Proceedings of Bridges 2015: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2015)

Pages 375–378

In preparation of his edition of the 14th century alliterative poem
*Piers Plowman*, the 19th century philologist, Walter Skeat,
was able to find forty-five manuscripts. These were used in two
different ways. First, he studied these with respect to their
dialects, which led to his identification of three versions of the
poem, denoted as texts A, B, and C. Second, he published about ten
lines from each extract to display the variability of spelling of
Middle English. Today grouping texts can be thought of as a clustering
problem, which requires measuring distances between pairs of strings.
This is a well studied problem from information retrieval, and many
methods such as the Levenshtein edit distance exist. This paper
visualizes the distance matrix obtained from applying edit distance
to the forty-five extracts that Skeat published by using multidimensional
scaling, which reveals the geometric structure of the variability
among his manuscripts.

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