Love this affirming article: a review of Google’s n- gram, which is a tool that supposedly can “quantify culture”. A good piece of the puzzle to help us understand cultural evolution? Sure. But, as I always say, context is everything. And you can’t paint a complete picture without it. It’s why Anthropology and Sociology will not only never be fields at risk of becoming irrelevant. Rather, they will becoming increasingly important as we resist the temptation to go deeper and deeper down the virtual rabbit-hole.
According to Google’s new n-gram tool, when researching history, words count.
By analyzing over 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish, the n-gram tool allows users to track the usage of words from 1500AD onwards.
The implications of this tool in terms of historical and cultural research are just beginning to come to light. In the article “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books,” Jean-Baptiste Michel and his fellow researchers suggest that Google’s n-gram can be used to track the emergence of diseases, state censorship and the relative “celebrity” of a given person.
There is no doubt that the n-gram is, and will continue to be, an extremely useful tool in historical inquiry. However, there are some limitations that need to be addressed.
Firstly, the Google n-gram is limited in regards to language. Most of the collected works…
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