Eye witness

July 2, 1999

Psycho-linguistic expert Valery Belyanin has spent the past three years developing a sophisticated computer program that allows the user to delve behind the surface meaning of texts to discover the deeper motives in speeches, books, articles or advertising.

Professor Belyanin, a researcher and teacher with more than 20 years' experience at Moscow State Linguistic University, says that analysing a text reveals as much about the writer and his world as it does about the reader, at least in Russian.

The program enables users, such as parliamentary speech writers or advertisers, quickly to check that they are getting across their message to that public.

Professor Belyanin has used the technique on politicians and poets and it can even be used to help the police with their criminal detection work.

His VAAL Psycho-Linguistic Expert System uses more than 40 different psychological categories to analyse a text, in addition to an array of phonetic checks that reveal the urges behind written or spoken words. Running the program will reveal whether a text is paranoid, dark, sad and negative, or light, histrionic, feminine and positive, for example.

The sounds the spoken word made can also convey meaning: phrases can be pleasant and safe or aggressive and dangerous. "Anything can be analysed to learn what impression it has on the reader or listener beyond the meaning conveyed by the words alone," Professor Belyanin said.

"I've just received a 5,000 roubles grant (Pounds 125) to analyse criminal texts," Professor Belyanin said, holding up a copy of a letter threatening to bomb a bank in Tomsk, Siberia.

"An analysis of this letter shows that the writer uses the imperfect tense 21 times and the perfect only 13. It suggests to me that he would not carry out his threat to bomb the bank."

The program is yet to make Professor Belyanin a millionaire: so far he has sold just 25 copies at Pounds 400 each. But he hopes to find a British or American partner university to develop an English version.

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