Why are writers no longer influenced by the classics?

Monday, May 14, 2012 - 11:01 in Mathematics & Economics

Modern authors are far more stylistically influenced by their contemporaries than by writers from the 18th and 19th centuries, according to word-frequency study of classic literatureHarold Bloom famously dubbed it the "anxiety of influence" (paywall): the effect which the literary canon has on writers. Less today than it did in the past, according to a mathematical study which analysed thousands of works written over the last 500 years.American mathematicians, led by the chair of Dartmouth College mathematics department Professor Daniel Rockmore, set out to investigate "large-scale" trends in literary style. Using digitised works in the Project Gutenberg library, they processed 7,733 works from 537 authors written after the year 1550, were looking for the frequency at which 307 "content-free" words – such as "of", "at" and "by" – appeared. They called these words the "syntactic glue" of language: "words that carry little meaning on their own but form the...

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