VATICAN CITY — How do God, Jesus and the church hold up over the centuries in the print world? Do word frequencies immortalized in books somehow reflect cultural or spiritual sentiments over time?
Well, you can have fun doing a little informal research on those topics or others with the Google Ngram Viewer. The viewer, which came out in 2010, essentially mines the more than 5 million books Google has scanned from the past 5 centuries. That’s only 4% of all books, but it’s working with more than 500 billion words over a vast period of time. There’s bound to be something useful in that.
You type in a word or name, using commas to separate a series of words and then choose the language and time frame you want to survey. Other search tips are here.
The results track how many times the word appears so you’ll have to be careful with the kind of conclusions you draw from word frequencies (i.e. does high usage indicate positive popularity? Probably not, but it does give a glimpse into what and how much was being written about a topic that was considered important and worthy enough of print.)
Here’s just a small look at how God (blue lines), Jesus (red lines) and the church (green lines) fare in different languages and cultures over time:
German: (spike from 1943-1950…)
Russian: (notice impact of Revolution of 1917 and fall of USSR…)
Have fun with your own combinations! Let us know what you find.