BIRD tests were introduced at the WSWG 28 Conference in 2014, the test results tend to confirm some of the soundest and most widely accepted of the results of previous scholarship.

One general caution. Since its introduction several centuries ago, the measurement of style has been almost exclusively employed in testing authorship. Nevertheless, in principle, there can be no test for authorship as such. This is because, as here measured, the range of variation of style within an author (due to use of some rhetorical device, or the treatment of a sensitive topic, or a genre difference) is sometimes wider than that between two different authors. This fact is determined by what is called calibration, or trying the test on known material. What emerges from the calibration process is that a difference (D) of 0.5 or less tends to suggest the same author writing consecutively (as in successive chapters of the same book), whereas a difference of 1.0 or more is great enough to make the hypothesis of a second author increasingly plausible, In between is the ambiguous area, where interpretive subtlety will be increasingly called on. The BIRD test is objective, but it is not self-interpreting.

We wish to thank Project associates Mary Elizabeth Cleary (for Sinology) and Keith L Yoder (Early Christianity) for their contribution to the calculation of the results presented here. For convenience of reference, these results are arranged, within each section, in alphabetical order by text title.

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