Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Google N-Gram: science and technology

Google N-Gram of 'science' and 'technology'

My N-Gram result produces something which I did not expect. With the Industrial Revolution occurring from around 1760, I expected the word 'technology' to have a sharp increase in use at this time, instead of the illustrated increase around 1920 onwards. Therefore the use of 'technology' does not reflect the increase in society. Science shows an overall increase in use, as to be expected due to the continuation of scientific discoveries and explorations.

1 comment:

  1. This is actually a very good illustration of a tricky 'PR' problem in language: how meaning is expressed, and also how language reflects how we perceive the world.

    Regarding the first point, many non-linguists focus purely on words. This has increased greatly with the availability of Google n-grams, up to the point that a whole discipline 'culturnomics' has emerged, which tries to do sociology by looking up word frequencies. But there are many other ways we talk about the world than simply by lexicalising concepts. When technology became a more common concept with the industrial revolution, it seems to have been called something else. So by looking for 'technology' we could come to the conclusion that there was none pre-20th century. And, interestingly, a lot of people in physics, computer science, or economics approach language in exactly that way. But they would surely complain if I conducted nuclear physics experiments in my back garden and tried to publish a paper about it. Somewhere in that is a story about the status of the humanities among the hard sciences.

    The second is the perception: maybe we, in hindsight, talk about the age of technology having started then. But in the late 18th century people might not have seen it that way. Maybe they were thinking of it in terms of automation, of improved manufacturing, and those were the concepts they were trying to express. Only later the term 'technology' was applied. An example from history is the 'Byzantine Empire' which was never called that (it was the (East) Roman Empire) until modern days.

    So, good discovery!


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