“The rise and fall of rationality in language”

A new paper analysing English and Spanish books finds that “the use of words associated with rationality, such as ‘determine’ and ‘conclusion,’ rose systematically after 1850, while words related to human experience such as “feel” and ‘believe’ declined”. But “this pattern reversed in the 1980s, and this change accelerated around 2007, when across languages, the frequency of fact-related words dropped while emotion-laden language surged”. The change is found in both fiction and nonfiction.

The authors have a good explanation for the 1850-1980 change (“rapid developments in science and technology and their socioeconomic benefits drove a rise in status of the scientific approach”); I’m less convinced by their 1980-present explanations (“the late 1980s witnessed the start of the internet”, “there could be a connection to tensions arising from neoliberal policies which were defended on rational arguments”, “2007 was also roughly the start of a near-universal global surge of social media”).

(Via Literary Saloon)

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