Published December 17, 2020 | Version v1
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The evolutionary pattern of language in scientific writings: A case study of Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society (1665–1869)

  • 1. University of Tübingen
  • 2. Guangdong University of Foreign Studies
  • 3. Beijing Foreign Studies University


Scientific writings, as one essential part of human culture, have evolved over centuries into their current form. Knowing how scientific writings evolved is particularly helpful in understanding how trends in scientific culture developed. It also allows us to better understand how scientific culture was interwoven with human culture generally. The availability of massive digitized texts and the progress in computational technologies today provide us with a convenient and credible way to discern the evolutionary patterns in scientific writings by examining the diachronic linguistic changes. The linguistic changes in scientific writings reflect the genre shifts that took place with historical changes in science and scientific writings. This study investigates a general evolutionary linguistic pattern in scientific writings. It does so by merging two credible computational methods: relative entropy; word-embedding concreteness and imageability. It thus creates a novel quantitative methodology and applies this to the examination of diachronic changes in the Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society (PTRS, 1665–1869). The data from two computational approaches can be well mapped to support the argument that this journal followed the evolutionary trend of increasing professionalization and specialization. But it also shows that language use in this journal was greatly influenced by historical events and other sociocultural
factors. This study, as a “culturomic” approach, demonstrates that the linguistic evolutionary patterns in scientific discourse have been interrupted by external factors even though this scientific discourse would likely have cumulatively developed into a professional
and specialized genre. The approaches proposed by this study can make a great contribution to full-text analysis in scientometrics.



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Journal article: 10.1007/s11192-020-03816-8 (DOI)


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