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Culturomics is a form of computational lexicology that studies human behavior and cultural trends through the quantitative analysis of digitized texts.[1][2] Researchers data mine large digital archives to investigate cultural phenomena reflected in language and word usage.[3] The term is an American neologism first described in a 2010 Science article called Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books, co-authored by Harvard researchers Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden.[4]

Michel and Aiden helped create the Google Labs project Google Ngram Viewer which uses n-grams to analyze the Google Books digital library for cultural patterns in language use over time.


In a study called Culturomics 2.0, Kalev H. Leetaru examined news archives including print and broadcast media (television and radio transcripts) for words that imparted tone or "mood" as well as geographic data.[5][6] The research was able to retroactively predict the 2011 Arab Spring and successfully estimate the final location of Osama Bin Laden to within 124 miles.[5][6]

In a 2012 paper by Alexander M. Petersen and co-authors,[7] they found a "dramatic shift in the birth rate and death rates of words":[8] Deaths have increased and births have slowed. The authors also identified a universal "tipping point" in the life cycle of new words at about 30 to 50 years after their origin, they either enter the long-term lexicon or fall into disuse.[8]

In a 2014 paper by S. Roth, culturomic analyses is used to trace the decline of religion, the rise of politics, and the relevance of the economy to modern societies, with one of the major results being that modern societies do not appear to be capitalist or economized.[9] This paper is likely to be the first application of culturomics in sociology.


Linguists and lexicographers have expressed skepticism regarding the methods and results of some of these studies, including one by Petersen et al.[10]


  1. ^ Cohen, Patricia (16 December 2010). "In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture". New York Times. 
  2. ^ Hayes, Brian (May–June 2011). "Bit Lit". American Scientist 99 (3): 190. doi:10.1511/2011.90.190. 
  3. ^ Letcher, David W. (April 6, 2011). "Cultoromics: A New Way to See Temporal Changes in the Prevalence of Words and Phrases" (PDF). American Institute of Higher Education 6th International Conference Proceedings 4 (1): 228. 
  4. ^ Michel, Jean-Baptiste; Liberman Aiden, Erez (16 December 2010). "Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books". Science 331 (6014): 176–82. doi:10.1126/science.1199644. PMC 3279742. PMID 21163965. 
  5. ^ a b Leetaru, Kalev H. (5 September 2011). "Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting Large-Scale Human Behavior Using Global News Media Tone In Time And Space". First Monday 16 (9). 
  6. ^ a b Quick, Darren (7 September 2011). "Culturomics research uses quarter-century of media coverage to forecast human behavior". Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  7. ^ Petersen, Alexander M. (15 March 2012). "Statistical Laws Governing Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death". Scientific Reports 2. doi:10.1038/srep00313. 
  8. ^ a b "The New Science of the Birth and Death of Words ", CHRISTOPHER SHEA, Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2012
  9. ^ Roth, S. (2014), "Fashionable functions. A Google ngram view of trends in functional differentiation (1800-2000)", International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction, Band 10, Nr. 2, S. 34-58 (online:
  10. ^ "When physicists do linguistics", BEN ZIMMER, Boston Globe, February 10, 2013

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  •, website by The Cultural Observatory at Harvard directed by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel