Archive for September, 2008

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

September 22, 2008

By Nirmaldasan


A children’s classic that you can return to, even after growing up, is J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, first produced as a play in 1904 and then as a story book in 1911. The eponymous hero of Neverland who never grows up, the ferocious Captain Hook hunted by a ticking crocodile that has swallowed a clock, fairies, mermaids and ‘gay and innocent and heartless’ children who fly away to Neverland make Peter Pan an enjoyable reading experience.


No doubt a book for children, its grade level may be determined by a readability formula. Let us take 10 samples of three sentences each and apply the Strain Index (S3/10, where S3 is the number of syllables in three sentences). Since the book has 17 chapters, we may take one sample from the beginning and one from the end of each of the following chapters: I, V, IX, XIII and XVII.  


Here are the scores for the 10 samples: 5.5, 7.9 (Chapter I); 6.0, 4.7 (Chapter V); 12.4, 14.6 (Chapter IX); 8.2, 5.9 (Chapter XIII); 6.2, 13.5 (Chapter XVII). Parts of the book are written at grade level 4 and parts at grade level 14. However, the average yields a Strain Index of 8.49. The mean deviation is 2.615 (sum of the deviations divided by the number of samples).


But why should the sample be restricted to three sentences? You may wish to take a longer sample. The general form of Strain Index = 0.3 * (Sn/n), where Sn is the number of syllables in ‘n’ sentences. I would recommend a sample of 30 sentences to simplify the calculation. Thus, for a longer sample, Strain Index = S30/100, where S30 is the number of syllables in 30 sentences.


Now in the 10 samples that we have taken, there are a total of 30 sentences and 849 syllables. Therefore, Strain Index = S30/100 = 849/100 = 8.49. Peter Pan is suited for students of Grade 8.


The Story Of Writing

September 1, 2008

By Nirmaldasan


Nita Berry’s The Story Of Writing, published by the Children’s Book Trust in 1998, is a delightful read for students of the higher grade levels. This is the way it begins: “Remember how long you took to start writing? When you were very young, you had to learn initially to grasp a pencil or crayon firmly between your fingers. Slowly, you began to draw clumsy lines, then circles and different shapes. Later, you wrote your ABC in capitals, perhaps a little shakily to start with, but yes, you were writing! And when you were a little bigger, you developed a beautiful running hand, and wrote words, then sentences at last!”


This sample has 5 sentences, 116 syllables, 373 characters and 80 words. The average number of words per sentence (AWS) is 80/5 = 16. Let us calculate the readability of this passage applying three formulae: Strain Index (SI), Character-count Index (CI) and the Higher Grade Level (HGL).


SI = 0.3 * (Sn/n), where Sn is the number of syllables in ‘n’ sentences. Substituting the values, we get SI = 0.3 * (116/5) = 6.96.


CI = 0.1 * (Cn/n), where Cn is the number of characters in ‘n’ sentences. Substituting the values, we get CI = 0.1 * (373/5) = 7.46.


HGL = W4/10 to W5/10, where W4 and W5 are the number of words in 4 sentences and 5 sentences respectively. Here, W4 = 59 and W5 = 80. Therefore, HGL = 5.9 to 8.0. It is interesting to note that the SI and the CI scores lie within this range.


And here is the concluding paragraph of Nita Berry’s book: “In an electric age today, when computers have taken over the task of designing letters and text, the ancient art of writing by hand has perhaps ceased to evolve. Yet, the value of the written word is cherished. The early lesson it taught us at the dawn of our history — of how to communicate and record — is pushing mankind towards new frontiers, and newer horizons on earth and even beyond.”


This sample has 3 sentences, 105 syllables, 320 characters and 70 words. And AWS is 70/3 = 23.33.


SI = 0.3 * (105/3) = 0.1 * 105 = 10.5.


CI = 0.1 * (320/3) = 10.66.


HGL = (0.4 * AWS) to (0.5 * AWS) = (0.4 * 70/3) to (0.5 * 70/3) = 9.33 to 11.66. Here again, the SI and CI scores lie within this range.


Of the two passages we have tested, the first appears easier to read than the second. It is better to test more samples before averaging the scores.


NOTE: The Strain Index, the Character-count Index and the High Grade Level are single-factor readability formulae like the FORCAST, the SMOG and the Easy Listening Formula. I have discussed the last three formulae in ‘Fascinating Approaches To Readability’; and the first three formulae in ‘Strain Index: A New Readability Formula’, ‘Character-count Formula For Readable Writing’ and ‘Readability Conjectures’ respectively.