What’s The Most Influential Language?

This might be a bit of a loaded question, but what is the most influential language?

There are roughly 6,500 of them, so to get the answer we have to determine what makes a language influential. Is it the oldest language? Is it the easiest to translate? Or could it be the most widely spoken language? Many would be quick to jump on the latter because if it’s the most spoken it must have the most influence, right? Well, César Hidalgo of MIT led a team of researchers to examine how certain forms are media are translated into different languages.

“Of the many languages that have ever been spoken, only a few of them have been able to achieve global prominence, they have been important enough to become a global language”Hidalgo told Serious Science.


The team analyzed data from Twitter, Wikipedia and books to begin forming their Global Language Network. Over 2.2 million volumes and 1,000 languages were represented just by books alone, while the Twitter data consisted of tweets from 17 million users and included 73 languages. Wikipedia articles, edited by humans, were analyzed to uncover whether or not editors were writing in multiple languages. The resulting network looks like this.

The map shows what languages are connected to one another, with the thickest lines indicating the strongest links

The map shows what languages are connected to one another, with the thickest lines indicating the strongest links

To get a better view of the map I suggest you check out the full-sized interactive version. Those of you who guessed English would be the most influential would be correct. Based on the data collected, English is the language of the internet. It acts as the largest hub for information to be translated from one language into another. There are more of these ‘hubs’ in the Global Language Network like Russian, Spanish and French, but English serves as the mothership, in a sense. Over 50% of ALL communication on the internet is in English, which I find quite astounding. This means that English is basically the go-to language for netizens and, more importantly, that is has the ability to connect people across the world.

“Basically, being born into highly connected language is a better predictor of whether that person is going to be important or not, than being born into language that is very populous, or that is spoken by people that are very wealthy,”

Hidalgo continued.

“[T]he centrality of a language in the global language network is a significantly strong predictor of whether that language produces a large number of successful people after controlling for their income and the population of the language.”

While this study points to English as the most influential language I seriously hope that this information doesn’t deter you from learning another language. The ability to communicate in person with others is indispensable and studies have shown that learning a second language can slow cognitive ageing. We owe it to ourselves to expand our minds and not be so arrogant as to infer that since we speak English the rest of the world should as well.

[IFL Science]

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