Home| Letters| Links| RSS| About Us| Contact Us

On the Frontline

What's New

Table of Contents

Index of Authors

Index of Titles

Index of Letters

Mailing List

subscribe to our mailing list:


Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


Letter Serial Correlation

Mark Perakh's Web Site

Study of
letter serial correlation (LSC)
in some English, Hebrew,
Aramaic, and Russian texts

1. Measurement and calculation

By Brendan McKay and Mark Perakh

Posted October 20, 2009


1. Introduction

2. Letter Serial Correlation effect. Measurement and calculation

3. Calculation of the expected serial correlation sum

4. Calculation of the expected serial correlation density

5. Approximate estimate of the expected correlation sum for n=1

6. Approximate calculation of the expected correlation sum for arbitrary n


Meaningful texts consist of paragraphs (or verses), sentences, words, and at the most basic level, of letters. To convey a meaningful message, all this elements of a text must be placed in a certain order, prescribed by the language's grammatical rules and by the specific contents. As a result, each meaningful text is highly structured, comprising many levels of order superimposed upon each other in a complex manner. The complexity of a text's structure is assured by the enormous number of possible combinations of letters, words, sentences etc.

A general measure of the text's degree of disorder vs order is its entropy. Having determined the entropy of a text provides only a generalized idea of the degree to which the text is not random. Different types of information could be extracted from texts by unearthing specific forms of order present in a text and by trying to connect them to the semantic peculiarities or to the meaning-bearing contents of texts. Any information obtained in that respect seems to be of interest if one wishes to understand such a complex and extremely important phenomenon of human's existence as language.

The subject of this paper emerged as a side topic in the course of investigation of the Bible code controversy [1-4] which largely deals with the so called ELS (Equidistant Letter Sequences) found in abundance in the Bible, as well as in any non-Biblical texts. While it is hard to indicate the direct connection of the above controversy to the effect described in this paper, the effect in question seems to be of interest in its own right, and, moreover, some connection to ELS, which is not obvious at this time, may well be found later.

Letter serial correlation effect. Measurement and calculation

To avoid introducing any new terminology when it is not dictated by the requirement of clarity, in the following parts of this paper we will use word "text" both for meaningful texts, such as that of the Book of Genesis, or L. Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, etc, and for any random collection of symbols, including those obtained by permuting letters of the original meaningful text, even when these collections of symbols (in our case letters of alphabets) constitute a gibberish without conveying any meaningful contents.

One of the many types of order found in texts is what we will refer to as Letter Serial Correlation (LSC), and this paper reports on a study of that type of order in some English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Russian texts. Its essence is as follows.

Let us denote the total number of characters in the text by L. We divide the text into k segments of equal size n=L/k. These segments will be referred to as chunks. The total number of occurrences of a specific letter x in the entire text will be denoted Mx . Let the numbers of occurrences of letter x in any two adjacent chunks, identified by serial numbers i and i+1, be Xi and Xi+1 . We will be measuring and calculating the following sum taken over all letters of the alphabet (i.e. for x varying between 1 and z where z is the number of letters in the alphabet) and over all chunks (i.e. for i varying between 1 and k):

wpe12.jpg (1705 bytes)...........................................(A)

In this study, the measurement of the above sum was performed using a computer program which divided the text into various numbers k of equal chunks, counted the numbers of each letter in each chunk, and calculated expression (A). If the division of the text into k chunks resulted in the last chunk (chunk # k) to be incomplete, i.e. having less letters than the rest of the chunks, such residual incomplete chunk was cast off and not accounted for in expression (A).

If the total number of complete chunks in the text is k, there are k-1 boundaries between the chunks, and since the pairs of adjacent chunks's overlap, there are k-1 pairs of chunks. The summation is performed both over (k-1) pairs of chunks and over all z letters of the alphabet. If a certain letter is absent in both adjacent chunks, the term in sum (A) corresponding to that letter and to the pair of chunks in question is zero.

Consider the particular case of chunks having size n=1. In that case the number of chunks in the text is k=L, where L is the total length of the text. Chunks of that size can contain only one letter each. Therefore the terms in sum (A) in that case can only be either 0 or 2. The zero value happens in two possible situations. One is when some two adjacent chunks contain the same letter x. In this case the term in sum (A), corresponding to letter x and to that pair of chunks, becomes zero. The other situation is when some letter x is absent in both of any two adjacent chunks. Then the term in sum (A) corresponding to x and to that pair of chunks also becomes zero. If one of the adjacent chunks contains letter x, and its neighhboring chunk contains another letter y, then both x and y found in that pair of chunks contribute to sum (A) equal terms of 1, so the total contribution to sum (A) of that pair of chunks is 2. Therefore the maximum possible value of sum in (A) is Sm=2(L-1), which happens if no two adjacent chunks contain identical letters. If n>1, the maximum possible value of the measured sum will be correspondingly larger, and its calculation is more complex. What is of interest though is not the maximum possible value of sum (A) but its expected value, which we will calculate precisely for texts randomized by permutations.

If all the chunks contained exactly equal numbers of each letter, then obviously we would find that Sm= 0. The actual behavior of Sm , in particular in its relation to the calculated "expected" sum, and in comparison to its behavior in randomized texts, would indicate the presence of a certain type of order in the tested texts. Unearthing the features of such order is the goal of this study.

To analyze the behavior of the measured sum in the real meaningful texts, we need to be able to compare it with the behavior of the expected sum Se, calculated on the assumption of the text being a randomized conglomerate of z letters, each letter having the frequency of its occurrence in the randomized text exactly equal to its frequency in the real, not randomized, meaningful text.

We have to distinguish between perfectly random texts and texts randomized by permutation of a specific initial text.

The text, which has been randomized by a permutation of the letters of a specific initial text, contains the same letters as the original text, with the same letters' frequency distribution. It means that every letter x which happens Mx times in the original text (which also may be referred to as identity permutation) will happen the same Mx times in every random permutation of the letters of the original text. Depending on the composition of the original text, the numbers of occurrences of each letter will be different for each original text but the same in all of its random permutations.

There can be, rarely, a situation, when a certain letter is absent in the original text, and then it will be also absent in all of its permutations. A good example is the novel titled A Story of Over 50000 Words Without Using Letter E, by E.V. Wright, published in 1939 by Wetzel Publishing Co of Los Angeles. Letter E is the most frequent one in English (as it is also in German and Spanish). E.V. Wright managed though to write a novel 267 pages long without using letter E even a single time. Obviously, any random permutation of the text of that novel would not contain letter E either.

A perfectly random text is different. In a perfectly random text each letter of the alphabet has the same chance to appear at any location in the text, and in a sufficiently long text the letters frequency distribution is uniform.

The following section contains the derivation of a formula for the calculation of the expected sum Se , based on the assumption that the text in question has been randomized by permuting its letters. (For perfectly random texts the formula would need to be slightly modified).

Calculation of the expected serial correlation sum Se

Considering the distribution of values of X we have to make choice between multinomial and hypergeometric distributions [5]. The first one, being an extension of the binomial distribution, pertains to tests with replacement, while the second one, to the tests without replacement. In our case the stock of letters available to fill up a chunk is limited to the set of letters contained in the identity permutation. After letter x has been picked for a chunk, there is no replacement for it available in the stock of letters when the second letter is to be picked (which does not mean that the second letter cannot be identical with the first one, but only that the choice of letters becomes more restricted with every subsequent letter to be plucked from the stock). Therefore our situation is obviously meeting the conditions of tests without replacement. Hence, we postulate hypergeometric distribution of X, being identical for chunks i and i+1 as the chunks are of the same size.

Since the sizes of all chunks (in the same test) are identical, we have

Var(Xi) = Var (Xi+1)...................................(1)


E(Xi)=E(Xi+1), ...........................................(2)

where Var(X) denotes variance and E(X) denotes expected value of X [5].

Step 1. Variance is determined by the following formula of Math. statistics [5, page 175]:

Var (X) = E(X2) - [E(X)]2...........................(3)

The first term on the right side of eq. (3) is the expected value of squared X and the second term is the squared expected value of X.

Consider expression E[(Xi+Xi+1)2] i.e. the expected value of a squared sum of Xi and Xi+1.

Applying formula (3) we have

E[(Xi+Xi+1)2]=Var (Xi+Xi+1) + [E(Xi+Xi+1)]2..................(4)

From Mathematical Statistics [4] the expected value of a sum equals the sum of expected values of its components. Accounting also for eq. (2), we obtain from (4):

E[(Xi+Xi+1)2]=Var (Xi+Xi+1) + 4[E(Xi)]2...........................(5)

Now consider expression

E[(Xi-Xi+1)2] + E[(Xi+Xi+1) 2].........................................(6)

Replacing the sum of expected values with the expected value of the sum and accounting for eq.(2) we get from (6)

E[(Xi-Xi+1)2] + E[(Xi+Xi+1)2 = E[(Xi-Xi+1)2 + (Xi+Xi+1)2] =

= E[(Xi2+Xi+12- 2XiXi+1+ Xi2+Xi+12+2XiXi+1]=

=E[2Xi2+2Xi+12] =E[4Xi2] = 4E[Xi2]...................(7)

Now subtract eq (5) from eq (7):

[(Xi-Xi+1)2] = 4E[Xi2] - 4 [E(Xi)]2 - Var (Xi+Xi+1)..............(8)

From eq. (3) we see that the first two terms in the right side of (8) equal 4Var[Xi]. It yields

E[(Xi-Xi+1)2] = 4Var[Xi] -Var [Xi+Xi+1]..................(9)

Comment: 1) If the text under consideration were a perfectly random one, then Xi and Xi+1 would be independent variables. Our text is though not a perfectly random one, as defined earlier in this paper, but a text randomized by permutation. In a perfectly random text, every letter of the alphabet is equally available to fill any site in that text. In a text randomized by permutation only those letters are available to fill up the chunks which are present in the original text, and in specific numbers Mx. Therefore, if chunk #i contains more of a letter x, it diminishes the available stock of that letter x for chunk #(i+1). Hence, there is a certain negative correlation between Xi and Xi+1, which means these two numbers are not independent variables. Therefore variance of the sum Xi+Xi+1 cannot be replaced with the sum of variances [5]. Var (Xi) and Var(Xi+Xi+1) in formula (9) must be calculated separately and then substituted into (9). If though Xi and Xi+1 were independent variables, i.e if we assumed that the text was perfectly random, then the right side of equation (9) would reduce to 2Var(Xi).

Step 2.

In the case of a hypergeometric distribution the formula for variance is as follows [6, page 219]:


where p=Mx/L, and in our case, for the first term on the right side of (9) the sample size m1=n where n=L/k, k being the number of chunks in the particular text, and n being the size of a chunk. L is the total number of all letters in the entire text, and Mx is the total number of occurrences of character x in the entire text. For the second term on the right side of (9), the sample size is m2=2n=2L/k. Then :

4Var [Xi] = 4 (L-L/k)(1-Mx /L)Mx/k(L-1),

or, after an elementary algebraic operation,


Similarly, replacing L/k with 2L/k we obtain for the second term in (9)


Finally, substituting (11) and (11a) into (9) we obtain

E[(X-Xi+1)2] = 2Mx(L-Mx)/k(L-1)........................... (12)

The next step on the way to calculating the serial sum Se is summing up expressions (12) for all pairs of chunks and for all letters of the alphabet. Since all chunks in the same test have the same size and the distribution of each letter is identical for all chunks, the summation over all pairs of chunks can be effected simply by multiplying expression (12) by k-1, which is the number of pairs of chunks in the text. Then the final formula for the calculation of the expected serial sum is as follows:


Comment: * If Xi and Xi+1 were independent variables, i.e. if we assumed that the text was perfectly random, the distribution of any X within a chunk would be approximated by a binomial distribution (as a marginal distribution of a multinomial one) rather than by a hypergeometric distribution, since in a perfectly random text the stock of available letters is unlimited. It would make our case analogous to tests with replacement. The actual calculation (which we omit here) shows that using the variance for a binomial distribution yields a formula which differs from (13B) only by a factor of (L-1)/L. Since the text's lengths in our study were typically minimum tens of thousands letter long, the quantitative difference between formula (13b) and that for a perfectly random text turns out to be utterly negligible. *

For each value of k the summation in (13) is performed over all letters of the alphabet, accounting for the actual numbers Mx of occurrences of each letter in the tested text.

Since k=L/n, where n is the size of a chunk, equation (13B) can be rewritten as an explicit function of chunk's size n:


Comments: a) The sum in formulas (13B) and (13C) contains as many terms as there are various letters in the text. With a very few exceptions, texts usually contain all letters of the alphabet, although in different numbers Mx. Therefore, the sum in (13) almost always contains z terms, where z is the number of letters in the alphabet.

b) Theoretically, equation (13C) appears to be one of a straight line in Se-n coordinates, with the intercept


and the negative slope


An equation in the form Se=A-Bn describes a straight line starting at Se=A when n=0 and dropping to zero at n=L. However, quantities A and B are actually not constant for the following reason. In actual calculations, the text is divided into k chunks, each of size n. For n=1 always k=L. However, already for n=2 two different situations are possible. If the total number L of letters in the text is even, then for n=2, k=L/2, and the total length L of the text in formula (13C) is the same L as for n=1. If, though, L happens to be an odd number, the last chunk is a residual one, containing only one letter instead of n=2. In this case the last chunk is cast off, both when calculating Se by formula (13) and when measuring Sm in accordance with formula (A). Then in formula (13C), instead of L, the quantity of L-1 is used. This may also change by 1 the quantity Mi for one of the letters. Hence, in the case of an odd L, the intercept A and the slope B become slightly different for n=2 compared to n=1.

Analogously, for each value of n, the last chunk may happen to have fewer letters than n, and such a chunk is cast off. For example, the Book of Genesis in Hebrew comprises 78064 letters. Then, if the chunk's size is chosen to be n=1, the number of chunks will be k=78064. For chunk's size of n=2 the number of chunks will be k=78064/2=39032, and the overall length of the text is L=78064, which is the same as for n=1. However, if the chunk's size is n=3, the number of chunks appears to be k=78064/3= 26021.333. The number of chunks cannot be fractional, therefore for n=3 the number of chunks must be taken as k=26021, casting off the last, incomplete chunk, whose size is 0.333 of a complete chunk. This means truncating the text, whose length L in formula (13) will be replaced by L*=26021*3=78063 instead of L=78064. This changes the values of the intercept A and slope B in equation (13).

The variations in the values of A and B are different for various values of n. When the size of a chunk is measured in thousands, the last, incomplete chunk may be substantial in size (for example, if the size of a chunk is chosen to be 10000, the amount by which the text is truncated can be as large as 9999 letters). In Table 1, as an example, the values of L* are shown for the text of the Book of Genesis, as a function of the chunk's size n. This table illustrates the variations in the texts' lengths, used for calculation of Se and for measurement of Sm, which occur because of the text's truncation.

Larger size of the cast off chunk does not necessarily translate into a larger variation of A and B, since simultaneously with the decrease of L (due to truncation) also the values of Mi for some letters decrease, thus softening the overall variation of A and B.

Table 1. Actual texts' lengths L* as a function of n and k. L=78064, Genesis, Hebrew






































































Calculation of the expected Letter Serial Correlation density

Now let us introduce the Letter Serial Correlation density. First we introduce the expected density de, and later we will likewise introduce the measured Lettter Serial Correlation density dm. To calculate the expected density, we modify formula (13C) by dividing it by n, thus defining the expected Letter Serial Correlation density de as the expected LSC sum per one letter in a chunk:


which is an equation of a hyperbolic curve for a quantity de+T=dt which is


where the constants are




In log-log coordinates equation (17) is represented by a perfect straight line. It starts at n=1 where de=Q-T and is dropping toward de=0 at n=L (since T=Q/L). Note that curves for de and dt are at a distance of T from each other along de axis, but in log-log coordinates both curves, for de and dt , have the same slope. In the actual calculations the straight line for eq. (17) in log-log coordinates will necessarily be slightly distorted because of the truncation of texts described earlier in this paper. A formal representation of the distortion in question can be given by modifying equation (17) as follows:

de=dt-T= Q[(1/(nq)]-T...........................................(20)

where the power is q=1 for the ideal dt-n hyperbole, but q is slightly different from 1 for real, almost hyperbolic curves, the deviation of q from 1 being caused by the texts' truncation effect. In the following sections of this paper we will see how well equation (17) is obeyed by real de=dt-T curves. The curves for de will serve as reference measures for the measured densities dm which are measured LSC sums per one letter in a chunk.

Both expected and measured Letter Serial Correlation densities are introduced in a way analogous to that commonly used in Thermodynamics for such quantities as, for example, chemical potential which most often is chosen to be Gibbs potential per one particle (or per one mole). While Gibbs potential is an extensive quantity, the chemical potential is an intensive one. Using that intensive (as all specific quantities are) variable often enables one to reveal some fundamental features of a phenomenon. Likewise, in our case both expected and measured sums are extensive quantities, while the expected and measured densities are intensive. For the interpretation of experimental data, both extensive and intensive parameters have their appropriate places. As it will be demonstrated later in this article, considering both types of quantities allows for a more compete analysis of experimental results than if discussing the total sums alone.

Approximate estimate of Se for n=1

While the value of Se varies for various texts, it is possible to roughly estimate the expected value of that sum as a function of the text's total length, L, without using the precise formula (13). This can be done in a rather simple, even if a quite approximate way, for the simplest case when the chunk's size is n=1, so that the number of chunks in the text is k=L where L is the total length of the text. For this approximation we assume that the distribution of all letters is uniform, i.e. that Mx , which is the number of occurences of letter x in the text, is equal for all letters.

First note that each pair of adjacent chunks i and i+1 can contribute to the sum only one of two values, namely either 0 or 2. If the text under exploration contained spaces between words, the following situations would be possible. 1) letter x is found neither in chunk i nor in chunk (i+1). Then the term in the sum corresponding to letter x in that pair of chunks is 0 (even though that pair of chunks may contribute a non-zero term due to a letter other than x). 2) Chunk i contains letter x and chunk i+1 contains a space, so it is empty. In that case the term in the sum contributed by that pair of chunks is 1. 3) Both chunks i and i+1 contain either identical letters other than x, or spaces. In that case the term in the sum corresponding to letter x in that pair of chunks contributes 0 to the sum (even though that pair of chunks may contribute either 0, 1 or 2 due to letters other than x). 4) Chunk i contains letter x and chunk i+1 contains some other letter y. In this case the pair of chunks in point contributes 2 to the sum, as both x and y contribute 1 each.

In our case, though, spaces between the words are ignored. Therefore each chunk contains some letter, and there are no empty chunks. Hence, case 2, and consequently contribution of 1 by any pair of chunks with n=1 is impossible. Thus the terms in sum Se , for n=1, can be only either 0 or 2.

Pick an arbitrary chunk i and assume that it contains letter x. What is then the probability px that in the adjacent chunk there is again the same letter x? In a random text, the probability of any letter to occupy any location is px=Mx/L where Mx is the number of occurrences of letter x in the entire text. Since one letter x is already occupying the chosen chunk i, the probability that the adjacent chunk i+1 also contains the same letter x is (Mx-1)/(L-1). The texts subjected to study all contained at least tens of thousands of letters. Since Mx is roughly between twenty and thirty times smaller than L, the values of Mx in the explored texts all were at least several thousands letters large. Then a good approximation is the replacement of (Mx-1) with Mx and (L-1) with L. The probability that the chunk adjacent to i contains a letter other than x is then 1-Mx/L. Hence, there is the probability of Mx/L that the corresponding term in the sum for Se is 0 and the probability of 1-Mx/L that the term in point is 2. Now, assume that all letters of the alphabet appear in our text with the same frequency, which then equals M=L/z, where z is the total number of letters in the alphabet. In this case, there is a probability of 1/z that the term contributed to the sum by any two adjacent chunks is 0 and the probability of 1-1/z that the term in question is 2. In such a text the expected number of chunks of 1 containing non-identical letters is then L(1-1/z). Then the expected value of the sum is Se=2(L-1)(1-1/z) while its maximum possible value is 2(L-1) which of course is the same as for the measured sum.

For example, in an English text 100000 letters long, accounting for z=26 for English, we find the expected sum, in the case of chunks having n=1, to be: Sm1=2(100000-1)(1-1/26)=198385. Then Se/L=1.903. Similar calculation for various languages and text lengths shows that the ratios of the expected sum to the text length, for n=1, usually fall between 1.6 and 1.92, their mean value being about 1.85. More precise calculation for specific texts in English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Russian, for n=1, using formula (13), produced numbers between 1.55L and 1.87L, their mean value being about 1.8L.

Aproximate calculation of Se for arbitrary n

It is possible to reasonably estimate the value of Se, starting from formula (13C) and assuming that all z letters in the text have the same frequency which then will be M=L/z for each letter. {This assumption is of course wrong, as it is tantamount to the suggestion that the expected value of expression Mi(L-Mi) in formula (13C) equals M(L-M). The expected value of a product equals the product of expected values only for independent variables [6, page 173] while M and L-M are obviously not independent from each other}. However, as we will see, quantitatively, our assumption that the mean value of Mi(L-Mi) equals M(L-M) provides for the values of Se which are reasonably close to the actual values determined by formula (13C)}.

We rewrite formula (13C) replacing Mi with M, and, hence replacing the sum in it with the product z.M(L-M). Accounting for M=L/z:

Se= (1-n/L) 2 zM(L-M)/(L-1) = (1-n/L) 2z (L/z)(L-L/z)/(L-1) =

= (1-n/L)2L2(1-1/z)/(L-1).................(21)

This is an equation of a straight line in Se-n coordinates with the intercept of


and the negative slope of


That straight line drops to zero at n=L.

Let us compare the results obtained by equations (21)-(23) to the values of Se calculated by precise formula (B).

For example, for the Book of Genesis in Hebrew L=78064, z=22, then the intercept is

A=2 . 780642 (1-1/22)/(78064-1)= 149033.

The value of Se at n=1 is Se(1)=A(1-1/L)= 149033(1-1/78064)=149031.

For n=10 Se(10)=149033(1-10/78064)=149013.

Using formula (B), the corresponding values are Se(1)=145121, and Se(10)=145097.

The discrepancy for Se(1) is (149033-145121)/145121=0.026 i.e about 2.6%

The discrepancy for Se(10) is (149013-145097)/145103=0.026 i.e. also about 2.6%.

If we created artificially a text containing equal numbers of each letter (and also in absence of a text's truncation) formula (21) would be the precise one for that text. If accounting for truncation, that formula could be made precise for the text in question by replacing the nominal text's length L with its truncated length L*. (Such a text has been created indeed for the study of some effects not covered in this report. This topic is discussed in separate papers at Letter serial correlation (LSC) in additional languages and various types of texts and Letter serial correlation in additional languages).

f) It follows from the derivation of formula (13C) that the expected serial sum Se is averaged over all possible permutations of letters in the tested text. On the other hand, the measured sum Sm is found in each measurement as a value for that particular text. Therefore, even if the test is performed on a version randomized by permuting letters of the original meaning-bearing text, the measured sum Sm will necessarily differ from the calculated, averaged expected sum Se. Of course we expect that for randomized texts the difference

will be limited to reasonably small fluctuations around zero value. This our expectation will be verified experimentally.

As to the non-permuted meaningful texts, finding and analyzing the difference between the expected sum Se and the experimentally measured sum Sm is one of the specific goals of the experiment in point.

The experimental results obtained for various texts are described in the second and in the third parts of this report (see Experimental results -- randomized texts and Experimental results -- real meaningful texts) and their discussion and interpretation are offered in the fourth part (see http://members.cox.net/marperak/Texts/Serialcor4.htm ).


1. D. Witztum, E. Rips, and Y. Rosenberg, Statistical Science, 1994, v. 9, No 3, 429-438.

2. B. McKay et al. Web postings at http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/.

3. M. Perakh et al. Web posting at http://members.cox.net/mkarep/.

4. List of references to Bible-code-related publications at http://www.answering-islam.org/Religions/Numerics/index.html.

5. R. J. Larsen and M. L. Marx. An introduction to Mathematical Statistics and its applications. Prentice-Hall Publishers, 1986.

6. M. Dwass. First Steps in Probability. McGraw-Hill Co., 1967.

Originally posted to Mark Perakh's website on February 9, 1999.