Counting Vocabulary

The most obvious fact about texts that emerges from the preceding examples is that they differ in the vocabulary they use. In this section, we will see how to use the computer to count the words in a text in a variety of useful ways. As before, you will jump right in and experiment with the Python interpreter, even though you may not have studied Python systematically yet. Test your understanding by modifying the examples, and trying the exercises at the end of the chapter.

Let's begin by finding out the length of a text from start to finish, in terms of the words and punctuation symbols that appear. We use the term len to get the length of something, which we'll apply here to the book of Genesis:

So Genesis has 44,764 words and punctuation symbols, or "tokens." A token is the technical name for a sequence of characters—such as hairy, his, or :)—that we want to treat as a group. When we count the number of tokens in a text, say, the phrase to be or not to be, we are counting occurrences of these sequences. Thus, in our example phrase there are two occurrences of to, two of be, and one each of or and not. But there are only four distinct vocabulary items in this phrase. How many distinct words does the book of Genesis contain? To work this out in Python, we have to pose the question slightly differently. The vocabulary of a text is just the set of tokens that it uses, since in a set, all duplicates are collapsed together. In Python we can obtain the vocabulary items of text3 with the command: set(text3). When you do this, many screens of words will fly past. Now try the following:

['!', , '(', ')', ',', ',)', '.', '.)', ':', ';', ';)', '?', '?)',

'A', 'Abel', 'Abelmizraim', 'Abidah', 'Abide', 'Abimael', 'Abimelech', 'Abr', 'Abrah', 'Abraham', 'Abram', 'Accad', 'Achbor', 'Adah', ...] >>> len(set(text3)) 0

By wrapping sorted() around the Python expression set(text3) , we obtain a sorted list of vocabulary items, beginning with various punctuation symbols and continuing with words starting with A. All capitalized words precede lowercase words. We discover the size of the vocabulary indirectly, by asking for the number of items in the set, and again we can use len to obtain this number . Although it has 44,764 tokens, this book has only 2,789 distinct words, or "word types." A word type is the form or spelling of the word independently of its specific occurrences in a text—that is, the word considered as a unique item of vocabulary. Our count of 2,789 items will include punctuation symbols, so we will generally call these unique items types instead of word types.

Now, let's calculate a measure of the lexical richness of the text. The next example shows us that each word is used 16 times on average (we need to make sure Python uses floating-point division):

>>> from _future_ import division

16.050197203298673 >>>

Next, let's focus on particular words. We can count how often a word occurs in a text, and compute what percentage of the text is taken up by a specific word:

1.4643016433938312 >>>

Your Turn: How many times does the word lol appear in text5? How much is this as a percentage of the total number of words in this text?

You may want to repeat such calculations on several texts, but it is tedious to keep retyping the formula. Instead, you can come up with your own name for a task, like "lexical_diversity" or "percentage", and associate it with a block of code. Now you only have to type a short name instead of one or more complete lines of Python code, and you can reuse it as often as you like. The block of code that does a task for us is called a function, and we define a short name for our function with the keyword def. The next example shows how to define two new functions, lexical_diversity() and percentage():

>>> def lexical_diversity(text): O ... return len(text) / len(set(text))

>>> def percentage(count, total): Q ... return 100 * count / total


The Python interpreter changes the prompt from >>> to ... after encountering the colon at the end of the first line. The ... prompt indicates that Python expects an indented code block to appear next. It is up to you to do the indentation, by typing four spaces or hitting the Tab key. To finish the indented block, just enter a blank line.

In the definition of lexical diversity() , we specify a parameter labeled text. This parameter is a "placeholder" for the actual text whose lexical diversity we want to compute, and reoccurs in the block of code that will run when the function is used, in line ©. Similarly, percentage() is defined to take two parameters, labeled count and total ©.

Once Python knows that lexical_diversity() and percentage() are the names for specific blocks of code, we can go ahead and use these functions:

>>> lexical_diversity(text3)


>>> lexical_diversity(text5)



>>> percentage(text4.count('a'), len(text4))

1.4643016433938312 >>>

To recap, we use or call a function such as lexical_diversity() by typing its name, followed by an open parenthesis, the name of the text, and then a close parenthesis. These parentheses will show up often; their role is to separate the name of a task—such as lexical_diversity()—from the data that the task is to be performed on—such as text3. The data value that we place in the parentheses when we call a function is an argument to the function.

You have already encountered several functions in this chapter, such as len(), set(), and sorted(). By convention, we will always add an empty pair of parentheses after a function name, as in len(), just to make clear that what we are talking about is a function rather than some other kind of Python expression. Functions are an important concept in programming, and we only mention them at the outset to give newcomers a sense of the power and creativity of programming. Don't worry if you find it a bit confusing right now.

Later we'll see how to use functions when tabulating data, as in Table 1-1. Each row of the table will involve the same computation but with different data, and we'll do this repetitive work using a function.

Table 1-1. Lexical diversity of various genres in the Brown Corpus




Lexical diversity

skill and hobbies








fiction: science




press: reportage




fiction: romance








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  • speranza
    How can i calculate Lexical richness in python?
    8 years ago

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