Last week César Hidalgo's team in MIT released a new
pretty cool study showing relationship among languages. For those who don't know who is César Hidalgo, he is a physicist specialized in Social Network Analysis (SNA). So why a physicist is studying languages? Basically because he does data analysis. That methodology isn't exclusive of physics, but also social science (economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography), chemistry, biology, etc. It is a pretty cool field that I'm already writing a article about it, soon.
Going back to linguistics, what is this study awesome?. Well, they've collected data from three different sources: multilanguage articles in wikipedia, multilingual users in tweeter and books translations. With that, they've built this chart or map of influences and they got what follows:
In this map every arrow shows information translated from a language to another. The arrow thickness means amount of flow. Please notice that some connections are just one-way, while there are languages that aren't connected directly. There is when some languages as english, french, russian or spanish act as hubs. Then sometimes to pass info between two peripheral languages, the info must jump through several languages (with some info losses in the process). In that way those languages become very influential, getting faster info, but also become "bridges", connecting other languages.
While it is true that we could calculate the exact number of influence that every language has, is enough just have a look to the map to figure it out.
Any interesting conclusion? Many. First, if we compare influence against GDP of native speakers, there is no relationship. Second if we do the same against number of native speakers, the same, not a clue. Such influence isn't related to quantity. Then, such hypothesis about chinese will be the new english as frank language, well, not yet and not soon. Chinese - at least for internet data (which is the main communication system these days)- is still too peripheric.
Hungry for more conclusions?, serve yourself - it is an interactive chart!- http://language.media.mit.edu/visualizations/books