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Lux Narayan's Obituary Analysis Learns from the Language of Epitaphs

By: Joey Haar - Apr 28, 2017
References: youtube
Lux Narayan works at a company that uses analytics to gain insights from past behaviors, but he chose to take his learnings and apply them to a more morbid field by conducting an obituary analysis. As his talk delineates, he analyzed the language used in over 2,000 New York Times obituaries over the span of 20 months, and his findings show the trends that emerge in how we describe a lifetime.

Specifically, Narayan's obituary analysis focused on editorial epitaphs: obituaries that were put in the paper by the New York Times itself (rather than as paid entries from family members.) This strategy was designed to reduce the bias that might come from personal obits.

In his findings, Narayan first looked at individual words. He created a word cluster to highlight the most commonly used headline words, with the biggest being "pioneer," "founder," "singer," "leader," and "writer." They also found that the average age at which the people in the obituaries came upon their greatest achievement was 37.