Statistics in Language Studies: Neglect, Use, and Abuse

Mosteller and Wallace (1984) introduced their study of statistical methods applied to a question of disputed authorship by saying, “When two statisticians, both flanks unguarded, blunder into an historical and literary controversy, merciless slaughter is imminent.” ( p. 1) Most of my formal training, in contrast, is not in statistics, but in the social and behavioral sciences.

I came slowly and late to an appreciation of the utility of statistics in a variety of disciplines, including my own. Through colleagues in linguistics, classics, and literary studies, I have recently become aware of some of the problems language scholars are attacking that would be more easily solved if approached statistically.


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