Thursday, December 02, 2004

Lost for words

It's been a while since I linked to anything in The Times so good news for them, they've made it back into this part of the blogosphere. Not their fault... I upgraded my firewall, and the new virtual reality bouncers and rottweilers were savagely attacking anything that moved, including the pop-up search box in the online edition of The Times. All sorted now.

Anyway, The Times ran the most interesting story about a new piece of research into the ways in which Alzheimer's disease affects language. As a logophile, I can't imagine many worse indications of mortality than knowing you are losing your facility with language. I was moved to tears by Iris, the film about the novelist Iris Murdoch's battle with the disease. This piece of research covers exactly those bases, because the scientists investigated the ways in which her written style changed during her life.

The scientists used digital text-processing technology to examine, amongst other language frameworks, the lexical variety in 3 of her novels, one at the start of her career, one at the height of her powers, and one that was written a year before she was finally diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease. Check out the link to read what they discovered, and how they hope this will help them find new methods of diagnosis.

The article doesn't explain the technique the scientists used for this analysis, but it does helpfully provide samples of extracts from the 3 novels they used. Go ahead, give it a go! Can you work out a method for replicating this kind of lexical analysis? Do you achieve the same findings?

And while you're doing that, I'm off to do a crossword - apparently it helps...

The Times is always a slightly more tricky linkylover than the others: click on the title below to get to the homepage of The Times; enter "Iris Murdoch" in the search box in the top left corner; when the pop-up appears, click "search" on the left hand "search the site" box; when the second pop-up appears, click on the first article. Phew! You get there in the end...

Alzheimer's clue lay between the lines

Alzheimer's disease



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