Journal of Dutch Literature, volume 2, number 2, December 2011Mike Kestemont: What Can Stylometry Learn From Its Application to Middle Dutch Literature?

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Conclusion: What Can Stylometry Learn From Its Application to Middle Dutch Literature?

Stylometry’s potential for literary studies is enormous: the idea that one day we might have objective methodologies to automatically infer, for example, a text’s authorship, is fascinating. At the same time, one should be careful not to forget that much work still needs to be done. Benchmark corpora to test existing methods generally remain under-exploited, so that it still remains unclear, for instance, how long an anonymous writing sample should in fact be in order to be able to attribute it to a known author.[40] Some interesting directions for future work have been proposed in Middle Dutch studies.[41] The issue of scribal interventions is perhaps the most remarkable one, since its effect could well be related to editorial interventions we find in other periods. To give but one example: since much empirical research into writing style is nowadays carried out on newspaper articles, ‘there is a general worry with newspapers, that the texts of the authors are often changed by editor(s)’.[42] Techniques for recognizing scribal distortions thus might well be interesting for research into such present-day editorial interventions too. From a more literary perspective, the genre issue which was discussed at the end of this paper seems relevant for the international community too. The severe lack of cross-genre authorship attribution research makes it difficult to assess the real accuracy of contemporary attribution methods: even if techniques have been shown to perform well within a single genre, this certainly does not prove that they would work well outside the comfort zone of a single text variety. This raises interesting questions about an author’s autonomy in writing.