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The right word in the left place: Measuring lexical foregrounding in poetry and prose


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This work describes a large-scale empirical study that quantifies two aspects of lexical foregrounding in literary texts: the unpredictability (unexpectedness) and constrainedness (irreplaceability) of individual words in context. The data are generated by a Web-based literary game where players guess words in fragments of real texts. The results shed new light on the nature of the distinction between poetry and prose and on the role of formal constraints in poetry. In particular, traditional poetry tends to have higher constrainedness than prose and comparable unpredictability, while avant-garde poetry is characterized by higher unpredictability than prose and comparable constrainedness.

Keywords: empirical studies; information theory; irreplaceability; lexical foregrounding; literariness; unpredictability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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