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Traditional time domain techniques of data analysis are often not sufficient to characterize the complex dynamics of respiration. In this paper, the respiratory pattern variability is analyzed using symbolic dynamics. A group of 20 patients on weaning trials from mechanical ventilation are studied at two different pressure support ventilation levels, in order to obtain respiratory volume signals with different variability. Time series of inspiratory time, expiratory time, breathing duration, fractional inspiratory time, tidal volume and mean inspiratory flow are analyzed. Two different symbol alphabets, with three and four symbols, are considered to characterize the respiratory pattern variability. Assessment of the method is made using the 40 respiratory volume signals classified using clinical criteria into two classes: low variability (LV) or high variability (HV). A discriminant analysis using single indexes from symbolic dynamics has been able to classify the respiratory volume signals with an out-of-sample accuracy of 100%.