The Structure and Implications of the Global Language Network

When: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm
Where: DA 5th fl
Speaker: Cesar Hidalgo, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Asahi Broadcast Corporation Career development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab
Organization: Shahar Ronen, Master's Candidate, Macro Connections Group, MIT Media Lab
Sponsor: CCNR Joint Network Seminar

Languages vary enormously in global importance because of historical, demographic, political, and technologicalforces, and there has been much speculation about the current and future status of English as a global language. Yet there has been no rigorous way to define or quantify the relative global influence of languages. We propose that thestructure of the network connecting multilingual speakers and translated texts provides a concept of language importance that is superior to simple economic or demographic measures. We present three independent maps of Global Language Networks (GLN) constructed from millions of records of online and printed linguistic expressions taken from Wikipedia, Twitter, and UNESCO’s book translation database. We find that the structure of the GLN is hierarchically organized around English and a handful of hub languages, which include Spanish, German, French, Russian, Malay, and Portuguese, but not Chinese, Hindi or Arabic. Finally, we validate the measure of a language’s centrality in the GLN by showing that it correlates with measures of the number of illustrious people born in the countries associated with that language. We suggest that other phenomena of a language’s present and future influence are systematically related to the structure of the Global Language Network.