Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Language Change Can Be Traced Using Gigantic Text Archives

Date:
June 29, 2009
Source:
Uppsala Universitet
Summary:
Historical collections that include everything ever written in a dozen American and British newspapers since they started are now available electronically. Researchers have now carried out the first comprehensive study that makes use of this resource in order to track changes in language usage, a method that makes it possible to attain an entirely new degree of precision in dating.

Historical collections that include everything ever written in a dozen American and British newspapers since they started are now available electronically. Donald MacQueen from Uppsala University, Sweden, has carried out the first comprehensive study that makes use of this resource in order to track changes in language usage, a method that makes it possible to attain an entirely new degree of precision in dating.

The gigantic newspaper archives contain news and feature articles as well as editorials and commercial and classified advertisements. Together they comprise tens of billions of words. In his dissertation in English linguistics, Donald MacQueen has examined the word million in English, especially how language usage shifted from the previously nearly totally dominant “five millions of inhabitants” to today’s “five million inhabitants.” With the help of these electronic collections of texts that only recently became available, he has succeeded in pinning down when and where the modern expression began to take over.

“When you study the occurrence of uncommon words in smaller corpora (text archives) of one or a few million words, you only get a few examples to analyze. These collections are much larger, and they have enabled me to obtain extremely reliable historical data for one year at a time. In this way I have been able to trace the shift with a precision that was not previously possible in linguistic studies,” he explains.

It turns out that the modern construction took over in the American newspapers in the middle of the 1880s and in the British The Times only in the mid 1910s. What’s more, it became apparent that the transitional period was shorter in The Times. These circumstances indicate that usage in American newspapers influenced and accelerated the shift in the British newspaper.

This took place at the height of the British empire, and roughly when the US economy overtook the British for the first time. Donald MacQueen tentatively sees as an impetus for the change in usage, apart from the fact that both expressions suddenly began to be used more frequently, the greater propensity for people to embrace innovations during periods of severe social crisis, in this case the American Civil War and World War I, respectively. It is also possible that these wars entailed major population movements that could have impacted usage.

“Another discovery I made, thanks to the huge amount of data, is that when the use of the two constructions began to be roughly equal in frequency, the newspapers chose quite simply to avoid using such constructions, writing numeral expressions instead. After World War II, when there was no longer any doubt which construction was the ‘right’ one, the newspapers reverted to writing number-word expressions again,” he says.

The dissertation also includes a comparison with languages like French and German, where the corresponding grammatical shift regarding the word million from being a noun to an ordinary number word has not yet taken place.

“But in the long perspective we can expect this change to occur in those languages as well. The shift is a universal phenomenon when it comes to number words,” says Donald MacQueen.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Uppsala Universitet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Uppsala Universitet. "Language Change Can Be Traced Using Gigantic Text Archives." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090626140126.htm>.
Uppsala Universitet. (2009, June 29). Language Change Can Be Traced Using Gigantic Text Archives. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090626140126.htm
Uppsala Universitet. "Language Change Can Be Traced Using Gigantic Text Archives." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090626140126.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Newsy (Aug. 15, 2014) A mother and son in Alaska uncovered woolly mammoth tusks in the same river more than two decades apart. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Newsy (Aug. 14, 2014) Newly found fossils reveal a previously unknown species of flying reptile with a really weird head, which some say looks like a butterfly. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

AFP (Aug. 11, 2014) The hulks of tanks can still be found rusting in the jungles of Palau, but the fierce fighting that scarred the Pacific island nation in WWII has left a more dangerous legacy - unexploded bombs that pose a constant risk to locals. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins