Add Google’s Ngram Viewer to Your List of Research Tools
Google‘s Ngram Viewer is a research tool that students can use to explore the use of words and names in books published between 1800 and 2019. The Ngram Viewer shows users a graphic showing the first appearance of a word or of a name in the literature and the frequency with which that word or name has appeared in the literature since 1800. The chart is based on the books and periodicals that are indexed in Google Books.
The Ngram Viewer will allow you to compare the usage of multiple words or names in a single graph. The example I give in this video is to compare the use of the terms “national parks”, “national forests” and “national forest service”. Looking at the Ngram Viewer for these terms, I can see that they start to appear more frequently around 1890, have a lull in the 1940s and 1950s, and then reappear more frequently in the 1960s.
Ngram Viewer is based on books indexed in Google Books. This is why under each graph generated by Ngram Viewer, you will find a list of books on each of your search terms. These books are listed by date.
A third component of Ngram Viewer to note is that it works with multiple languages, including English, French, Chinese, German, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, and Spanish.
Applications for education
As I mentioned in the video above, the Ngram Viewer can be a good way to start a research activity for students. Have them enter a few words, then examine the graph to identify peaks and valleys in the frequency of word use. Then ask them to try to determine what would have caused these words to be used more or less frequently at different times in history.