More words dying and fewer words being added to languages in digital age: study

Mar 19, 2012 by Bob Yirka report
Word extinction. The English word “Roentgenogram” derives from the Nobel prize winning scientist and discoverer of the X-ray, Wilhelm Röntgen (1845-1923). The prevalence of this word was quickly challenged by two main competitors, “X-ray” (recorded as “Xray” in the database) and “Radiogram.” The arithmetic mean frequency of these three time series is relatively constant over the 80-year period 1920-2000, 〈 f 〉 ≈ 10^-7, illustrating the limited linguistic “market share” that can be achieved by any competitor. We conjecture that the main reason “Xray” has a higher frequency is due to the “fitness gain” from its efficient short word length and also due to the fact that English has become the base language for scientific publication. Image (c) Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/srep00313

(PhysOrg.com) -- Adding new words to an existing language, or dropping old ones is something people have always done. As new things or ideas are discovered, new words crop up to describe them. But now, in the digital age, that process appears to be slowing despite the increased pace of new things arriving on the scene. In a paper in Scientific Reports, a group from the Institutions Markets Technologies' Lucca Institute for Advanced Studies in Italy, describe how they have found after studying English, Spanish and Hebrew trends, that words are being dropped from languages faster and new ones added at a slower rate, than at any other time over the past three hundred years.

Suspecting that the addition of new to languages might be inhibited by modern tools such as spellcheckers, the team looked at 107 words that have been recorded by as part of its book digitizing process, which is now estimated to represent somewhere near four percent of all of the world’s books. Because they are in digital form, it is possible to perform statistical analysis on them, which is just what the team did. In doing so, they were able to note when new words appeared in a language and then to see if they held on long enough to become permanent, or if they vanished after a certain amount of time. Analyzed works included books from 1800 to 2008.

One of the most striking results the team found was that words being lost from the three languages occurred more often in the past ten to twenty years than in all of the other eras in the period of study. They also found that newer words were being added less frequently during the same period indicating that modern languages are shrinking. They suggest that electronic spellcheckers introduced during this period might be partly responsible for the change, as might the tendency to gravitate towards a smaller vocabulary when writing emails and especially when texting. They also cite the increased use of just one language, English, in science endeavors and projects, regardless of native tongue.

Interestingly, the group also found that when new words are added in the digital age, they tend to become mainstream much faster than occurred in previous years, likely because of the same modern electronic communications tools that are causing languages to constrict. They also found that it generally takes at least forty years for new words to become truly accepted as a part of a , and if that doesn’t happen, they tend to die.

Explore further: Power can corrupt even the honest

More information: Statistical Laws Governing Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death, Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 313 doi:10.1038/srep00313

Abstract
We analyze the dynamic properties of 107 words recorded in English, Spanish and Hebrew over the period 1800–2008 in order to gain insight into the coevolution of language and culture. We report language independent patterns useful as benchmarks for theoretical models of language evolution. A significantly decreasing (increasing) trend in the birth (death) rate of words indicates a recent shift in the selection laws governing word use. For new words, we observe a peak in the growth-rate fluctuations around 40 years after introduction, consistent with the typical entry time into standard dictionaries and the human generational timescale. Pronounced changes in the dynamics of language during periods of war shows that word correlations, occurring across time and between words, are largely influenced by coevolutionary social, technological, and political factors. We quantify cultural memory by analyzing the long-term correlations in the use of individual words using detrended fluctuation analysis.

via Livescience

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User comments : 10

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Shootist
Mar 19, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
julianpenrod
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 19, 2012
It can be strongly suggested that a diminishing of the size of the language also respresents a decrease in the amount of thinking or conceptualizing many are engaging in. So reminiscent of the concept of "Basic English" consisting of only 850 words, devised after World War II supposedly to facilitate contact, but just as likely to solidify the even then burgeoning New World Order control. "1984" posits a careful restructuring of language to control thinking, programming menaing to fit the state. But this was all envisioned in terms of dictatorial mandate. Few foresaw that at least m,any could be corralled in this way just by playing up to their laziness, sloth and gratuitous addiction to gimmickry. For so many, bad habits have as iron a grip as the most powerful tyrant.
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2012
Interesting, but how accurately can you specify a trend when you are looking at less than 0.01% of recognized words? It would take at least ten times as many samples to be statistically significant.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2012
dschlink's a demonstration of how incompletely many understand statistics. Among other things, sample size is intended to be small. That is the purpose of statistics, to examine whole populations from small samples. All samples have some significance. It may not be large but it can be extrapolated to the whole population to some extent. Too, if one word out of 10,000,000 words disappears, even if it is only one word out of 10,000,000, it still has disappeared. Statistics generalizes to an entire population from a sample, but it provides exact results for every member of the sample. Also, this examines "new" words and they make up only a small fraction of the language to begin with.
ziphead
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2012
The new dark age of upon us, born out of decadence and laziness just like the old one.

Rulers of the masses will be pleased to learn that their speech writers have to work that much less.

Silverhill
not rated yet Mar 19, 2012
Indeed (and alas!). There is "the tendency to gravitate towards a smaller vocabulary when writing emails and especially when texting", yes, but it infects speech too. How often have you heard someone reporting a conversation thus: "And he was like, 'Let's go', and I was like, 'Hey, I'm not ready,' and he was like, 'Well, hurry!', and ..."
Eupfhoria
not rated yet Mar 19, 2012
While there is a common tendency to equate a decrease in language skills with a decrease in thought as julianpenrod has done, this is not necessarily true.

Most writing guides, including Roman and Raphaelson's "Writing that Works" suggest using small words. In fact, using small words is commonly seen as more difficult to do, as a poor confused author can hide insecurity in long words.

Communicating with the intent of spreading information and knowledge rather than improving the image of the author has improved significantly with the creation of mass media. After all, an idea is only as effective as it is understood. Information is now better understood. For this we should be thankful.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2012
Eupfhoria's comment capitalizes on common errors many make, which leaves them prey to such as the New World Order. Short-sightedness is one. For example, Eufphoria recommends advice by various "writing guides", which"suggest using small words". The gullible would take that as sound universal advice. But consider, those who need "writing guides" are those who can't write! Advice like Roman and Raphaelson's is baby steps for people who very likely don't have it in them to go beyond just baby steps! There can be great accomplishment in taking the long strides! As how diffidently Eufphoria dashes off the "observation" that "information is now better understood", like all NWO shills, without proof!
chris_helenius
not rated yet Mar 20, 2012
I've been presuming this has been happening for some time, cool to see evidence.

Personally I suppose a cause is the level of documentation; words propagating by hearsay won't get mutated and isolated by the local language or dialect, because the origin is always traceable.

The globalisation of people has certainly a part in it too, when we become more and more aware of other cultures, and loanwords/transliterations work as well.

What's been happening though, is that the meaning of common words get mutated, and especially American English has displayed a strong phenomenon of initialisation.
Much easier to describe a concept using multiple words, then contract them into an acronym, but I can't say I'm happy about it.

I guess if the axe would be invented now, it would be called a Handheld Chopping Device.
Eupfhoria
not rated yet Mar 21, 2012
I guess if the axe would be invented now, it would be called a Handheld Chopping Device.

Or an iCut
kochevnik
not rated yet Mar 21, 2012
With network feedback, many words and the concepts behind them are found to be fraudulent. This could not happen when cultures inhabited isolated social pockets. For example, the xtian concept of angels was blatantly stolen from Roman Nikes which symbolized victory, and the meaning was twisted to forward the agendas of the Roman Emperor in 325AD.

Some ideas don't hold up to the incessant reduction required by social proof.