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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Common Denominators

world map of widely-spoken languages

(Update: per thoughtful input from the comments, added Portuguese as a widely-spoken language to fill in most of the other gaps, though now I'm feeling even less poly-linguistic. Decided against doing multiple shades for countries like Morocco [French, English] to keep the map simple. Anyone know if Mandarin Chinese is widely spoken anywhere outside China?)

46 comments:

  1. Some of those countries could have two shadings, e.g. Morocco or Algeria where I imagine you should get by pretty well with French as well, in addition to Arabic.

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    1. Yeah definitely. I just wanted to keep things simple and imperfect. But I may go back and add that.

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    2. Yeah, I thought afterwards that the map deliberately called itself “imperfect”. As a first approximation, it’s fine, and making it more accurate would also make it more complicated.

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  2. In Malaysia both English and Chinese are widely spoken. Malaysians of Chinese descent, which make up almost 1/4 of Malaysia's population, can communicate in Chinese fluently as Chinese is still our first language/mother tongue.

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    1. How many of those understand Mandarin, though?

      I could imagine that many of them speak Hokkien or, perhaps, Cantonese, as well as Malaysian but perhaps not Mandarin.

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    2. I'll change the map if you can show me a source that says Mandarin is a majorly-spoken language in Malaysia - I couldn't find anything myself, but that doesn't mean it's not true. I was a bit disappointed that I could only add Chinese to China...

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    3. Philip - Perhaps you have encountered more Chinese of the older generation instead of the younger generation. People from the older generation are mostly better in speaking in other dialects compared to speaking in Mandarin, as a lot of them were English-educated when they were still in primary/secondary school. Chinese schools were not common back then. But I can assure you, most of the younger generation speak Mandarin fluently. :)
      PS. By Older generation I mean back from the 70s, 60s or even earlier.

      Malachi Rempen - Unfortunately I am NOT able to provide you with a source that says Mandarin is a major language spoken in Malaysia, as Mandarin has no official status in Malaysia. However, Mandarin is undoubtedly widely spoken within the Chinese community here in Malaysia, along with other dialects such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Teowchew, Foochow, etc. Nevertheless, English is more widely spoken compared to Mandarin due to its status in today's world and also it is compulsory for us to take English as a subject in primary and secondary school. But again, it depends on which part of Malaysia you are in. If you are in places which are Chinese-dominant, Mandarin is definitely more useful compared to English. (PS. Chinese suck in English, just saying).

      I hope you understand what I'm trying to say, and just fyi, I am Malaysian Chinese.

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  3. Actually, if you're considering going back and updating your map, you may want to add Portuguese and fill more than 50% of what's left blank.

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    1. Good point! Then to keep symmetry in the key I could have "grey = Other". Hmm...

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    2. Well, since you have been paying attention (thanks for that), there's other grey areas you can fill quite easily.

      I'm sure you can do a lot with English in, say, Austria, Hungary or the Czech Republic. The same goes for South Korea, Nepal and a few countries in Southeast Asia.

      I only write that because of the "simmetry" with a few African countries where you added French. English is no less understood in South Korea or Nepal than French in, say, Chad or Niger.

      Nice exercise, anyway.

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    3. That makes sense. And there are large swathes of certain countries, like Congo or even Germany, where the "widely spoken" language is understood/spoken by few or none.

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  4. You *could* get by in most of Eastern Europe with Russian, as the Slavic languages are all rather similar to each other, and many people (especially the older generation) still had mandatory Russian in school. Just don't paint it on this map, since you're going to get a bunch of angry Slavs telling you how distinct these languages all are (they're not. Source: I'm a native Slavic speaker and a linguist.)

    Russian of course won't get you anywhere in Hungary, Romania, Albania, and Greece. And it might get you blank stares in the other countries where people refuse to understand Russian out of principle.

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    1. Not so sure about Russian being useless in Hungary; the languages are completely different, of course, but there might still be the ‘mandatory Russian at school for the older generation’ factor.

      Though that factor alone probably wouldn’t make Russian ‘widely-spoken’ or even ‘widely-understood’.

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    2. Mandatory Russian was in many countries, but it doesn't mean, that people who used to learned Russian 30-40 years ago, still can speak Russian ;)

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  5. I think you've just made a lot of Quebecers very unhappy...

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    1. If they would just go on and become an independent nation already, I'd be happy to update the map!

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    2. Not my favourite reply, but sure. That said, I don't think you'd have a great time trying to get around in, say, Saguenay speaking only English.

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    3. What I meant is that the map is not divided by states or regions, but by countries...

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    4. Well, Anonymous, Malachi "decided against doing multiple shades for countries like Morocco (or Canada) [French, English] to keep the map simple."
      Also, there's a map on Wikipedia showing the knowledge of English in Europe. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knowledge_of_English_EU_map.svg
      Austria and Greece are the same colour as Germany. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Europe#Proficiency

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  6. Is Spanish really more widely-understood in Belize than English? I went there a few years ago, and everyone understood English just fine. Belize used to be called the British Honduras, and the only people there who don't really understand English are kids too young to have gone to school, or very old people who never went. Even still, the main language spoken in Belize isn't Spanish, it's Kriol, which is based off of English (and, if English is your first language, Kriol is super hard to understand when spoken, but possible to piece together when read). Then again, Belize is a really small country surrounded by a bunch of Spanish-speaking countries, so I guess it would also make sense to pick Spanish, as that's also taught in school there.

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    1. Good question - I was in Belize many years ago, but I can't recall. Wikipedia corroborates your story, but says Spanish is also widely spoken.

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    2. Yes. Spanish is spoke and understood more, despite English being the official language.

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  7. English in Germany? I wouldn't be so sure. But maybe younger generation...

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    1. It's definitely my experience living in Berlin, but of course in the countryside it's a different story.

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    2. See the comic Second Mother Tongue.

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  8. Mauritania speaks Arabic more than French

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  9. Mandarin is spoken in Singapore, at least the Chinese part of the population has to learn it in school, and Mandarin is what the government encourages everyone to speak, instead of the local dialects, like Hokkien, Cantonese, or Teochew. Local dialects are also losing ground to Mandarin in Malaysia, since it is used in schools.

    Finally, you may also want to add French to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

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    1. I wanted to add French to those countries because I know that some French is spoken there, but I can't find any statistics or maps that reflect that, and no one that has traveled there has told me that French was widely enough spoken that you could travel with it.

      Is that the case in Malaysia with Mandarin? Could you travel around with it if that's all you spoke?

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  10. I am sorry, but I am not a Chinese Mandarin speaker, but I'm pretty sure, given the size of Chinese population in Malaysia, that one could manage with Mandarin there. On the other hand, I've managed to travel well using English in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, and Nepal (I think you definitely need to add Nepal to English).

    My information about French in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos is based on the history, the fact that it is their diplomatic language, and used in public sector and higher education, but also more and more in secondary education, and all three countries have some level of revival attempt of the French language.

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    1. If anyone else will back up these claims then I will change the map! I'm definitely open to it.

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    2. I definitely vote for adding Chinese in Singapore (one of the 4 official languages + learning Chinese is now mandatory there, I hear) + in Malaysia (one of the three major languages spoken in the country, along with Malay and Tamil). Just discovered Itchy Feet, love it!

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    3. Well...Wikipedia says that English is a wider second language in Malaysia than Chinese. Since the point is, more or less, to identify the language it would be easiest to get around in (of the seven main ones), I think English takes precedence!

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    4. But I'm glad you love the comic!!

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    5. English is definitely more widely spoken in Malaysia compared to Chinese, but it really depends on which part of Malaysia you go. If you go to places which are more Chinese-predominant, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects are definitely more helpful than English. As a Malaysian Chinese myself, I would say that the Chinese here suffer quite a bit to speak in English.

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  11. This is beyond the comic, but just to be exact. learning Mandarin in Singapore is mandatory only for those of Chinese ethnicity. Parents need to register their children's ethnicity, which then determines their mother tongue, and that's the language they have to study in school. For Malays it is Bahasa and for Indians it is Tamil, I guess.

    Having travelled quite a bit in Malaysia, I agree that English is the language to get around with, even in rural areas.

    As a person having lived out of my home country for the past 15 years, I also totally love this comic.

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  12. English in India? I dont think so.There are 1635 languages in India and many dialects as well.Even if you learn the most used language ie Hindi, you will be restricted to the the north India only.

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  13. En el caso de Guinea Ecuatorial tiene más sentido colorearlo de amarillo (español).

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  14. Taiwan, of course, uses Mandarin as its primary language.

    The "Arabic" part of the map is somewhat misleading. While Arabic is indeed the, or a, official and primary language in most of the Arab world, the various national dialects -- as spoken on the street -- are so different that they aren't necessarily mutually intelligible.

    "The issue of whether Arabic is one language or many languages is politically charged, similar to the issue with Chinese, Hindi and Urdu, Serbian and Croatian... etc. Similar to how speakers of Hindi and Urdu will claim they cannot understand each other even when they can, speakers of the varieties of Arabic will claim they can all understand each other even when they can't... The issue of diglossia between spoken and written language is a significant complicating factor... For political reasons, Arabs mostly assert that they all speak a single language, despite significant issues of mutual incomprehensibility among differing spoken versions... From a linguistic standpoint, it is often said that the various spoken varieties of Arabic differ among each other collectively about as much as the Romance languages [i.e., e.g., Spanish/ French/ Italian/ Portuguese/ Romanian]."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_language#Classical.2C_Modern_Standard_and_spoken_Arabic

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    1. That makes sense. My question is - if you learned Standard Arabic, would you be able to travel to those countries and get around? Obviously not as well (or at all) in small villages, where the dialects would be, as you say, too different, but in cities at least?

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  15. If you know greek you can understand any language

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    1. You are Kostas "Gus" Portokalos, and I claim my five pounds.

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    2. @zoi
      I don't totally agree with..living in france a few years, i agree we can understand a lot, but not everything (e.g. whatever is Hindi/Tamil and Chinese based... ;) )

      @ithcy
      Well Itchy you can add Greece in the english speaking group.
      Allmost the whole country is vacations' destination so everyone speaks English.

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  16. now i only need to learn arabic, spanish and chinese... and to improve the other language skills.. oh long day
    thx for the motivation. i read all of ur comics.

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    1. Sounds to me like you're more than halfway there already! Nice work

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  17. Replies
    1. Sunken into the sea, sadly. Climate change...

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