Twitter is a linguist's dream come true: it compiles millions of messages in hundreds of languages daily, making the question "Who speaks what languages where?" easy to answer. That is the question taken up by self-described "map geek" Eric Fischer. He has created a map of the world's languages used on Twitter by pulling together data collected by Google Chrome. "What a joy these maps are to behold," writes Big Think's Frank Jacobs writes. "It’s as if someone took one of those composite satellite maps -- you know, impossibly showing the whole world at night, the darkness broken by hubs and strings of artificial light ... and gave it the power of speech."
The details of Fischer's world map, above, are difficult to see if you don't upload the full version on your web browser. So we we've decided to go region by region to make sense of some of the map.
Let's take a look.
North America: Nothing surprising here. Fischer made English gray, and so a dull glow pervades the continent. A sprinkling of Spanish-tweeting pockets, are shown in pink, in states like Texas and Arizona, and the pinkness deepens south of the border. The Caribbean islands show up as a colorful hodgepodge of gray, pink, and purple (French). And notice the vein of purple along the Saint Lawrence River in Canada, denoting the French-tweeting Quebecois.
Europe: Western Europe glows bright in the Twitterverse as the most linguistically diverse section of the world. Switzerland is a mix of blue (Italian), red (German), and purple (French), with some light blue (Dutch) shadings. Lime green (Catalan) emerges in northeast Spain. Twitter use seems to peter out in Europe somewhere east of the Czech Republic, but the service looks to be pretty popular in Moscow as it is lit up in teal (Russian).
East Asia: Despite the Chinese government's official ban on Twitter leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in June 2009 and the existence of an alternative, state-run microblogging service, people there are still managing to tweet, as can be seen in the substantial green glow (Chinese) along the country's urbanized eastern seaboard. The popularity of Twitter in Japan (shown in purple) and South Korea (dark blue) is also clear on the map, with isolated North Korea appearing pitch black.
Middle East: For all the talk of social media in the Arab Spring, the Middle East's Twitter activity doesn't really stack up to North America's and Europe's. But comparing this region to those two more developed ones is apples and oranges: South America, South Asia, and especially Africa show less Twitter activity than the Middle East and its veiny network of Arabic (pink) tweeters--along with a strong Hebrew-tweeting (green) presence in Israel and Turkish-tweeting presence in Turkey (red). Those dark spots on the map--Egypt and Pakistan, for example--show where crackdowns on Twitter have occurred in the past.