To determine which language is the most “important” globally, we first must define the term “important”. Does it mean the language spoken by the most people, or the language spoken in the most countries, or the language of the most economically-developed nation, or…?
MIT Assistant Professor César Hidalgo and his team have come up with a way to answer this question in today’s globalized context: it’s the language that connects the most people. And, not surprisingly, they’ve discovered that “being born into a highly connected language is a better predictor of whether that person is going to be important or not, than being born into a language that is very populous, or that is spoken by people who are very wealthy.”
So, how did they determine which language is “most-connected”? The team used the Web and various repositories of data that enabled them to connect information and map languages spoken with others. They used Twitter, books (over 2.2 million volumes representing over 1,000 languages) and Wikipedia, connecting books translated from one language into another, articles on Wikipedia edited by humans (not bots) to see if editors were writing in multiple languages, and over a billion tweets sent by 17 million users in 73 languages, noting a connection each time a tweet was sent in more than one language.
Being able to communicate with a wider number of people gives one a certain amount of power because of the greater number of people who can be influenced. The team discovered that, after controlling for the income and population of language speakers, “[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,” says Hidalgo.
So, which language was found to be the most highly connected? No surprises here: English, with over 50% of all Internet communication. Other language hubs (though to a far lesser extent) include Russian, German and Spanish.