It is well known that English is the most important language in the world . However, how important are the other languages? How can ideas flow from one language to another? These questions stimulated the development of a new method to see how information flows in the world, identifying the best languages for the diffusion of ideas.
Researchers from MIT and Harvard University, among many institutions, addressed the problem by describing three language networks based on book translation , bilingual Twitter users and multilingual editions of Wikipedia. The Book Translation Network illustrates the number of books that are translated into other languages. For example, a book in Hebrew, translated into English and German, would be represented by lines that start from a Hebrew node and arrive at English and German knots. The network is based on 2.2 million translations of printed and published books in more than 1,000 languages. As with the visualization of the networks, the thickness of the lines represents the number of connections between the nodes. As for tweets, the researchers used the 550 million created by 17 million users in 73 languages. In such a network, if a user writes tweets in both Hindi and English, the two languages are represented as connected to each other. To build the Wikipedia network, researchers tracked down editions in as many as five publisher-made languages, excluding bots.
For those who don’t speak English, the choice of that language as their second or third language is obvious. However, for English speakers, the analysis suggests that it would be more beneficial to choose Spanish instead of Mandarin Chinese. At least if these ideas spread through the written word. This contrasts with some languages spoken by a large number of people, such as Mandarin Chinese, Hindi or Arabic, as their networks are very isolated. Instead a language like Dutch, spoken by 27 million people, can be a disproportionately high communication channel when compared to Arabic, with 530 million people speaking it as a native language or as a second language. The latter is explained in the study, given the wide domain of languages by people who speak Dutch and their active online presence.
Questions of this kind are becoming increasingly important in a highly globalized world connected through the internet. Knowledge of multiple languages is a key factor in leadership skills (in English), because knowing another language implicitly involves understanding another culture and, therefore, another way of seeing the world. This can be witnessed by the Spanish-American community, only by comparing the different variants of Spanish (or castellano) in different countries and regions.
For example, as the quoted article reports:
“ There are more words in English than in French (500,000 versus 70,000); this suggests that French is able to solve more semantic ambiguities than English. Many French words have multiple possible meanings; this means that the listener is responsible for distinguishing the speaker’s intention