Language and Maps in Global Studies

I’ve mentioned my favorite website, Strange Maps, in an earlier post. Part of the reason I enjoy it is that it’s filled with visual information, which makes it fun to examine after a long day of reading or writing. But I just came upon one post with images so striking that they made my jaw drop. Frank Jacobs recently came across a map created by a team (Mike McCandless and Eric Fischer) who found a way to use Google Chrome’s tracking feature to analyze language use in Twitter, and to display it on a map. The resulting images are as informative as they are beautiful. They not only show where people are using twitter around the globe, but also the language that they are using it in.

As Jacobs notes, what’s fascinating about these images is that they allow us to contrast official language regions with how language is actually being used. For example, as he points out, Catalan emerges as a major voice on Twitter. Some aspects of the map are to be expected. For example, North Korea disappears into blackness. But other aspects are surprising. Who knew that the Dutch were addicted to Twitter? One of the most interesting aspects of this map has been the comments that it has attracted, both on Jacobs’ site, as well as on the original posting by Eric Fischer. A lot of the discussion seems to focus on language anomolies. Why do so few people twitter in Ukrainian or Belorussian? Why aren’t Celtic languages such as Welsh apparent on the map? Are most tweets in India really in English? And is that really Dutch being spoken is southern France, or Occitan?

A key topic in Global and International Studies is language. We even wrote an additional chapter on language, which we couldn’t include in the textbook for reasons of length, but which is available on this webpage here. This chapter might form the basis for a class lecture. And this particular map would be a great tool afterwards to begin a class discussion about minority languages, technology and cultural globalization.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2012/01/twitter-and-language-in-global-studies/

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