An analysis of books published over the last 200 years, looking specifically at the language used, has provided some interesting results regarding the changes in society over that time. Apparently, the increase in the use of words such as “choose” and “get” and a decrease in “obliged” and “give,” highlight the fact that society has become more selfish; more materialistic. This, according to Professor Patricia Greenfield, who conducted the study, stems from “a two century long historical shift toward individualistic psychological functioning.”
“The currently discussed rise in individualism is not something recent but has been going on for centuries as we moved from a predominantly rural, low-tech society to a predominantly urban, high-tech society.”
The results also show that people in modern society are perhaps more in touch with their feelings, shown by the increase in “feel” and decrease in “act.” Unsurprisingly, the importance of religion can also be seen to decline, with words like “pray” becoming less common, as religion takes less of a leading role in many people’s lives.
A staggering 1,160,000 books by US authors were analysed, including fiction and non fiction. I’m not sure, though, if there is anything surprising about the results – the method by which these results were acquired is quite interesting and creative, but does this study not just confirm trends that are already wholly visible? And what about the changing way in which we use language – a simple word like “get” can actually be used in several different contexts now to perhaps how it would have been used two hundred years ago.
What do you think? Read the full article here: