Six graphs from the article demonstrate trends over time for "potato," "cinema," "cigarette," "couch," "radio," and "sweater"

Researchers from the Netherlands, China, and Denmark analyzed 18.6 million advertisements and 11.5 million articles from two Dutch newspapers published between 1890 and 1989. They had several major research questions. Do ads shape articles, or the other way around? Are there measurable trends in how the articles and ads use language? And how are trends different for different kinds of products?

Their analysis found that advertisements do shape articles–but it also works the other way around. Trends in words used in 20% of the advertisements predicted words in future articles. On the other hand, about 17% of the articles predicted words used in future advertisements. But 49% of the trends seemed to be driven by outside forces.

Trends in ads were much shorter-lived than trends in articles. Words like “living room,” “couch,” and “lamp” were persistent in articles but not ads. Both ads and articles persistently featured the words “cigarettes,” “heels,” and “cauliflower.” But technological words like “film” and “radio” were short-lived, not persistent in either ads or articles.


Melvin Wevers, Digital Humanities Lab, KNAW Humanities Cluster, Netherlands
Jianbo Gao, Center for Geodata and Analysis, Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
Kirstoffer L. Nielbo, Center for Humanities Computing Aarhus, Aarhus University, Denmark

Full article at Digital Humanities Quarterly:

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