Bizzoni, Yuri; Degaetano-Ortlieb, Stefania; Fankhauser, Peter; Teich, Elke

Linguistic Variation and Change in 250 years of English Scientific Writing: A Data-driven Approach

Jurgens, David (Ed.): Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, section Language and Computation, 2020.

We trace the evolution of Scientific English through the Late Modern period to modern time on the basis of a comprehensive corpus composed of the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, the first and longest-running English scientific journal established in 1665.

Specifically, we explore the linguistic imprints of specialization and diversification in the science domain which accumulate in the formation of “scientific language” and field-specific sublanguages/registers (chemistry, biology etc.). We pursue an exploratory, data-driven approach using state-of-the-art computational language models and combine them with selected information-theoretic measures (entropy, relative entropy) for comparing models along relevant dimensions of variation (time, register).

Focusing on selected linguistic variables (lexis, grammar), we show how we deploy computational language models for capturing linguistic variation and change and discuss benefits and limitations.