If the books we write mirror the people we are and the societies we create, then analyzing the books we’ve written over the last two centuries should reveal some interesting insights about how we’ve changed and who we’ve become. And that’s exactly what we find in a recent article from the Atlantic: “200 Years of Books Prove That City-Living Changes Our Psychology.”
The article looks at new research that used Google’s technology to analyze the words in books written over the last 200 years. Check out the article for some fascinating graphs on how changing vocabulary correlates to the rise of urbanism over that same time. (The title of the article, though, suggests that urbanism caused these changes in how we talk about ourselves, when it appears that the research itself demonstrates mere correlation. A common mistake.)
Among the more interesting findings:
- We’ve seen a notable increase in the language of choice and decision, corresponding to a marked decrease in words like “duty” and “obligation.”
- “Give” is on the decline, while “get” is much more popular.
- Words denoting obedience, authority, and religion have declined steadily.
None of this is terribly surprising, but it’s interesting to see it demonstrated through a quantitative analysis of our own literature.