Monday, November 7, 2011

The Languages We Tweet

I recently discovered Big Think, a website which describes itself as a "forum where top experts explore the big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century." Along with Arts and Letters Daily, it's quickly becoming one of my go-to sites for intellectual engagement. It's also a fantastic source for ideas and articles relevant to Theory of Knowledge.

A post from today on Big Think's Strange Maps blog features dazzling geolinguistic maps that mark the languages people around the world tweeted over the course of several months in 2011. Here's the map of Europe. Each color represents a different language:

The blog's author, map enthusiast Frank Jacobs, notes that the data visualizations tell us a lot about technology, society, and language. Here are some of his observations:
Western Europe is lit up like a christmas tree - with the Netherlands glowing especially bright. Eastern Europe: not so much. Russia is a spider’s web of large cities connected through the darkness of the vast, empty countryside.
The fun really begins in Europe, where some of countries just vanish off the map: Belgium tweets in Dutch and French, Switzerland in mainly in German, with a French bit west of the Röstigraben. And other countries emerge out of nowhere: Catalans twitter in their own language, not Spanish. German dominates Central Europe, but a surprisingly large chunk of Austria appears to be tweeting in Italian - as do a lot of dots inside France. 
 The map of the eastern United States is equally fascinating:

Population centers and highways pop immediately, as do portions of Quebec. The images are a triumph of data mining and creative visualization. The much larger full world map on Flickr is worth checking out.

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