Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Web Secret #180: Google NGram Viewer

Recently I discovered Google's NGram Viewer.

If this is the first time you are hearing about this, you probably don't have a clue what an NGram is. I sure didn't.

Let me explain.

Google has digitized nearly 5.2 million books, and made available to the public for FREE, a mammoth database consisting of 500 billion words from books published between 1500 and 2008 in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian.

When you enter phrases (aka Ngrams) into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., "British English", "English Fiction", "French") over a selected span of years.

That's kind of cool in a geeky and arcane sort of way. But why should you care?

Let me demonstrate.

1. I decide to research Sigmund Freud.

2. I go to the Ngram Viewer and enter "Sigmund Freud" in the search window and select the span of time between 1870 and 2000.

3. I click "search lots of books." One second later I get this graph that shows me that interest in Freud began to increase in the 1910s. And then continues to shoot up until it peaks in the mid 1990s.

4. OK that's kind of interesting - but there's more. Under the graph I can search for writings by or about Sigmund, by year or span of years. So I click on 1870-1947 and I am connected to a list of books, publications, etc. from that era, courtesy of Google Books.

I found books and publications I had never heard of:

"Why war?: the correspondence between Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud" from 1933.

"Sigmund Freud" an early biography from 1942.

"Sigmund Freud: his life and mind" from 1947.

Etc. etc.

Can you imagine how useful a tool this is for students? teachers? researchers? lecturers? authors?

Can you imagine?

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