After Mosteller and Wallace: Authorship of the Federalist Papers

Metaphor and authorship attribution

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Metaphor and authorship attribution

Having argued that common experience can be a strong factor in the type of conceptual metaphor used in a particular genre or text type, as an illustration of conceptual metaphor, I would now like to consider the rôle of metaphor in text creation.

Some models of authorship attribution presuppose that for an individual the act of authoring a text throws up a set of fixed behaviours or “habits” such that there will inevitably be a consistency within one author’s oeuvre regardless of the many different kinds of cognitive activity involved in the creation of different text types. This is because these models tacitly assume that authorship identification can be carried out purely on the basis of surface forms. This is, I suggest, a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of text production, because it ignores how language is put together in a particular authorial context and, specifically, the rôle of language conceptualisation.

The act of authoring a text is a highly complex activity which goes much deeper than grammar or lexis, and concerns primarily the author’s ‘conceptual systems’ (to use Lakoff’s term). If we are to find ways of successfully attributing authorship it cannot be the case that there is one single way of doing so which will be able to take into account not only the multiplicity of cognitive and social activities which authorship involves, but also the vastly complex array of human experiences, both common and individual. It is clear that different types of authorship inquiry, different text types, and different types of author will demand a variety of approaches. It is also clear that authorship attribution is an activity fraught with danger and difficulty if people’s freedom, and indeed lives, are to depend on it. For this reason many advocate an eclectic approach to authorship, which is to say the reliance not on one, but on several different methods. Given that, in the view outlined above, authorship is primarily a socio‑cognitive activity which relies on previous experience, both linguistic and non‑linguistic, I will now set out an application of the idea of conceptual metaphor to authorship attribution. I will first revert to the topic of the Federalist Papers to give the reader a brief account of their context, which will be helpful in understanding the method of attribution to be described below.

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