A popular scientific on-line journal INSIDE SCIENCE NEWS SERVICE has published an article “Massive Study Shows How Languages Change” showing the results of a new research of the Quantitative Linguistics Laboratory of the KFU Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communication.
The article overviews the work of three linguistics experts Soren Vikhmann, Valery Solovyov and Vladimir Bochkarev “Universals versus historical contingencies in lexical evolution” published by British Journal of The Royal Society Interface (IF 3.9).
The research focuses on common issues of the evolution of language vocabulary for the last two centuries. To study the language progress they used diachronic Google Books Ngram invented several years before that consists of 500 billion words, 50 billion of them in Russian. It was discovered that influenced by inner cognitive processes, languages change at a similar rate but that rate usually is measured in terms of half a century unless something intervenes, like a war. Historical events play an essential role in the language evolution. For instance, during the Victorian era, the height of the British Empire and a very stable time in Britain, the language was fairly steady. With the tumult and chaos of the 20th century, vocabulary changes came more rapidly.
Interesting facts have been revealed when comparing American and British dialects of English. For the first half of the 19th century the Queen’s English and American English were the same except that the British English lagged behind about 20 years. New words came into the American English lexicon, but only appeared in Britain about 20 years later. The influence of the mass media began to bring the two languages together starting in 1950. Now, the two languages are far more similar than they were before.
Google Books Ngram also helps to find out interesting tendencies in the evolution of single words. Sometimes the change in wording tells us more than we think it would. In recent years, the use of the word “divorce” has become more frequent than “marry”. Perhaps more telling, “information” is replacing “wisdom.”