Since the Russian attack on Ukraine began on 24 February 2022, the words “war” and “peace” have appeared more frequently in the media again. The discipline dedicated to exploring such aspects of language use is known as quantitative linguistics. Researchers in this field can make use of digitized libraries such as e-newspaperarchives.ch, which contains electronic archives of Swiss newspapers.
How often have the words “war” and “peace” been used in the German-, French- and Italian-language press in Switzerland since the year 1772? The statistics tool on e-newspaperarchives.ch (e-npa.ch) can help answer this question:
The first row of bar graphs tells us much more clearly when the two world wars took place: the words “Krieg”, “guerre” and “guerra” were used much more frequently from 1914–1918 and from 1939–1945 than during other time periods. The picture painted by the second row of bar graphs is not as extreme, with the usage of the words “Frieden”, “paix” and “pace” varying less strongly.
In other words, “war” garners a lot of mention during wartime, but fluctuations in the usage of the word “peace” are less extreme over time.
Digitised newspapers from Ticino
This difference is especially clear in the usage of the Italian word “pace”. However, there are only a few Swiss Italian-language newspapers (from the canton of Graubünden) available on e-npa.ch. Most Ticinese newspapers were digitised for the Archivio digitale Sbt dei Quotidiani e Periodici, which is available online in selected libraries.
The word frequency analysis for “guerra” and “pace” in the Ticinese press yields the following picture:
As seen from the chart, newspapers from the region used the word “guerra” more often than the word “pace” over the period from 1870 to 2014. Both world wars triggered large spikes in the usage of “guerra”, while “pace” was used more evenly.
Popular search terms on Google
Google Trends is a website that shows how much interest there has been in particular words or terms in the recent past. This statistical tool analyses search terms that have been googled since 2004.
The upper chart shows a surge in searches for the word “war” corresponding to the 2022 attack on Ukraine. In contrast, there is no such spike for “Frieden”, “paix” or “pace” at the end of February 2022. However, there are two outliers in German for “Frieden”, one in February 2006 and another in November 2020. The first was due to Tanja Frieden’s victory in Snowboard Cross at the Olympics in Turin on 17 February 2006, and the second was due to the historical drama miniseries “Frieden”, which was aired by Swiss Radio and Television in November 2020 (and which had several scenes that were filmed in the historical rooms of the National Library).
Google Trends shows that the search frequency of the words for “war” in German, French and Italian varies much more strongly than those languages’ words for “peace”. This general finding is consistent with statistics from e-npa.ch and Archivio that extend further back into history.
There are many other text corpora that could be used to investigate the changing usage of the words “war” and “peace”. One such corpus is Web Archive Switzerland (via e-Helvetica Access), where the National Library has collected selected Swiss websites for posterity. The websites are archived for the long term and made easy to use – why not analyse them from a quantitative linguistics perspective as well?
Bibliography and sources
Last modification 15.02.2023
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