A Festschrift for Minoji Akimoto
UDO FRIES Sentence Length, Sentence Complexity and the Noun Phrase in 18th-Century News Publications 21
UDO FRIES Sentence Length, Sentence Complexity and the Noun Phrase in 18th-Century News Publications Sentence length has often been used as a criterion for text comprehension. But sentence length alone does not necessarily increase the difficulty of understanding a text, for the presence of conjunctions, e.g., may facilitate comprehension considerably. On the other hand, long and complex sentences take longer to read and are therefore more difficult. This paper explores questions of sentence length in 18th-century newspapers. 1. Sentence length and corpus linguistics In corpus linguistics, Kučera and Francis (1967) studied sentence length in the Brown Corpus, and W. F. Twaddle states in the foreword that “the relative frequency of sentences of word length 1…n … shows interesting associations with genre differences…. so far as word- number length of sentences is concerned”, and observes “there may be two populations of sentences in the Corpus or in certain genres of it – and hence, perhaps in English” (Kučera and Francis 1967: vii). In the Brown Corpus, the overall mean sentence length is 19.2656 words; all genres of informative prose are above this figure, with Skills and Hobbies at the lower end of the scale, with 19.8694 words, and Miscellaneous: Government Documents, etc. on the upper end, with 25.4863 words. All imaginative prose genres have shorter sentences. Fiction: Mystery and Detective, has the shortest sentences: its mean sentence length is 12.7639 words, while Humor is at the top of the table with 18.5510 words. Udo Fries 22 One of the reasons...
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