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Arts and culture 22 Feb 2016

Fundéu BBVA launches a project that analyzes the language used in the written press over the last century

It is increasingly common to hear that the Spanish language is becoming impoverished as a result of the general lack of knowledge about our own lexical diversity. Fundéu BBVA, in partnership with Molino de Ideas, wanted to leave behind these preconceptions and conduct an in-depth study of the written press in Spain from 1914 to 2014 as part of its Aracne project. Its work will contribute to improve the use of Spanish and offer a full picture of how society changes through language.

The natural trend of languages is constant change. Words are born, die or are transformed as part of the natural life of a language. The written press is very sensitive to these changes due to the immediacy of journalism and constant innovation, which it has to reflect. However, in this maelstrom, the language, and the readers, risk becoming impoverished. If speakers and communication professionals don’t look after it and allow it to become impoverished, an invaluable cultural treasure will be lost.

From the outset, Fundéu BBVA has focused on the changes undergone by the language and on how it is being shaped today through the media. Its main driving force is to preserve the great cultural treasure of the Spanish language. For this reason, it wanted to answer the questions it is most concerned about: is today’s press language richer than in the past? Or has it become impoverished, as we hear so often? How does time influence the evolution of journalistic parlance?

More than 5,000 texts analyzed

They found the answer with the launch of the Aracne project, with which Fundéu BBVA has scientifically analyzed the state of the Spanish language and its possible impoverishment. Its work together with Molino de Ideas has been titanic. To analyze the evolution of language in the written press over the last century, it first had to compile a body that could be used as a sample. It is a selection of 5,176 real texts from four Spanish newspapers that have been published uninterruptedly from 1914 to 2014. In total, nearly 85,000 sentences and almost two million words. Technology has been a key ally for analyzing all this material. All the words were dumped into a database that assigns a series of precise parameters to each term, such as morphology, position in the text, etc. In this way, the analysis has been notably easier.

The conclusions have been surprising. Contrary to popular belief, the media analyzed do not use today a more or less varied language than ten, thirty or a hundred years ago. The changes from one decade to the next are minor.

The Aracne project has not ended with this result as there is still much to be analyzed. This first approach is simply a starting point for the scientific and rigorous study of the language used in the media. Its work will be essential for preserving our language and provide a unique material to specialists, historians and linguists, among others.

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