The Structure and Implications of the Global Language Network

Ronen, S. "The Structure and Implications of the Global Language Network"


Languages vary enormously in global importance because of historical, demographic, political, and technological forces, and there has been much speculation about the current and future status of English as a global language. Yet there has been no rigorous way to define or quantify the relative global influence of languages. I propose that the structure of the network connecting multilingual speakers or translated texts, which I call the Global Language Network, provides a concept of language importance that is superior to simple economic or demographic measures. I map three independent global language networks (GLN) from millions of records of online and printed linguistic expressions taken from Wikipedia, Twitter, and UNESCO's database of book translations. I find that the structure of the three GLNs is hierarchically organized around English and a handful of hub languages, which include Spanish, German, French, Russian, Malay, and Portuguese, but not Chinese, Hindi or Arabic. Finally, I validate the measure of a language's centrality in the GLNs by showing that it correlates with measures of the number of illustrious people born in the countries associated with that language. I suggest that other phenomena of a language's present and future influence are systematically related to the structure of the global language networks.

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