Learning a Better Motif Index: Toward Automated Motif Extraction

Authors W. Victor H. Yarlott, Mark A. Finlayson

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W. Victor H. Yarlott
Mark A. Finlayson

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W. Victor H. Yarlott and Mark A. Finlayson. Learning a Better Motif Index: Toward Automated Motif Extraction. In 7th Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative (CMN 2016). Open Access Series in Informatics (OASIcs), Volume 53, pp. 7:1-7:10, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2016)


Motifs are distinctive recurring elements found in folklore, and are used by folklorists to categorize and find tales across cultures and track the genetic relationships of tales over time. Motifs have significance beyond folklore as communicative devices found in news, literature, press releases, and propaganda that concisely imply a large constellation of culturally-relevant information. Until now, folklorists have only extracted motifs from narratives manually, and the conceptual structure of motifs has not been formally laid out. In this short paper we propose that it is possible to automate the extraction of both existing and new motifs from narratives using supervised learning techniques and thereby possible to learn a computational model of how folklorists determine motifs. Automatic extraction would enable the construction of a truly comprehensive motif index, which does not yet exist, as well as the automatic detection of motifs in cultural materials, opening up a new world of narrative information for analysis by anyone interested in narrative and culture. We outline an experimental design, and report on our efforts to produce a structured form of Thompson's motif index, as well as a development annotation of motifs in a small collection of Russian folklore. We propose several initial computational, supervised approaches, and describe several possible metrics of success. We describe lessons learned and difficulties encountered so far, and outline our plan going forward.
  • Text analysis
  • automated feature extraction
  • folklore
  • narrative
  • Russian folktales


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