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Linguistic and Stylistic Complexity


This project implements various measures that assess the linguistic and stylistic complexity of (literary) texts. There are surface-based, sentence-based, pos-based, dependency-based and constituency-based measures. Most of the measures are language independent, but some of them rely on language-specific information (see language definition files) or are only defined for German (this affects some of the constituency-based measures).


The easiest way to install the toolbox is via pip (pip3 in some distributions):

pip install textcomplexity

Alternatively, you can download and decompress the latest release or clone the git repository:

git clone

In the new directory, run the following command:

python3 install


You can use the script bin/txtcomplexity to compute (a sensible subset of) all implemented complexity measures from the command line. The script currently supports two input formats: The widely used CoNLL-U format (--input-format conllu) and a custom tab-separated input format (--input-format tsv).

The CoNLL-U format consists of ten tab-separated columns that encode, among other things, the dependency structure of the sentence. Missing values can be represented by an underscore (_). Here is an example:

# sent_id = hdt-s469
# text = Netscape hatte den Browser-Markt noch 1994 zu fast 90 Prozent beherrscht .
1	Netscape	Netscape	PROPN	NE	_	11	nsubj	_	_
2	hatte	haben	AUX	VAFIN	_	11	aux	_	_
3	den	den	DET	ART	_	4	det	_	_
4	Browser-Markt	Markt	NOUN	NN	_	11	obj	_	_
5	noch	noch	ADV	ADV	_	6	advmod	_	_
6	1994	1994	NUM	CARD	_	11	obl	_	_
7	zu	zu	ADP	APPR	_	10	case	_	_
8	fast	fast	ADV	ADV	_	9	advmod	_	_
9	90	90	NUM	CARD	_	10	nummod	_	_
10	Prozent Prozent NOUN	NN	_	11	obl	_	_
11	beherrscht	beherrschen	VERB	VVPP	_	0	root	_	_
12	.	.	PUNCT	$.	_	11	punct	_	_

If you want to compute the constituency-based complexity measures, the input should be in a custom tab-separated format with six tab-separated columns and an empty line after each sentence. The six columns are: word index, word, part-of-speech tag, index of dependency head, dependency relation, phrase structure tree. Missing values can be represented by an underscore (_). Here is a short example with two sentences:

1	Das	ART	3	NK	(TOP(S(NP*
2	fremde	ADJA	3	NK	*
3	Schiff	NN	4	SB	*)
4	war	VAFIN	-1	--	*
5	nicht	PTKNEG	6	NG	(AVP*
6	allein	ADV	4	MO	*)
7	.	$.	6	--	*))

1	Sieben	CARD	2	NK	(TOP(S(NP*
2	weitere	ADJA	3	MO	*)
3	begleiteten	VVFIN	-1	--	*
4	es	PPER	3	OA	*
5	.	$.	4	--	*))

Without any further options, the script computes a sensible subset of all applicable measures (see below):

txtcomplexity --input-format conllu <file>

The script automatically includes measures that rely on language-specific information, if you specify the input language. If your texts are in German or English, you can use --lang de or --lang en. If your texts are in another language, use --lang other --lang-def <file> to provide a custom language definition file.

If you want to compute more (or fewer) measures, indicate one of the predefined sets of measures (via --preset). You can choose to ignore punctuation (--ignore-punct) or case (--ignore-case) and set the window-size for the surface-based measures (--window-size). By default, the script formats its output as JSON but you can also request tab-separated values suitable for import in a spreadsheet (--output-format tsv). More detailed usage information is available via:

txtcomplexity -h

Utility script: From raw text to CONLL-U

Getting the input format right can sometimes be a bit tricky. Therefore, we provide a simple wrapper script around stanza, a state-of-the-art NLP pipeline, which you can find in the utils/ subdirectory of this repository.

First, you need to install stanza:

pip install stanza

Now you can use the wrapper script to parse your text files: --language <language> --output-dir <directory> <file> …

Complexity measures

Core measures of lexical complexity

In our article on lexical complexity (currently in preparation) we argue that there are several distinct aspects (or dimensions) of lexical complexity and we propose a single measure for each of the dimensions. Most of them are implemented here.

  • Variability: How large is the vocabulary? Measured via type-token ratio.
  • Evenness: How evenly are the tokens distributed among the different types? Measured via normalized entropy.
  • Rarity: How many rare words are used? Measured with the help of a reference frequency list.
    • General rarity: Rarity with respect to a representative sample of the language.
    • Genre rarity: Rarity with respect to a specific genre.
  • Dispersion: How evenly are the tokens of a type distributed throughout the text? Measured via Gini-based dispersion (without hapax legomena)
  • Lexical density: How many content words are used? Measured with the help of part-of-speech tags.
  • Surprise: How unexpected are word choices in the text? Not implemented here.
  • Disparity: How semantically dissimilar are the words? Not implemented here.

Surface-based measures

Measures that use sample size and vocabulary size

  • Type-token ratio
  • Brunet's (1978) W
  • Carroll's (1964) CTTR
  • Dugast's (1978, 1979) U
  • Dugast's (1979) k
  • Guiraud's (1954) R
  • Herdan's (1960, 1964) C
  • Maas' (1972) a2
  • Summer's S
  • Tuldava's (1977) LN

All of these measures correlate perfectly.

Measures that use part of the frequency spectrum

  • Honoré's (1979) H
  • Michéa's (1969, 1971) M
  • Sichel's (1975) S

Michéa's M is the reciprocal of Sichel's S

Measures that use the whole frequency spectrum

  • Entropy (Shannon 1948)
  • Evenness (= normalized entropy)
  • Herdan's (1955) Vm
  • Jarvis' (2013) evenness (standard deviation of tokens per type)
  • McCarthy and Jarvis' (2010) HD-D
  • Simpson's (1949) D
  • Yule's (1944) K

Yule's K, Simpson's D and Herdan's Vm correlate perfectly. Simpson's D is perhaps the most intuitive of the three measures and can be interpreted as the probability of two randomly drawn tokens from the text being identical

Parameters of probabilistic models

  • Orlov's (1983) Z

Measures that use the whole text

  • Average token length
  • Covington and McFall's (2010) MATTR
  • Kubát and Milička's (2013) STTR
  • Log10 text length in characters
  • Log10 text length in tokens
  • MTLD (McCarthy and Jarvis 2010)

Measures of dispersion:

  • Evenness-based dispersion
  • Gini-based dispersion
  • Gries' DP and DPnorm (Gries 2008, Lijffijt and Gries 2012)
  • Kullback-Leibler divergence (Kullback and Leibler 1951)

DP/DPnorm and KL-divergence require an additional parameter (the number of parts in which to split the text), therefore they are not computed in the command-line script.

Sentence-based measures

  • Sentence length in characters
  • Sentence length in tokens

Language-specific measures relying on a list of part-of-speech tags that indicate punctuation, see language definition files:

  • Punctuation per sentence
  • Punctuation per token
  • Sentence length in words

POS-based measures

  • Lexical density (Ure 1971)
  • Rarity (requires a reference frequency list)

These measures rely on language-specific information (lists of part-of-speech tags that indicate open word classes and proper names and lists of the most common word-tag pairs in a reference corpus), see language definition files.

Dependency-based measures

  • Average dependency distance (Oya 2011)
  • Closeness centrality
  • Closeness centralization (Freeman 1978)
  • Dependents per token
  • Longest shortest path
  • Outdegree centralization (Freeman 1978)

Constituency-based measures

Language-independent measures:

  • Constituents per sentence
  • Height of the parse trees
  • Non-terminal constituents per sentence

Language-dependent measures (defined for the German NEGRA parsing scheme):

  • Clauses per sentence
  • Complex t-units per sentence
  • Coordinate phrases per sentence
  • Dependent clauses per sentence
  • Noun phrases per sentence
  • Prepositional phrases per sentence
  • Verb phrases per sentence
  • t-units per sentence

Language definition files

Some complexity measures (e.g. lexical density and rarity) require language specific information that needs to be provided by language definition files. For German and English, the built-in language definition files will be used automatically (as long as you indicate the language via the --lang option). For other languages (--lang other), you need to provide the language definition files yourself. Language definition files are in JSON format and contain the following information:

  • language: Language code
  • punctuation: List of language-specific part-of-speech tags used for punctuation (column XPOS in CoNLL-U format)
  • proper_names: List of language-specific part-of-speech tags used for proper names
  • open_classes: List of language-specific part-of-speech tags used for open word classes (including proper names)
  • most_common: List of the most frequent content words (excluding proper names) and their part-of speech tags; for German and English, we use the 5.000 most frequent words according to the COW frequency lists

Here is an excerpt from the German language definition file (omitting most of the 5.000 most common content words):

{"language": "de",
 "punctuation": ["$.", "$,", "$("],
 "proper_names": ["NE"],
 "open_classes": ["ADJA", "ADJD", "ITJ", "NE", "NN", "TRUNC", "VVFIN", "VVIMP", "VVINF", "VVIZU", "VVPP"],
 "most_common": [["gibt", "VVFIN"],
                 ["gut", "ADJD"],
                 ["Zeit", "NN"],
                 ["Fahrzeugen", "NN"],
                 ["Kopie", "NN"],
                 ["Merkmale", "NN"]

Here is an excerpt from the English language definition file (omitting most of the 5.000 most common content words). Note that the part-of-speech tags for punctuation look like punctuation symbols – but we list pos tags, not punctuation symbols:

{"language": "en",
 "punctuation": [".", "," ,":", "\"", "``", "(", ")", "-LRB-", "-RRB-"],
 "proper_names": ["NNP", "NNPS"],
 "open_classes": ["AFX", "JJ", "JJR", "JJS", "NN", "NNS", "RB", "RBR", "RBS", "UH", "VB", "VBD", "VBG", "VBN", "VBP", "VBZ"],
 "most_common": [["is", "VBZ"],
                 ["be", "VB"],
                 ["was", "VBD"],
                 ["statistical", "JJ"],
                 ["appearing", "VBG"],
                 ["recipes", "NNS"]


Linguistic and stylistic complexity measures for (literary) texts







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