Multimodal idiolectal language use and authorship verification: a corpus analysis of Joan Hambidge’s idiolect across the borders of genres

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Individuals have unique idiolects or distinctive ways in which they use language and these idiolects can also be expressed multimodally in terms of different modes of delivery and through technology. The concept idiolect refers to the unique language usage as well as the fact that the writer of a text can be identified through their unique use of language. This article focuses on the idiolect of the Afrikaans-speaking writer Joan Hambidge. This writer was chosen as she publishes in different genres and modalities. Despite her being a prominent poet in Afrikaans it was decided within this research to focus on her work in terms of prose, academic texts and popular online texts. Furthermore, her idiolect was approached as its uniqueness is evident in her texts across different genres. The aim of this article was to provide an overview regarding her idiolect across different modalities and genres.

The notion of unique use of language that is distinguishable between language users has been discussed at length in the literature and research in this regard has gained popularity in different scientific disciplines over the past few years. This notion of a unique idiolect is an important feature of authorship identification studied within forensic linguistics. But there is even research published in terms of idiolects from literary perspectives and such views need to be considered when working with literary texts. Although strategies from forensic linguistics can be used in various disciplines, authorship identification and authorship verification can specifically give an answer to two important questions: (1) What is the meaning of a text? and (2) Who is the author of a text? Therefore, the author of a text can be identified by his/her use of language. This article focused on Joan Hambidge’s recognisable idiolect across the boundaries of genres and modalities.

The unique and recognisable idiolect of Hambidge was explored in terms of the different genres she writes in. By making use of forensic linguistics principles, methods and applications, it has been shown in other studies that it is possible to determine an individual’s idiolect. Hence, in this explorative study similar methods were employed. Even though forensic principles are specifically focused on identifying an author, the methodology used in the research field can be applied to a corpus linguistic study to determine how clearly an individual’s idiolect features across the boundaries of genres and multimodalities. Such insights might also have further implications regarding the interpretation of texts for literary purposes, for example.

By researching the research subject, explaining her oeuvre, creating a literary background, as well as discussing the literary approaches that Hambidge uses in her respective genres, and what she writes about, the necessary background was created in order to determine a complete image of Hambidge and her influences. By reviewing this background, it was possible to determine which external factors could have an influence on Hambidge's idiolect.

Furthermore, literature on relevant linguistic and sociolinguistic theoretical perspectives was also reviewed. In this regard, a background to forensic linguistics is provided, as well as an overview of the various corpus linguistic methods that can be used in a study such as this one. Following the background an overview of the methodology used in this research is provided, and the empirical analysis is discussed. This discussion covered both stylistic and stylometric analyses that were performed by making use of inter- and intra-corpus comparisons, according to which Hambidge’s idiolect was identified.

In the identification process of Hambidge’s idiolect, a selection from the Afrikaans Language Commission (Taalkommissie) corpus – the largest available corpus for Afrikaans – was used as a reference corpus. This was done to determine whether the idiosyncratic characteristics that were found in the Hambidge corpus truly are unique or whether they can also be found in the Afrikaans Language Commission corpus that includes wider use of Afrikaans by many different individuals. In this regard, the use of specific similar genres in the Afrikaans Language Commission corpus was essential. The application and execution of the methods identified for this research made it possible to determine to what extent, if at all, Hambidge has a unique identifiable idiolect, across the boundaries of genres.

The research determined that the idiolect of Joan Hambidge across the boundaries of genres shows unique identifiable features and that the idiolect is especially clear when an analysis is done with her corpus in its entirety. When Hambidge’s separate genres were compared with each other, it was clear that genre influences idiolect, but also that Hambidge did not follow prescribed genre conventions. Even though the two novels (one of which was published only as an e-book) that were compared did not match as was expected, the other genres did correspond. Various categories were identified, from which distinguishing characteristics could be found in Hambidge’s corpus. Specific unique elements were identified in terms of Hambidge's use of pronouns, prepositions and connectives. Through the stylistic analysis, unique use of eponyms, code-switching, parenthesis, punctuation, compounds and derivatives, changing of common nouns to proper nouns, omissions in spelling and the use of specific spelling variants were evident. It appears that the idiolect of Joan Hambidge is not clearly visible in terms of the comparison in use of pronouns, prepositions and connectives between the specialist and reference corpora. As far as the internal comparison is concerned, differences were identified in terms of prepositions and connectives. There is evidence that in terms of vocabulary selection there are differences between genres and modalities within the specific idiolect. However, in investigating the differences between die corpora in terms of keyness, the differences between genres and multimodalities in Hambidge's corpora were not found to be distinct. Yet the distinctness of the idiolect was verified, and this conclusion is also supported by the stylistic analysis.

It can therefore be said without a doubt that Hambidge has a unique multimodal idiolect functioning across the boundaries of genres. Furthermore, the methodology followed in this article presents a possible set of variables to be used in similar comparisons between texts in terms of the verification of authors. In addition, it is clear that the process should be refined in future studies by comparing different authors and different combinations of genres and multimodalities. Especially in Afrikaans further such studies are needed.

Keywords: authorship verification; corpus; corpus linguistics; Joan Hambidge; idiolect; language identity; multimodality


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Multimodale idiolektiese taalgebruik en skrywerskapverifikasie: ’n korpusontleding van Joan Hambidge se idiolek oor die grense van genres

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