October 25, 2011

The Globalization of Beer in the Eurozone

Beer is no laughing matter. Wars have been started over less...and what about bar fights? Granted we're usually hiding under the table when the glasses start flying but we are certainly not laughing.

And while just saying "beer" to the bartender will likely work in most of the world, you don't want to be stuck asking someone for a beer who only knows آبجو (Persian), or asking for a piwo (Polish) when all they've got is 맥주 (Korean). To aid the faithful followers of the Floating Sheep in their ongoing explorations in landscapes of liquid lubrication, we present the following geolinguistic guide to Europe's landscape of beer.

Because simply mapping references to beer in the world's most spoken languages yielded a relatively homogeneous result due to the significant number of references to "beer" and "ale" in English, we thought a more locally specific analysis would be appropriate. So we instead mapped references to beer in twelve languages spoken primarily in Europe that were not included in our earlier map. And while this map obviously doesn't include all of the many languages spoken on the continent, these languages were chosen because of their relative prominence within a larger sample of languages.

Mapping Beer in Europe's (Relatively) Smaller Languages [1]
As we would expect, many countries are dominated by references in their native languages -- Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary display patterns that closely mirror the political borders of the material world.

However, it is the discrepancies where the digital transcends the material expectations that present the most interesting findings. For example, there is an abundance of references in Romanian, even infringing on the virtual territory of Italy, Spain and England (though Spanish and English aren't included in this comparison). While we can have no certain answer, perhaps this is because the Romanian word for beer is "bere", which could of course be an understandable typo for the English-language word. Similarly, Dutch-language references not only fill the entirety of the Netherlands, but also Germany and a not insignificant portion of France. Even Lithuanian references are prominent throughout the Baltic states, despite Estonia's prominence in the global information economy.

Despite the usefulness of this particular grouping, it remains useful to consider how some of the most spoken languages in the world stack up to these more country-specific languages, so in the map below we reintroduce references in English, as well as references in German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, to some of Europe's more widely spoken tongues.

The Globalization of Beer in Europe
While this graphic complicates the picture provided by our first map -- there continues to be a significant amount of content in the expected, native languages of each country -- English remains prominent throughout Europe, especially in reference to beer. This could potentially have a number of causes:
  1. Use of English as a second language by many native Europeans in creating user-generated placemarks, signaling the increasing use of English as a global language.
  2. Creation of content in English by native English-speakers traveling throughout other parts of Europe.
  3. Concerted efforts by beer-serving establishments throughout the continent to present English-language content online, so as to attract more English-speaking tourists as patrons.
While these are not testable hypotheses with our current dataset, the results strongly support the idea that the cyberscape of beer is impacted by the forces of globalization, especially in the creep of geolinguistic uniformity. We can only hope that this creep is limited to to linguistics, rather than beer making techniques. At the same time, however, it is also evident that there remains a considerable amount of content in the local languages of many countries across Europe, and it is unlikely that such ties to local language will disappear. This should be good news for the Trappist and Lambic beers of Belgium and the Světlé and Černé beers of the Czech Republic!

So while it is always good to learn the local term for beer, the English word seems likely to get you what you were looking for. Or you can try our technique which is to start a bar fight and while everyone is distracted, grab someone's glass and hide under the table.

[1] Smaller in that they were not one of the world's ten most spoken languages (by # of native speakers).


  1. "Even Lithuanian references are prominent throughout the Baltic states, despite Estonia's prominence in the global information economy."


    Unfortunately things are not as simple. "Beer" in Lithuanian is "alus". It happens to be the same in Latvian.. In Estonian, "alus" means base, basis, or boat, ship. And in Finnish.. it is also boat or ship.

    So.. I guess there are some issues that you need to address with this sort of research.

    Nevertheless, I like what you do!

  2. The romanian word "bere" for beer means "drink" in italian.
    The dutch and german word for beer is "bier", the french one is "bière"

  3. "that the cyberscape of beer is impacted by the forces of globalization, especially in the creep of geolinguistic uniformity." Maybe. But it also depends on what one means by "beer" since there are now different variations depending on market and taste. You might have the globalization of In-Bev which dominates here and in Europe (Stella, Budweiser, etc). Or you will have the growing market of craft beer, dominated by the Americans (with presences in Scandinavia as well). Traditional Belgian beer (lambics, Trappist) do not dominate among the European drinking public and have their largest audience in America.

  4. What would we do without such intelligent readers like each of you? Seriously though, thanks for the insight. While our lack of preexisting knowledge regarding minor European languages can be limiting in our analysis, the points raised Reinumag and 2084 show exactly why the research is relevant -- it's just that sometimes the things you learn from a map are unintended.

  5. Romanian in Spain may reflect the 780,000 Romanians living here

  6. Indeed @Unknown. The references to "bere" in Italy, Spain, and England must be because of the huge number of Romanians living in those countries. That's really interesting! Over a million Romanian citizens live in Italy, a bit less in Spain, and even less in England. Awesome information, FloatingSheep 8-)


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