The ontogeny of discourse structure mimics the development of literature


Discourse varies with age, education, psychiatric state and historical epoch, but the ontogenetic and cultural dynamics of discourse structure remain to be quantitatively characterized. To this end we investigated word graphs obtained from verbal reports of 200 subjects ages 2-58, and 676 literary texts spanning ~5,000 years. In healthy subjects, lexical diversity, graph size, and long-range recurrence departed from initial near-random levels through a monotonic asymptotic increase across ages, while short-range recurrence showed a corresponding decrease. These changes were explained by education and suggest a hierarchical development of discourse structure: short-range recurrence and lexical diversity stabilize after elementary school, but graph size and long-range recurrence only stabilize after high school. This gradual maturation was blurred in psychotic subjects, who maintained in adulthood a near-random structure. In literature, monotonic asymptotic changes over time were remarkable: While lexical diversity, long-range recurrence and graph size increased away from near-randomness, short-range recurrence declined, from above to below random levels. Bronze Age texts are structurally similar to childish or psychotic discourses, but subsequent texts converge abruptly to the healthy adult pattern around the onset of the Axial Age (800-200 BC), a period of pivotal cultural change. Thus, individually as well as historically, discourse maturation increases the range of word recurrence away from randomness.

Cite this paper

@article{Mota2016TheOO, title={The ontogeny of discourse structure mimics the development of literature}, author={Natalia Bezerra Mota and Sylvia Pinheiro and Mariano Sigman and Diego Fern{\'a}ndez Slezak and Guillermo A. Cecchi and Mauro Copelli and Sidarta Ribeiro}, journal={CoRR}, year={2016}, volume={abs/1612.09268} }