Tuesday 14 October 2014

Visualizing Language Use in TV and Film Over Time: A Simpsons example

For researchers of narrative, one unique asset is the preponderance of examples that exist to be studied. Humans create a lot of narrative fiction, in the form of books, television shows and films, among other media. Access to these examples has become increasingly simplified, thanks to both the Internet and growing computing power. A number of researchers have created tools that allow for some rather interesting visualizations of available data. One example is the Bookworm Browser, created by Dr. Benjamin M. Schmidt, an Assistant Professor of History at NorthEastern. The Bookworm Browser allows users to search for the incidence of different words which are then visualized as a line-graph, showing how often the word appears in the selected text as a function of time. In a browser dedicated to television and film, for example, one can visualize how often the names of the main characters are mentioned in the TV show The Simpsons (i.e., Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie). There are interesting patterns that emerge from this visualization. Perhaps not surprisingly, Homer is mentioned most frequently, followed by Bart, then Marge, Lisa, and Maggie. However, the mentions of Homer, Bart, and Marge decreases rather steadily for the first twelve years of the show perhaps as viewers became increasingly familiar with the family. (Lisa and Maggie are mentioned infrequently, and their frequency of mention stays relatively stable). Another interesting twist is that in the past two years the name Marge has come to be mentioned more frequently than Bart, perhaps reflecting an increasing importance for this character in the show. For more information on this browser please see this blog post by Dr. Schmidt (warning: it contains swear words). To try it yourself, click here

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