Aging-related Changes in Agatha Christie's Vocabulary

Agatha Christie\'s vocabularyIn a recently-presented scientific paper, Ian Lancashire and Graeme Hirst from the University of Toronto's Department of English and Department of Computer Science demonstrate changes in the vocabulary used in Agatha Christie's later novels.
The professors digitized 14 Christie novels (and included two more available in the Gutenberg online text archive), and then, with the aid of textual-analysis software, analyzed them for "vocabulary size and richness," an increase in repeated phrases (like "all sorts of") and an uptick in indefinite words ("anything," "something") — linguistic indicators of the cognitive deficits typical of Alzheimer's disease. The results were statistically significant; Christie's lexicon decreased with age, while both the number of vague words she employed and phrases she repeated increased.

Further studies are planned for the works of P.D. James and Ross Macdonald.

Link, via Language Log, where there is an informed comment thread.

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I remember listening to a books-on-tape version of "Postern of Fate" (the last novel she wrote) and thinking that it clearly showed either some kind of mental slippage or a desperate attempt to wring more word-count out of the plot, 'cause the meandering and repetitions were driving me nuts!
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I can't access this at work, but I hope they also mention British fantasy/sci-fi author Terry Pratchett. After his diagnosis with Alzheimer's, I immediately thought that I had seen something going on with his books. You can almost watch his writing become less complex if you read them chronologically. I wonder if this could be used as some kind of diagnostic tool in the general population? (Can't think of how though. Gonna leave that up to the sciencey types.)
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These linguistic declines happen to all elderly people to a degree. The fact that she's wrote books at 79 is a good thing. The books are still comprehensible, just not as clear and precise as earlier ones. It's like the intellectual demand of writing a book "held off" the dementia.
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