PSYCHOLINGUISTIC ANALYSIS OF DOCUMENTS BY HISTORICAL PERSONALITIES

Josef Švancara *), Lea Švancarová

*) Department of Psychology, Masaryk University,
Brno, Czech Republic

The authors question whether an analysis of verbal style would contribute more to the reconstruction of the historical personality than already revealed in biographical sources. Verbal style is understood to mean relatively constant schema of the individual linguistic behavior.
For this purpose papers and letters written in Czech or German by personalities closely linked with their native cultural environment were selected: J.E. Purkyně, G. Mendel, B. Smetana, A. Dvořák, V. Havel and V. Klaus. Following the techniques of Busemann, Schlismann, Johnson, Mittenecker, a/o., the authors decided for a multidimensional approach. Psycholinguistic analysis of personal documents may yield valuable results permitting both intraindividual and interindividual comparison, provided the principle is adhered to that a psychological interpretation is comprehended in a broader social and historical context.

Key words: personal document, psycholinguistic analysis, action quotient of written materials, signs of perseveration, intraindividual and interindividual comparison.

1.

One of the first attempts at exploitation of formal criteria of written texts was Mendenhall´s work from 1887. That scholar measured the average length of words in Shakespeare´s dramas and F. Bacon´s texts; in Shakespeare he found longer words, so he could distinguish both authors. In psycholinguistic analysis of texts verbal utterance is comprehended as an expression of personality. Already Vygotsky (1970) warned against the development of the psycholinguistic theory that takes a personality as a psychophysically neutral individual. We comprehend the verbal style in a unity of personality and environment as co-determined in a social and historical context. Being interested in dynamic aspect of linguistic behavior does not mean neglecting the structure of disposal of the utterance because otherwise we would not be entitled to adopt the concept of "style".
Both Karl Bühler´s inner pre-construction and the sentence scheme (so-called Satzgerippe, O. Selz, 1922) prepare the ground for the future psycholinguistic investigation. Miller-Galanter-Pribram move on the same conception level when they suppose a "sentence plan" which is given even before an individual chooses particular words to express his/her thoughts. (In a later paper we will try to confront this sentence scheme with Uznadze´s ustanovka. This "sentence ustanovka" develops during lifetime as it interacts with changeable social conditions, keeping some stable features at the same time which enable the presentation of psycholinguistic types).

The research of the written document style has already been used in several studies as one of the methods of psychological research of historical personalities, as well as a method of analysis of adolescents´ commentaries. Apart from the above-mentioned methods we have also been inspired by the work of G.W. Allport (1942), today already classic, on the use of personal documents in psychological science. Mowadays the revival of interest is inspired by some new approaches to the text analysis in cognitive psychology and by pragmatic effort to describe changeable development of resurrected democracy in so-called post-communist countries, on the base of relevant personal document analysis.
Thus, in studying biographies we can choose from among at least three psychological approaches:
1. we can try to comprehend the continuity of the whole life cycle, its rising, culminating, as well as its declining phases;
2. we can start from the fundamental dispositions and follow up their realization in the particular phases of life;
3. we can submit certain forms of expression to a detailed analysis.
Our contribution belongs for the most part to a detailed analysis, although we also keep in view the continuity of life.

2.

In studying personal documents we can attempt at comprehending the patterns of the style (Sprachstilmerkmale). Busemann (1925) distinguished between two separable categories, the active and qualitative verbal expressions. Schlismann (1948) reached an essential simplification and objectivation of this method by admitting only verbs (except the auxiliaries) as active patterns and attributive adjectives as qualitative patterns. From this a simplified formula followed Action quotient AQ = V/A. High AQ values hint at an ego-bound, low ones at an environment-directed attitude. Sometimes we also speak about active and/or receptive set.
The sequence of style patterns is to be seen in figures... Each rising stands for a verb, and each sinking for an attributive adjective, irrelevant parts of the language sample being marked by horizontal shiftings. If we connect the starting and ending point of a style curve by a radius, we get a simplified curve picture. In this way we constructed a radius diagram where some analyzed texts can be easily compared. The abscissa shows the number of syllables in the text, the ordinate the difference between verbs and adjectives.
The next effort in this horrible anatomy of personal documents is concerned of the signs of perseveration. It is an analysis of the repetitions of certain syllables and/or words according to the method by Mittenecker (1951). This method tries to ascertain 1) how often a word or a syllable is repeated, 2) how big is the distance between the repetitions, which is measured by the number of the intermediate syllables. If we figure it in a graph, we can direct estimate the perseveration degree. Many repetitions within short distances are considered indicators of high perseveration. The profile curves exceed the value 1.0 very rarely in normal persons.
Referring to these methods and to the results of studies from the Psychological Institute of Vienna, we have made the first attempt at an exact analysis of the style in writings of Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, who worked in Brno, the papers of J.E. Purkyně, the famous Czech physiologist and founder of physiological psychology, M. Rostohar, the founder of Brno School of Psychology, the Czech composers B. Smetana, A. Dvořák. The dynamics of the contemporary life in the Czech Republic reflects the documents of two political personalities: the Czech President Václav Havel and the Prime Minister Václav Klaus.

3.

If we connect the starting and ending point of a style curve by a radius, we get a simplified curve picture. In this way we constructed a radius diagram where an analyzed text from Mendel´s writings can be compared. The abscissa shows the number of syllable in the text, the ordinate shows the difference between verbs and adjectives. The text of letters exhibit predominantly quite a steep rising, they are written in active style, the reviews on the other hand exhibit qualitative style, which may be characteristic of Mendel: a merely descriptive form of reviews without any personal critical attitude. Mendel´s expert papers, on the other hand, show a fairly constant curve form, they reflect the precise thinking process of Mendel when developing his hypotheses. We constructed an analogous radius diagram for texts taken from the writings of J.E. Purkyne, a famous Czech physiologists (Figure).

graf

With Purkyne there is a greater variability of style curve in the text passages taken from scientific studies; they vary according to the theme. With Mendel they always remain only slightly active.
In the analyzed texts of a considerable extent (1000- 4000 syllables) the above named authors maintained a relatively stable action quotient. In communications of a private nature the AQ is an indicator of the activation and of the degree of the writer's personal concern. Type- token-ratio (TTR) values differentiated neither definitely formed individualities nor pathological changes. Indicators of pathognomic perseveration, however, were found in a letter by B. Smetana dating from a time when his musical output was not yet affected by his progressive disease of the CNS.
The German texts we analysed are writings of J. E. Purkyně. The average AQ of three parts of his dissertation (1819) is 1.24 but particular passages of the texts differ considerably, thus all three kinds of verbal style are present here, i. e. action, reference and qualitative style; it depends on the subject-matter of the chapter in question. The AQ of the chapter Die Druckfigur des Auges is 0.48, the chapter Eintritt des Sehnerven, written with a didactic aim has AQ 1.70 and the chapter Blendungsbilder written in reference style has AQ 1.03. The letters to professor Retzius are written in a friendly spirit, they refer to work and family business expressed in action style written with average AQ 2.4. Unlike impersonal reviews of G. Mendel, in the review of Schwann´s work in moderate action style, Purkyně´s close personal attitude to the points at issue in the reviewed study is evident.

We demonstrated the basic trends of our autors´ texts in a radial scheme (Figure ). The steepest trend corresponding to action style is shown in the letters of B. Smetana and A. Dvořák; Purkyně´s letter to Palacký, referring to cultural issues, has lower prevalence of action components than Smetana´s and Dvořák´s letters, which reflect strong personal involvement. If we compare the difference of Purkyně´s letters to Retzius with the difference of the mentioned letter to Palacký in table 1, we can see to what extent the contribution of personal experience and direct contact (characteristic of the correspondence to Retzius) is asserted.

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A remarkable value is a pathognomic one of the interval 4-7 in the first letter of B. Smetana from 1878. At that time, the founder of Czech national music, in a quiet corner of a gamekeeper´s lodge in Jabkenice, was bravely standing up to symptoms of the progressive disease of the CNS, the signal of which was his deafness already in 1874. Smetana´s creative activity, however, remained untouched by his loss of hearing and other consequences of progressive paralysis (diagnosis of doctor Hlava made at that time); if we follow the list of his works after the beginning of the disease, we found Smetana´s masterpieces here, such as the cycle of symphonic poems Má vlast (My country), a quartet Z mého života (From my life), which is a unique musical autobiography and other compositions. His rich correspondence enables us to follow the changes in Smetana´s personality also in the difficult last ten years of his life. The letters from 1878 are not different from the previous correspondence as far as the subject-matter and form are concerned. Nevertheless, we can find a pathognomic value already in the letter 5a, which the master wrote to his disciple J. Jiránek; this letter is written in a distinct action style, as we can see in table 2. We also demonstrated the word repetition by means of TTR index in this letter; the value 0.54 we found is not basically different from Dvořák´s letter. The letter 5b addressed to the writer J. Srb- Debrna dates from the last year of Smetana´s life and it clues us to intellect deterioration and distinct perseverations, which are also demonstrated by the profile curve. Respecting the smaller amount of this letter we cannot compare TTR values which become lower as the text becomes longer. If we take the length of the letter 5b as a basis, we get TTR = 0.63 in the first letter and so the distinct changes in Smetana´s writing did not come to light at all when this method was employed. Dvořák´s letter, which we include to compare, was written in the time of full health and success, though; the profile curve corresponds to the prototype of interval lay-out of cyclotyme personality.

4.

We analyzed the text of the speech President Václav Havel gave when he was awarded Jackson Ralston Prize and professorate at Stanford University, on September 29, 1994. In this speech, we can find (after an introductory rise of action components) slightly qualitative style, characteristic of Václav Havel. In the article "Rozbíjejme falešné mýty" (Let us break false myths) written by Václav Klaus on July 4, 1996 we can read the defence of his policy on the background of not so satisfactory results of parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic. The whole text prevailingly displays action style. In neither of the two texts we found risen indicators of perseveration.

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5.

When carrying out psycholinguistic analysis of written texts we employed methods, whose results enabled comparison with works of other authors. We came to the conclusion that used techniques require methodological revision. During our work we confined ourselves to necessary modifications of action quotient and the calculation of difference of relevant features. For more information, please, use e-mail address:
svancara@phil.muni.cz.