The Riddle goes to Atlanta

The 2013 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL2013) and the 2013 Workshop for Computational Linguistics for Literature (CLFL2013)

Corina Koolen, Kim Jautze and Andreas van Cranenburgh

For a brief while, Atlanta (Georgia) was flooded with computational linguists from over the world—to the extent that border security sighed of boredom when we announced our intention in entering the USA. Machine translation, summarization, sentiment analysis, etc.—many specialisms were represented. But we came with prose fiction in mind. Continue reading

Vacancy internship

Description of internship:

Huygens ING has a vacancy for an internship in the research project ‘The Riddle of Literary Quality’. This project explores the assumption whether formal characteristics in contemporary Dutch novels may be of importance in calling a novel literary or non-literary, and good or bad. In order to discriminate between the fictional texts that have been included in the corpus, the opinion of readers is being asked in an online survey, Het Nationale Lezersonderzoek ( An associated research project at Huygens ING is into online reception of literature. This project investigates among other things what online reception can teach us about literary appreciation.

The intern will perform reception analysis of a small selection of the ‘Riddle’-corpus, which will complement the online survey. To this end, the intern will perform research on online forums, combined with book club interviews. He/she will be working with the team members, especially with two PhD Candidates who are engaged in the survey and the activities on social media concerning the PR. The intern may therefore be involved in these activities as well.


– Master student in Literary Studies or a closely related field
– Dutch native proficiency
– Affinity with empirical research

The duration of the internship will be about 3-5 months, on a part-time basis, depending on the requirements of your master programme.

Those who are interested can send an e-mail to

Launch of The National Readers’ Enquiry

On March 4th 2013, the survey of the project The Riddle of Literary Quality was launched on . This “National Readers’ Enquiry” hopes to reach many thousands of respondents. As can be expected based on the nature of our project, the language of the survey is Dutch. All readers of Dutch among you are welcome to give your ratings on a set of novels (originals and translations) published during the last five years in The Netherlands. The list of novels contains those that were borrowed most from public libraries and that ranked highests on the bestseller lists of the last three years. Enjoy!

New members of the project team

The Riddle team has recently become a lot larger. PhD-student Corina Koolen was liaised to the project starting in September 2012, project assistant Fernie Maas joined the 1st of November, and Kim Jautze started work on her PhD on 15 November. More news is sure to follow, the team now being complete!

Computational Linguistics for Literature

Andreas van Cranenburgh represented The Riddle at The North-American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL, June 3–8 2012, Montreal). He writes:
In the main conference, the first paper that caught my eye was one about a
task called “multiple narrative disentanglement.” This is simply the problem
of recognizing in running text the different narratives with their own sets of
characters and storyline. A method is introduced which is applied to the
famously complex novel ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster-Wallace.
Continue reading

EACL 2012, Avignon

Last week, Andreas van Cranenburgh attended the 13th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL). EACL is one of the foremost conferences in the field of computational linguistics; this year’s acceptance rate was well below 30%. There were only 5 other works about parsing, and all of these were about dependency parsing instead of constituency parsing (different representations for expressing the syntactic structure of sentences). This meant that Andreas’s poster on discontinuous parsing was the only one to focus on constituency structures, which are commonly used in Data-Oriented Parsing and thus relevant to our project.

One paper in particular stood out due to its relevance to our project: Character-based kernels for novelistic plot structure. The paper presented a method to analyze and compare plot structure of novels. For example the relations of characters in a social network can be extracted, as well as their `emotional development’ based on a list of emotion-related words. The resulting information is used to produce a similarity metric for texts. One graph, for example, plotted the emotions of the protagonist of a Jane Austen novel, showing strong peaks corresponding to a proposal, elopement, and marriage of the protagonist. It is encouraging to see that even with a relatively superficial linguistic analysis, interesting details can be revealed of literary texts.

Parsing in Avignon

Riddle PhD-student Andreas van Cranenburgh will present a poster at the 13th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL). The conference will be held at the University of Avignon from April 23 to April 27, 2012. The title of the paper is ‘Efficient parsing with linear context-free rewriting systems.’ It presents results on parsing with discontinuous constituents from his Master thesis, defended in October 2011. More about the conference can be found through A pre-print of the paper is available at

A dark and stormy night

Most people will recognize the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” from the Peanuts comics, with Snoopy typing this sentence on his typewriter. Snoopy’s creator Charles M. Schulz, however, referred to a famous first sentence of a nineteenth-century novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The sentence even has its own Wikipedia page. The sentence is famous because it is seen as the ultimate example of what is often considered a bad style of writing. And this in itself contradictory situation makes it a perfect illustration for the project The Riddle of Literary Quality. The illustration was designed by communication expert Johan Kwantes.