Degaetano-Ortlieb, Stefania

Measuring informativity: The rise of compounds as informationally dense structures in 20th century Scientific English

Soave, Elena; Biber, Douglas (Ed.): Corpus Approaches to Register Variation, Studies in Corpus Linguistics, 103, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 291-312, 2021.

By applying data-driven methods based on information theory, this study adds to previous work on the development of the scientific register by measuring the informativity of alternative phrasal structures shown to be involved in change in language use in 20th-century Scientific English. The analysis based on data-driven periodization shows compounds to be distinctive grammatical structures from the 1920s onwards in Proceedings A of the Royal Society of London. Compounds not only increase in frequency, but also show higher informativity than their less dense prepositional counterparts. Results also show that the lower the informativity of particular items, the more alternative, more informationally dense options might be favoured (e.g., of-phrases vs. compounds) – striving for communicative efficiency thus being one force shaping the scientific register.