Two Disciplines in Search of Love
19 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2013 Last revised: 19 Mar 2014
Date Written: October 4, 2013
Though computational linguistics (CL) dates back to the first efforts in machine translation in the mid 1950s, it is only in the last decade or so that it has had a substantial impact on literary studies through the statistical techniques of corpus linguistics and data mining (know as natural language processing, NLP). In this essay I briefly review the history of computational linguistics from its early days involving symbolic computing to current developments in NLP and set that in relationship to academic literary study. In particular, I discuss the deeply problematic struggle that literary study has had with the question of evaluation: What makes good literature? I argue that literary studies should own up to this tension and recognize a distinction between ethical criticism, which is explicitly concerned with values, and naturalist criticism, which sidesteps questions of value in favor of understanding how literature works in the mind and in culture. I then argue that the primary relationship between CL and NLP and literary studies should be through naturalist criticism. I conclude by discussing the relative roles of CL and NLP in a large-scale and long-term investigation of romantic love.
Keywords: computational linguistics, natural language processing, CL, NLP, topic modeling, literary criticism, digital humanities
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