The use of the word “Sikh” in American and English literature

June 22, 2012 by Rupinder Mohan Singh Source: americanturban.com

Google Ngram of the use of "Sikh" in American-published books

Google Ngram of the use of “Sikh” in American-published books. Click to enlarge.

The Google Ngram Viewer allows a user to view a trend of the use of a word or phrase in Google’s digitized collection of books. In the chart above, I looked at the use of the word “Sikh” in Google’s collection of books published in the United States from 1800 through 2008.

In Google’s collection, the percentage that the word “Sikh” appears among all words in books published in the United States each year (as represented on the Y-axis) is certainly miniscule. However, we do see an upward trend, and there are notable peaks in usage after precipitous events in Sikh history in India and the United States (as I noted on the chart).  Obviously, when such events occur, one might expect that the word “Sikh” would appear more often.  The rate of usage was particularly steep after 1984.

Another intriguing chart is of the use of the word “Sikh” in all English fiction within Google’s collection:

Google Ngram of the use of "Sikh" in English Fiction

Google Ngram of the use of “Sikh” in English fiction. Click to enlarge.

The trend within English fiction is interesting. There was  a small bump around 1810, during which time the Sikh king Maharaja Ranjit Singh was conglomerating neighboring Sikh kingdoms. There was a large increase around 1850, when the British defeated the Sikhs and assumed control of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom.

From then on, the use of the word “Sikh” in English fiction appears to have plateaued for about a century until about 1940, around which time India was fighting for independence from the British Raj and World War II was erupting. Around 1965, there is another spike in usage until approximately 1990 after which time we see a significant decrease through 2008 to the rate of the early 1960s.

Why there was a decline after 1990 in the use of the word “Sikh” in English fiction would be an interesting topic of discussion.

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