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Infographic Of The Day: The Many Languages Of Twitter

Another wonderful visualization by Eric Fischer depicts the languages in use around the world on Twitter.

In the physical world, we tend to identify ourselves by nationality. But online, where you can reach across cyberspace and speak directly and instantaneously with someone 6,000 miles away without ever passing through customs, nationality isn’t nearly as meaningful. The real borders are created by language: Language is what makes someone addressable no matter where he is. Language is what you share with strangers above all else. Language is your passport into a new community of people.

Ergo, you can use language to map cultural barriers that transcend political boundaries. The brilliant cartographer Eric Fischer has done just that, by mining the Twitter API to figure out what language people were using on their web browsers. It’s a beautiful, eerie map that shows countries bleeding together at the borders, where culture and language become a murky mash:

The effect, of course, isn’t nearly as pronounced in the good-ol’ monolingual USA. But you do get some lovely little effects here—notice how there are small centers of Spanish speaking in Texas, which seem to have leaped across the U.S./Mexico border:

And when you look at South America, there’s also a telling fade to black toward the sparsely populated interior of the continent:

This idea of looking at the real boundaries that separate us is actually a theme that comes up in much of Fischer’s cartography. Previously, he created some superb maps that showed the racial boundaries in various cities—and in so doing, revealed roughly how racially segregated the cities were. New York, for example, has extremely intermixed borders—a crucial feature of the city’s famed cultural melting pot:

Yet another time, he used geotags from Flickr to figure out where people were taking pictures—and then mapped them alongside geotags from Tweets. Thus, he got roughly a map of where tourists take pictures vs. where residents go home to their computers. Here is what San Francisco looked like:

Brilliant stuff.

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  • Dean

    Not to mention the strong French area on the northeast of the North American continent.

  • Marc Martorell

    you can see how Catalan language is dominant in Catalonia —the yellow mark between Spain and France in the first map.

  • GeeOgrafee

    @Cliff Kuang: These maps illustrate so well how borders are easily crossed and culture shared. I love them! Thank you for turning people on to Eric Fischer's work.

     : No, TX, AZ, NM, and CA are not "all Mexico in reality"--they are most definitely American. Yes, there is a strong immigrant (and long-term historical) connection with Mexican (and Spanish) culture and language, but I wouldn't call Spanish the "dominant" language in these states, as a whole. There is a mixture of Spanish and English, here, in the lives of nearly all immigrants from Spanish-speaking areas, and the ratio of how much of each is spoken shifts with 1) how isolated the individual is from Americans speaking English or other languages, 2) the length of time the individual has spent in the U.S. and, 3) ultimately, how long the entire family has had roots, here. It's called "acculturation" and it's nearly impossible to avoid. Language (and culture, which requires language for its propagation) is a very dynamic facet of humanity.

    @Seven Leighton: Thank you for identifying Pocho--I was not aware that the pigeon language often referred to as "Spanglish" had another name. I'll be sure to share this with my geography students.

  • Molly E. Holzschlag

    Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California - all Mexico in reality. Spanish is the dominant language in many of these states, and I'd actually wonder if the "leap" you refer to wouldn't be much brighter if not for the fact that far too many Spanish speakers in these areas are not amongst the digerati.

  • Mano

    "notice how there are small centers of Spanish speaking in Texas, which seem to have leaped across the U.S./Mexico border"

    Actually, the border leaped across the people. Texas was once part of Mexico.

  • TJ Taylor

    Beautiful maps, and I love how the languages are overlapping in Europe. Great work!

  • Ali Murtaza

    Who would have thought Twitter. I loved the earthquake tremors being measured through twitter. 

  • Steven Leighton

    On the border between the United States of Mexico and the United States of America a lot of people twitter in Pocho .. which is sometimes called by others Spanglish. In fact Poch,o which is a mix of the easiest vocab and grammar from both languages, lends itself perfectly to Twitter.

  • Marcelo

    Regarding the South America void in the center, is because that area is barely habited. It consists in the Amazon forest area, lots of farms and even desert areas.