Mandarin Chinese and Spanish may be the top languages when it comes to the number of speakers but a new study says that English and Russian languages are more effective at bridging cultural gaps.
A team of American and French researchers have conducted a study revealing that Russian and English are languages that are better at conveying ideas over cultural gaps via multilingual or bilingual speakers. The results of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers studied materials from Wikipedia and Twitter that were written by multilingual users in an effort to determine the interconnectedness and prevalence of the English and Russian languages and their speakers. They also looked into statistics on book translations done in 150 countries for the last 30 years.
Ideas behind the study
Cesar Hidalgo, a co-author of the study and an MIT assistant professor of media arts and sciences explained that not everyone shares a language with other people and the global social network derives its structure from a roundabout path wherein people belonging to certain language groups are more primal than other groups. While these people have more power and responsibility, they also find it easier to disseminate their content. Conversely the information that gets shared through other people will be distorted and glossed over by the biases and ideas of the people that have received the information.
Online interactive network
The fascinating study done by the team of researchers created an online interactive network in order to show how languages connect with each other and which languages are more fundamental to modern society. The visualizations of the language connections, which is available in the Global Language Network site of MIT could be redrawn from three sources of data. The data for the book translations came from UNESCO, while the two others sources were Wikipedia and Twitter.
Generation of the network
To generate the Twitter network, the researchers included Twitter users that have posted at least a minimum of three sentences in another language aside from their own first language, which translated to about 17 million Twitter users. They did the same for users of Wikipedia by including those users that have edited entries in different languages, getting about 2.2 million users. For the book translation, they secured the data from the Index Translationum of UNESCO that was published between 1979 and 2011, which encompassed some 2.2 million books.
Results of the study
The results of the study showed that English had the largest hub, followed by Russian, Spanish and French. It also revealed that Arabic and Hindi, despite their large number of speakers are still isolated languages. However, it was interesting to note that the Dutch language, which is not a major global language, serves as a big conveyor for other languages. Concepts and ideas also travel from one language to the next according to the study. As an example, they found that Finnish ideas could be passed to Portuguese speakers who could pass them to Malay speakers despite the fact that Finnish and Malay do not share a substantial connection.
MIT graduate researcher Shahar Ronen, who is also a co-author of the study said that the results of the study have an impact on people who do not speak a major language such as Spanish or English. He suggested that if people want their own language to be more prominent globally, it would mean tweeting in their own language and translating more documents in their own language. However, if they want their ideas to spread and be shared, they must learn a second language that has stronger connections.
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