Ever wonder what adjectives Richard Thompson likes most?
I am a huge fan of Richard Thompson; I think he's an incredible musician and a brilliant songwriter.
In his book about Richard and Linda Thompson’s album Shoot Out the Lights, Hayden Childs makes an intriguing suggestion in Appendix F, “Other Detritus Too Esoteric for Even These Appendices”: “A pie chart showing the most frequently employed adjectives in all Richard Thompson songs.” Well, I like this kind of thing, and I have a computer, so why not?
First, I must apologize for not being Mark Liberman; he would have written this up as a Breakfast Experiment™ on Language Log using more sophisticated tools and with cool graphs that dance around the screen whilst humming RT melodies.
Richard Thompson has conveniently put up lyrics to all his songs on his website. I wrote a script to download all of these (pausing after each song so as not to overload the server); I cleaned up each file to leave only the lyrics, without any of the boilerplate links, formatting, etc. There are various issues: Some songs, especially from the Fairport Convention days, are covers, e.g. of Bob Dylan songs or Child Ballads; some songs appear in different versions. I did not try to correct for these, figuring that even the covers are at least representative of the kind of lyrics that Thompson saw fit to include on albums.
A further issue is that the repetition of a word in a particular song skews the results, or at least may be regarded as skewing the results. For example, 20 of the 21 examples of reckless come from Reckless Kind. I figured, though, that a word repeated frequently in a song is at least important enough to repeat; that is, the repetition itself indicates that it's important.
The entire corpus came to 87,866 words. I ran this though an automated part-of-speech tagger (I used TreeTagger, developed by Helmut Schmid in the TC project at the Institute for Computational Linguistics of the University of Stuttgart), and then counted up the results. Like many computational taggers, TreeTagger uses a more sophisticated analysis of parts of speech than most people are familiar with, so I conformed the results to the familiar English p-o-s descriptions. Finally, I sorted the results.
It would be useful to compare this to baseline frequencies of these adjectives in a standard English corpus, but I didn't have the time.
The full list of course goes on for quite some length. But here are the first 100 (or so; there were ties) most common adjectives in Richard Thompson’s songs:
Um, no. I’m not a critic, I’m just a lexicographer and sometime programmer. I’ll leave the analysis for people smarter than I am. I will, however, mention that though this list does include a lot of words people would not be surprised to see in RT songs (poor, wrong, dead, dark, cold, lonely, crazy, empty, restless), it is nonetheless the case that good is much more common than bad.