About this page
Below you find some resources for making motion charts from diachronic corpus data. Motion charts are linguistic flipbooks that allow you to see how a given process of language change played out over time. The charts are based
on data from Mark Davies' Corpus of Historical American English; I used the R package googleVis (Gesmann & de Castillo 2011) to make them. If you want to find out more about linguistic motion charts, you can watch the video clips on the bottom of this page: the first is a demo of what you can see in the charts, the other two are tutorials on how to create them. You can download an R workspace here that contains sample data files and that allows you to recreate the charts on this page. If you find this information useful, or if you come up with your own linguistic motion charts, I'd be happy to hear from you!
Chart #1: may and might
This chart shows verbal collocates of the English modal auxiliaries may and might. Each bubble represents a lexical verb; the size of the bubble represents the verb's combined frequency with may and might; the position of the verb indicates how frequently a verb occurs with may and might respectively. You can explore collocational change over time, for instance, try highlighting the verb say in 1870, hit play, and see what happens!
Chart #2: Deverbal nouns and denominal verbs
This chart shows items such as drink, end, place, and act, which are used both as nouns and verbs in English. Each bubble represents a lexical element; bubble size indicates the overall frequency of the
element; the position indicates whether the element is used rather nominally or verbally. In order to see some interesting changes, choose the logarithmic view on both axes. Check out what happens in the 1850s with the invention of the telephone! In the list of items on the right, select both phone and telephone. First, telephone shows a steep increase in nominal uses, but quickly speakers start to verbalize it. Then the speakers become a little lazy and just say I'll phone you instead of I'll telephone you.
Chart #3: Complement-taking predicates
This chart visualizes information that is a little more complex. I suggest that you choose the option THAT.CL-TO.INF for bubble color and FREQ for bubble size. The graph shows 45 complement-taking predicates of English, verbs such as expect, imagine, try, and remember. These verbs project different syntactic complementation patterns, such as that-clauses, to-infinitives, ing-clauses, or simple noun phrases. Of course, different verbs have different preferences with regard to these structures. In the graph below, the verbs in the upper left show a preference for that-clauses, whereas the verbs in the upper right prefer to-infinitives. Verbs towards the bottom of the graph occur mostly with noun phrases. Between the 1870s and the 2000s, the overall configuration of verbs seems to stay rather stable, but there are several interesting developments going on nonetheless: Some verbs change their preferences - check out confirm or dislike! Also, note that towards the 2000s, the middle area of the graph becomes more and more populated. This happens because more and more verbs show an increasing preference for ing-clauses. This has been discussed in the literature as The Great Complement Shift, and we see it in the COHA data.
Chart #4: Adjectives ending in ic and ical
This chart shows data from Mark Davies' newly available Google Books corpus. The graph shows the frequencies of 374 adjectives ending in ic and ical. Each bubble represents a stem; the size of the bubble represents the stem's combined frequency with ic and ical; the position of the item indicates how frequently it occurs with ic and ical respectively. The closer an element is to the diagonal, the more easily it can form adjectives with both suffixes. If you see items floating towards the right, that means they are dropping the final -al. What could be more rhythmic and economic? Also, check out what happened to democratical and academical.
More linguistic motion charts
Here's a chart of Philadelphia vowels, done by Josef Fruehwald.
Arne Lohmann looked at the complementation patterns of need, help and dare.
Gede Primahadi Wijaya contrasts the near-synonyms warm and hot.
Making your own motion charts
You can download an R workspace with the data for the above charts here; the googleVis package comes with a demo that allows you to create these charts with literally two lines of code. If you feel you need help, watch the video clips below.