Google N-grams, tracking word use

This fascinating post by Dr Carol O’Sullivan at the University of Portsmouth may be of interest to translators and lawyers alike – sharing an interest in how words are used.

It describes how collections of texts from 1500 to 2008, in several languages (Englishes, simplified Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish and Russian), can be used to examine synonyms, neologisms, and even to compare ‘competing words’.

I did a little test following Carol’s instructions, to compare “claimant” and “plaintiff”. Here are the results, for American English and for British English between 1800 and 2008. Note that the y-axis scales differ.

We can clearly see the jump in the use of “claimant” in the UK following the entering into force of the Civil Procedure Rules in April 1999. Continue reading

The dictionary on steroids

The website Wordnik, launched in 2009, now employs a staff of 18, many of whom worked for the US arm of Oxford University Press. According to its own words it is a “dictionary on steroids”. Users have the choice of consulting the site on an ad hoc basis, or subscribing to “words of the day”, and can also use it for games.

For translators and lawyers, it is an excellent resource – as well as definitions (and pronunciation), there are many examples, showing the corresponding sources. The lists of related words are far more extensive than any thesaurus, and if you scroll to the bottom of the page you can even see use of the word in recent tweets.

Take a look, you won’t be disappointed!