Talking Shit by the Numbers

While working on a revision of the illustrations for the “Talking Shit in Rayne” essay, I considered for a time the use of a three-dimensional graph to represent how changes in genre interacted with changes in the interactional order. One axis was, of course, time. The second axis of the original graph was a kind of loose approximation of — okay a complete approximation of the degree of interaction occurring between the speaker and the audience.

In order not to have a fake 3D graph, of which there are plenty, I searched for a third axis of information that I could use. I fell upon the idea of trying to quantify the amount of interaction within a given text (semantic interaction, if you will) — as a way to explore the amount of interaction that a text created at the pragmatic level. My initial idea was to count the number of lines of direct discourse and then to divide by the total number of lines in a given text. That yielded the following results:

Text Direct Discourse Lines Total Lines Percentage
1.1 0 8 .55
1.2 6 11 .55
1.3 14 24 .58
1.4 12 14 .86
1.5 11 25 .44
1.6 25 34 .74
1.7 28 55 .51
1.8 41 81 .51
1.13 2 28 .07
1.14 20 52 .38
1.15 6 19 .32
1.17 8 21 .38
1.18 2 22 .09

A couple of notes first:

  • Texts 1.1 – 1.4 are toasts.
  • Texts 1.5 – 1.8 are jokes.
  • Texts 1.13-1.18 are memorates, first-person accounts of encounters with the supernatural.

A couple of things stand out here:

  • First, this kind of pattern seeking really wants more texts, and so there really isn’t enough data here.
  • Second, I don’t even have all the data for all the texts I have — I was missing some transcripts when I did this.
  • Third, despite all these qualifications, there are still some interesting patterns here:
    • It’s hard to ignore the clustering of the first three texts, all of which are toasts, with values of .55-.58.
    • It’s also hard to ignore the pair of jokes with a similar mirroring of percentages of direct discourse, despite enormous differences in length.
    • The same can be said about the cluster of memorates, 14-17.

Another thing to note is that having to count lines of direct discourse was a bit more challenging than it seemed, though I think I made reliable distinctions. Just as importantly, however, was the fact that there were a few instances of indirect discourse that gave me pause. But very few. So few that now I want to go back and examine those instances more closely to see if I can’t discern any patterns of why it occurs at all.

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