This project seeks to automate the detection of rhetorical figures, or the patterns of repetition and variation that make language — especially poetic language — memorable and effective. Consider the gradatio or climax in this example from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage.

From our launch blog post:

When complete, the Zeugmatic will automate the detection of rhetorical figures from anaphoras to zeugmas. It will map a single text’s figures, and compare them to other texts’. It will identify usage patterns from models to imitations, helping us to quantify claims of imitation (like Milton’s of Ariosto) and to identify imitations we haven’t yet recognized. It will compare the figural habits of two authors, and of any permutation of authors. It will identify the figural signatures of students of influential teachers or schools, students who read the same texts and recognized the same figures. It will point us toward the texts and writers that had a measurable influence on the figural habits of other texts and writers–say preachers on playwrights, or Lyly on Burton.

This project is the brainchild of Michael Ullyot {twitter /blog} of the University of Calgary, funded by an Insight Development Grant from SSHRC; Adam James Bradley of the University of Waterloo is my primary collaborator.

We intend, eventually, to make the Zeugmatic’s capabilities extensible to the entire EEBO-TCP corpus, and the more complex figural patterns of substitution and variation that will require natural language processing (e.g. zeugmas).

Follow each of us on Twitter, for updates; and/or follow the project itself.