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.
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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.