As readers and writers, we often are so focussed on the words of a story that we overlook the small little marks that give them meaning – the punctuation. After all, had I chosen anything other than an en dash to insert in that first sentence the entire essence could have changed. An exclamation mark would have seemed a bit more aggressive, while an open parenthesis would have suggested that what followed was more of an afterthought rather than the answer.
Nicholas Rougeux, an artist and self-described “data geek,” is not the first person to acknowledge the importance of punctuation but he is, perhaps, the first to truly celebrate the beauty of these small dots and lines. Taking works from Project Gutenberg, Rougeaux ran through some of the world’s most famous texts and deleted all letters, numbers, line breaks and spaces to leave only the punctuation marks in place and then created this series of posters, titled “Between the Words.”
Adam Calhoun, a scientist and data visualiser, has taken this concept to a new level, creating bar graphs comparing the punctuation usage by different authors. While this doesn’t necessarily sound immediately appealing, what he discovered was really quite poetic!
Using a Python code (which he freely offers on his website) to remove the words, Calhoun was able to contrast the sentence length and favourite symbols of authors as diverse as Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner.
More recently, Calhoun has even created heatmap representations of the punctuation usage in these books! What books would you analyse with Calhoun’s code?
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