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On a Distribution Representing Sentence-Length in Written Prose Author(s): H. S. Sichel Source: Journal of the Royal Statistical Society.

Series A (General), Vol. 137, No. 1 (1974), pp. 25-34 Published by: Wiley for the Royal Statistical Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2345142 . Accessed: 05/11/2013 07:44
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J. R. Statist. Soc. A,
(1974), 137, Part 1, p. 25

25

On a Distribution Representing Sentence-length in written Prose


By H. S. SICHEL
South Africa Universityof the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,
SUMMARY

A new model for representingsentence-lengthdistributionsis suggestedin equation (8) which is a special case of equation (2), with parametery = -2 known a priori. Eight known sentence-length frequency counts taken from English, Greek and Latin prose were all satisfactorilydescribedby distribution(8). For these eight fits, the average probabilityP(X2) was 0 50. A ninth observeddistribution,takenfrom a Latintext of unknownauthorship failed the x2 test applied to the fit of the data to the model in equation (8). This corroborates Yule's (1939) conclusion that it is highly unlikely that de Gerson could have writtenDe ImitationeChristi. It is furtherconjectured that the last-mentioned observed frequency distribution could be well representedby the more general model in equation (2), with a parametery much smallerthan -2 Keywords: SENTENCE-LENGTH;COMPOUNDPOISSONDISTRIBUTION; CLASSICALPROSE
1. INTRODUCTION

first substantial investigation on sentence-length as a statistical tool to be used in deciding disputed authorship was published by Yule in 1939. Simple statistical indices such as the average number of words per sentence and the standard deviation of sentence-lengths were employed. Yule did not suggest a particular mathematical distribution model. Later (Yule, 1944) he explored word-frequency of an author in addition to sentence-length. Although Yule mentions in that book the negative binomial, he discards this distribution model as totally inadequate for representation of word frequencies and sentence-lengths. Williams (1940, 1970) suggests and uses the lognormal distribution as a model for sentence-length. To verify lognormality, Williams plots the observed cumulative percentage frequencies of sentence-lengths on log-probability paper in the hope that these plots will approach a straight line. No x2 tests are given for any of Williams's examples. Wake (1957), who discusses sentence-lengths in works of Greek authors, also makes use of the lognormal distribution by superimposing the observed histograms of the logarithms of sentence-lengths over the "expected" normal distributions. No x2 tests are given. The authorship of Greek prose is again investigated by Morton (1965) who works with distribution-free statistics such as the mean, the median, the quartiles and the deciles. Mosteller and Wallace (1963), in their study of the authorship of the Federalist papers, came to the conclusion that the mean and standard deviation of sentencelength was of no help in solving disputed authorship. In their particular research Mosteller and Wallace found the mean and standard deviations of sentence-length to be virtually identical for Madison and Hamilton. It can be shown, however, that two
THE

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26

- Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse SICHEL

[Part 1,

discrete distribution models, with the same first two moments, may have entirely different shapes. For example, the negative binomial may be J-shaped whereas the new distribution discussed in this paper may be unimodal with a mode far away from zero, although the same mean and standard deviation are common to both models. Furthermore, the other investigators mentioned previously, have shown that some authors differ decisively in mean sentence-lengths. It would be of great help to have a reasonable mathematical distribution model for sentence-length in order to sharpen our statistical tools, not only with respect to the enhanced power in significance testing but also to investigate the shape of the sentence-length distribution. In addition, a few pertinent statistical indices could be used to express sentence-lengths instead of showing massive tables of frequencies of the number of words in sentences. The lognormal model suggested by Williams and used by Wake must be rejected on several grounds: In the first place the number of words in a sentence constitutes a discrete variable whereas the lognormal distribution is continuous. Wake (1957) has pointed out that most observed log-sentence-length distributions display upper tails which tend towards zero much faster than the corresponding normal distribution. This is also evident in most of the cumulative percentage frequency distributions of sentence-lengths plotted on log-probability paper by Williams (1970). The sweep of the curves drawn through the plotted observations is concave upwards which means that we deal with sub-lognormal populations. In other words, most of the observed sentence-length distributions, after logarithmic transformation, are negatively skew. Finally, a mathematical distribution model which cannot fit real data-as shown up by the conventional x2 test-cannot claim serious attention.
2. THE MODEL

It has been pointed out by some of the writers mentioned previously that sentence-lengths are not randomly distributed throughout a given text written by a certain author. A tendency of some serial correlation between the lengths of successive sentences has been observed. This points to "clustering" and one immediately thinks of some compound Poisson process seeing that the underlying distributions must be discrete. Recently, Sichel (1971) proposed a family of discrete distributions which arises from mixing Poisson distributions with parameter A. The mixing distribution is given by 1 {21V(1 -6)/a 6}Vy

2 Ky{aV(1 -0)}

a2-

/
/ ) 4A)

(1)

Here -oo<y<oo, 0<0<1 and a >0 are the three parameters and K,(.) is the modified Bessel function of the second kind of order y. The resulting compound Poisson distribution is

{(r =

1(1 - 6)} K.Y{c

)} r-! Kr+'(a), r!

4)

(2) 2

where r=0,1,2,...,oo. A number of known discrete distribution functions such as the Poisson, negative binonmial,geometric, Fisher's logarithmic series in its original and modified forms, Yule, Good, Waring and Riemann distributions are special or limiting forms of (2).

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1974]

- Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse SICHEL

27

If parameter y is made negative in (2), an entirely new set of discrete distribution is generated. Mean and variance of the d.f. in (2) are, respectively, E(r) and var (r) = 4(1 -)2 KY+2{(X(1
-

2 1 (1 -6)

Ky+?{(X1(1-fJ)} 1(1 - O)} Ky{cx )}

(3)

+E(r){I -E(r)}.

(4)

In general, all moments exist as long as 0 < 1. If y is known a priori, maximum likelihood estimators for parameters cxand 0 are available (Sichel, 1971). They are not requiredfor the purpose of this investigation as sentence-length distributions are not excessively skew. The first two probabilities (for r = 0 and r = 1) are derived from equation (2) as O(O)= {1(1and K = {1(1- 0)}Y(C0X/2) 0(1) {ocx) -0)Y K7{cx1V(1 All other probabilities are easily calculated from the recurrenceformula
+()
-

{a/ K(1-) O)} K{xV1-

(5)

(6) (6

r+y7

1) +

((X )2

O(r 2).

in (2). This is A particularly interesting and simple case arises if we make y =-the distribution which will be used to represent sentence-lengths. We have, from (2), +(r) = 1(2cx/-,)exp {oc V1(- 0)} with a mean of E(r) and a variance of var(r) = a 0(2- 0)/{4(1 - O)} = The population index of dispersion is defined as co = var (r)/E(r) = (2- 0)/{2(1 - 0)} whence 1= 1-(26-)1 From (9) we obtain (12) (11)
2 (10)

(8)

x0/{2 (1 - 0)} = p1

(9)

a = 2Fr(1 -)/8.

(13)

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28

SIcHEL -

Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse

[Part 1,

6 and cx, of populationparameters In (12) and (13) # and a' are momentestimators f is the averagesentence-length in the in the sampleand 6 is the index of dispersion distributions, sample. For the type of skewness encounteredin sentence-length estimators6 and &l are reasonably efficient. model in equation(8) should be truncated Strictlyspeaking,the sentence-length at zero as the minimumnumberof wordsper sentenceis one. However,it has been found that the expectedfrequencies for r = 0, in the case where distribution (8) is does not fitted to real data, are very small. For ease of calculationzero-truncation appearnecessary. The first two proportionatefrequenciesare obtained from (5) and (6), with
Y

-1:
= exp [-oz{1-(1(-G)}] b(O) (14)
(15)

and
b(O). #(1) = (o0G/2) with y
= -

relationshipin (7) Any furtherprobabilitiesare calculatedfrom the recurrence


1. It was shown by Sichel (1971) that the characteristic function of

distribution (8) is
- 0)- {1-0exp (it)}] (16) g(t) = exp [ [1(1 and hence we obtain the characteristic function of the arithmeticmean of samples of n, drawnfroma population(8), as

[g(t/n)]n = exp[na[J(l

0)-1{1

6exp(it/n)}]j.

(17)

It follows that the samplingdistributionof the mean has the same form as the ax and the arithmetic replacedby noa mean originalpopulation(8) but with parameter f advancing in steps of 1/n. Thispropertyof population(8) is of considerable help in the populationmean. hypothesis-testing concerning 3. APPLICATION in the literature distributions and taken Severalobserved reported sentence-length from Greek, Latin and English texts were fitted to the distributionshown in was unnecessary as the expected equation(8). As mentionedbefore,zero-truncation at r = 0 weresmall. For the purposeof thex2test,the expected frequencies frequencies wereincludedin the firstcell, i.e. the classcontaining1-5 words. withexamples fromEnglishauthorsthe sentence-lengths fromMacaulay's Starting (8) in Table 1. The fit is satisfactory. writings(Yule, 1939)are fitted to distribution these data as indicatedin the In contrast,the negativebinomialdoes not represent last column of Table 2. The total x2 is 79-927as comparedto 16-846for the new distributionmodel. The same tail-end groupingwas used for both models. The deviationsof the negativebinomialfrom the data (and from distribution (8)) follow a systematic werefittedwith the identicalsample patternalthoughboth distributions means and variances. At the start of the curve the negativebinomialyields much at 6 < r<25. Once largerfrequencies.The position is reversedfor the occurrences, in the exceed those of the new distribution again the negativebinomialfrequencies range 26 <r ?65. Finally, in the upper tail for r>66, the negativebinomialtends has the longertail. morerapidlyto zero, that is the new distribution

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1974]

- Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse SICHEL

29

TABLE1 Sentence-lengthdistribution from Macaulay, fitted to the new model and also to the negative binomial (datafrom Yule, 1939)
New distribution No. of words Observedno. of sentences
fo

Negativebinomial Expected no. of sentences


fE

Expected no. of sentences


fE

1- 5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55 56-60 61-65 66-70 71-75 76-80 81-85 86-90 91 and over Total
Mean Variance d.f. p(X2)
I
-s X-2

46 204 252 200 186 108 61 68 38 24 20 12 8 2) 4 514


8J

21 4 2f 6 1,251
22 07 230-22

578 201 0 244.6 209i1 157i5 113i0 795 55 6 389 27.3 19.2 136 96 68 4.9 15.2 35 285 4.3 18 J1.3J 4-8 1,251 0
-

1103 185.7 202i6 184i2 152i3 118 6 88i6 64.4 45.7 31P9 22.0 149 101 6.7 4 5 14.1
2.9}

1.9 2-4 1,251P0


-

3.2

16 846 13 0X21 10 43117

79-927 13

0?00
= 2*34068t

0 94965

0 90412

t The general distribution in equation (2) becomes the negative binomial with parametersy
and 0 as a-o- 0.

In Table 2 sentence-length distributions from works of Wells and Chesterton as given by Williams (1940), are excellently represented by the new model. The large differences in the parameter estimates &l and & for these two authors are of interest. Morton (1965) shows sentence-length distributions taken from eight works of Thucydides and from nine works of Herodotus. The examples from ancient Greek texts in Table 3, once again indicate the success of distribution (8) as a model for sentence-length distributions. Negative binomials were also fitted to the two observed frequency counts in Table 3 making use of the same means and variances as derived from the samples. The respective total x2 values were 82X216 for Thucydides and 42-823 for Herodotus.
2

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30

- Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse SICHEL

[Part 1,

TABLE 2

Sentence-lengthdistributions from H. G. Wells and G. K. Chestertonfitted to the new model (datafrom Williams, 1940)
H. G. Wells No. of words Observedno. of sentences
fo

G. K. Chesterton Observedno. of sentences


fo

Expected no. of sentences


fE

Expected no. of sentences


fE

1- 5 6-10
11-15 16-20

11 66
107 121

1130 63-3
106-8 109-6

27}30
71 112

17257 23-9f
76-1 114-8

21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55 56-60 61-65

66-70
71-75
76-80

75 61 52 27 29 17 12 8 5 9

4f
3
1

90-6 67-7 48-1 33-2 22-7 15-3 10-3 6-9 4 )

3.1
1-41

7-8

1
-

108 109 64 41 28 19 9 61 1 j2-9 1

116-2 94-0 66 5 43.3 26-6 15-8 9.2 5.2

1-6
9 09
0-5

211 1.0 6 17

11.9

81-85 86-90 91 and over Total Mean Variance


X2

5 1

1
600 24X08 199-38
_

15J
600 0
-

1
600 25-91 131'05

0-3 0-2 0-3 600-0

9-132

5-788
-

d.f.
pX2)
-

11
0-61

8
0-67

os

13-04312 0 93575

19-27635 0-89030

The systematic deviations of the negative binomials from the data and the new distribution were very similar to those described in the discussion on Table 1. In short, the negative binomial distribution cannot take on the shape of observed sentence-length frequency counts. The data discussed so far display a concave upward curvature if plotted as a c.d.f. on log-probability paper. Some sentence-length distributions do approach a straight line on log-probability paper. To check whether such cases can be represented satisfactorily by distribution (8), two frequency counts given by Wake (1957) were fitted to (8) and they are shown in Table 4. The first example refers to sentencelengths from Timaeus by Plato and the second comes from the Hippocratic Corpus, Regimen in Acute Diseases. As shown in Table 4, both observed frequency counts are well fitted by the new model.

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1974]

- Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse SICHEL

31

TABLE 3

Sentence-lengthdistributions from Thucydidesand Herodotus,fitted to the new model (datafrom Morton, 1965)
Thucydides (Works 1-8) No. of words Observedno. of sentences
fo 1- 5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55 48 201 274 257 232 144 135 73 70 45 32

Herodotus(Works 1-9) Observedno. of sentences


fo 90 354 388 322 223 171 96 56 39 26 15 3 1 2

Expected no. of sentences


fE 49-8 203-4 279*2 260-3 209-6 158-9 117-4 858 62-6 456 33-3

Expected no. of sentences


fE 93K1 338-4 406-0 328-1 228-3 149-3 95 1 599 37-6 23-6 14-8 9 37 2-4

56-60
61-65 66-70 71-75

15
22 17 9 5} 2j 55-9 2J 7 1,600 24-98 293-73

24-4
1729 13-2 97

710

95

15-2

76-80
81-85 86-90 91-95 .96-100 101 and over Total Mean Variance
X2

5 10

12 7 40) 30 9-2 22J 7-1 1,600-0


-

7-2 1-

4
10 1
-

1P5
0 0-6 04 03 07 1,800-0 10 6

1 1,800 19-04 140-45

d.f. p(X2)

15-750 15 0 40 11P02074 0 95558

7-384 10 0-69 11-07245 0-92729

Yule (1939) discussed the authorship of the Latin essay De Imitatione Christi whose author is unknown. He came to the conclusion that Jean Charlier de Gerson is unlikely to have written this work. In Table 5 the sentence-length distribution for the combined two samples from de Gerson's works, as quoted by Yule (1939), is fitted to the distribution (8). Bearing in mind that the sample size is n = 2,417, the fit is fair [P(X2) = 041 for 17 degrees of freedom]. Most of the contributions to total x2 come from two cells only, that is 1-5 words and 46-50 words per sentence. But for these two deviations from theory, amounting to a x2 contribution of 13X888, the fit would have been excellent.

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32

- Sentence-length in WrittenProse SICHEL

[Part 1,

TABLE 4

from Plato and the Hippocratic Corpus,fitted to the Sentence-lengthdistributions new model (datafrom Wake, 1957)
Plato (Timaeus) Observedno. of sentences
fo

HippocraticCorpus, Regimenin Acute Diseases Observedno. of sentences


fo

No. of words

Expected no. of sentences


fE

Expected no. of sentences


fE

1- 5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55
56-60

15 70 104 102 73 68 45 41 23 18 13
14

15i4 68i9 100i7 98i4 82i2 64i2 48-7 36-5 27-2 20-2 15 0
11-2
-

23 84 91 59 45 22 9 7 6 3 5 2 1
0

61-65
66-70

10 8f 2'
1 6>14

8-4 5 4.7 326


63}11

32i8 83i8 80 5 57.4 37.3 23 5 14-7 9-2 5-8 36 5 9 23 15 09


046

71-75 76-80
86-90

6.3
-

1 40-4

03
01

4-1

91-95 96-100
101-105

3 L6 2 4 625 26-77 337-24

20 1-6 1-2 0.9J

5.7

1 1

01

106 and over Total Mean Variance


X2-

50 625-0 355 16-96 133-56


-

355-0

d.f.

5821 14

pX2)-s

0 97

8 035

8-909

11 35126 0 95868

9 47232 0-93221

In contrast, the sentence-length distribution of De Imitatione Christi cannot be represented by the distribution model of equation (8) as shown in the last two columns of Table 5. The x2 is 66-788 for nine degrees of freedom and the deviations of the data from the model are systematic suggesting that in the general model of Consequently oxand 0 should be larger. equation (2) y -. This is a very good example illustrating that, in addition to differences in means and variances, the shape of the distribution, as measured at least in part by parametery, is most useful in detecting statistically significant differences of sentence-length distributions.

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1974]

SICHEL - Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse TABLE 5

33

Sentence-lengthdistributions from de Gerson andfrom De Imitatione Christi fitted to the new model (datafrom Yule, 1939)
de Gerson No. of words Observedno. of sentences
fo

De Imitatione Christi Observedno. of sentences


fo

Expected no. of sentences


fE

Expected no. of sentences


fE

1- 5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-30 31-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 51-55 56-60 61-65 66-70
71-75

116 362 431 394 301 213 167 125 94 80 37 26 22 18


7

93i1 353-1 456-2 405 3 313-5 229-3 163-9 116-2 8241 5841 41P2 29-4 21-0 15 0
10 8

39 302 376 237 119 52 42 20 8 11 7 2 2 2


-

91-8 290-6 305-0 217-7 134-6 78 5 44-7 25-2 14-2 8-0 4.5 25' 1P5 0-8
0'5

76-80
81-85

8
3

7-8
5-6
-

1
80
-X

0o3
0'2 6'2

86-90 91-95 96-100 101-105 106 and over Total


Mean Variance X2 d.f.
p(X2)

3 5) 1 6 J
4

4-1 3'0 22 6'8 1-6J-4 45 2,417'0


-

01 01 01

011 1J 1,221
16'24 9636
-

2,417
23'07 244'98 _
_ -

1,221'0

24-389 17
0.11

66'788 9
-000

os
J

10'78827 0-95059

10-85495 0'90796

REFERENCES MORTON, A. Q. (1965). The authorship of Greek prose. J. R. Statist. Soc. A, 128, 169-224.
MOSTELLER, F. and WALLACE, D. L. (1963). Inference in an authorship problem. J. Amer. Statist.

Ass., 58, 275-309. SICHEL, H. S. (1971). On a family of discrete distributions particularly suited to represent long-tailed frequency data. In Proceedingsof the ThirdSymposiumon MathematicalStatistics
(N. F. Laubscher, ed.), S.A. C.S.I.R., Pretoria, pp. 51-97. WAKE, W. C. (1957). Sentence-length distributions of Greek authors. J. R. Statist. Soc. A, 120,

331-346.

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34

SICHEL- Sentence-lengthin WrittenProse

[Part 1,

C. B. (1940). A note on the statistical analysis of sentence-length as a criterion of WILLIAMS, literary style. Biometrika,31, 356-361. (1970). Style and Vocabulary:NumericalStudies. London: Griffin. YULE,G. U. (1939). On sentence-length as a statistical characteristic of style in prose: with applications to two cases of disputed authorship. Biometrika,30, 363-390. - (1944). The Statistical Study of Literary Vocabulary. Cambridge: University Press.

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