Modern era brings death to words | Science News

Support Science Journalism

Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.


Modern era brings death to words

Analysis of books identifies lexical victims of shifting social, technological influences

5:45pm, March 1, 2012

BOSTON – Within the quiet pages of books, words are battling it out with a competitive fierceness that rivals Wall Street’s. New research examining the frequency of words used in books over more than 200 years reveals the rise and demise of various words through time and how social, technological and political change influence language.

An international team of scientists investigated word histories using Google’s Ngram project, a database of words in seven languages developed from scanning and digitizing about 4 percent of the world’s texts. The researchers mined books printed in English, Spanish and Hebrew published between 1800 and 2008, a corpus of more than 10 million words.

There’s a marked increase in the death rate of words that coincides with the modern print era, the researchers found. That trend intensified with the advent of stricter publishing procedures, and later computerized editing and spell-checking te

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now.
Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content