October 12, 2011

Wherever You Are, Just Ask for a "Beer"

Now that we've gotten mapping soft drinks out of the way, not to mention other mind-altering substances, it's time we get back to good ole fashioned beer. But rather than mapping different colloquial terms for beer, as we did with pop/soda/coke, we return to our long-standing interest in investigating how different socio-linguistic groups are represented in the geoweb. Only this time, we do it through the proverbial lens of a pint glass (which happens to resemble the geoweb in its distortive capabilities).

The below map shows the relative prevalence of the word for beer in the world's ten most spoken languages (by # of native speakers). However, because of the fact that there were no points at which the number of references in the world's sixth most-spoken language, Bengali, were greater than references to each of the other nine languages, we have excluded Bengali in this particular case. So while we're sad to see Bengali left off the map, the fact that a language with 181 million native speakers has so few references to "beer" is telling of either vast inequalities in the way Bengalis are represented within the geoweb, or perhaps just their general distaste for beer.

B-E-E-R M-A-P!*
While many of our maps are extremely clear in showing that the content within the geoweb reflects traditional state borders, mapping references to beer leaves a much hazier picture. So while most of the content in Russia is in Russian, China in Mandarin, Japan in Japanese, Germany in German and Portugal and Brazil in Portuguese, the cases presented by English and Spanish references are much less clear.

Spanish, the world's second most represented native language, spoken throughout nearly the entirety of the Americas south of the U.S.-Mexico border (not to mention the actual country of Spain), has relatively few references compared to the land mass of countries in which Spanish is spoken. Indeed, outside of Spain, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, there are relatively few points in the world at which there are a significant number of references to "cerveza" compared to references in other languages.

In fact, many places in Latin America have more references in English than in Spanish (or any other language). This appears to be reflected significantly in Europe, as well, where English appears to be the default second language of the geoweb in many of these countries. As a follow-up map will show, when including more nationally-defined languages such as Italian, Polish, Dutch, Danish and Hungarian, these respective countries show a significant preference for their own terms, as one would expect.

When in Europe, Just Ask for "Beer"
Zooming in to Europe only further accentuates the relative dominance of English among these languages, with significant portions of Portugal, Spain, and Germany even showing more references to beer than in their native languages. Interesting, however, that much of France is a mixture of English and German references, even in the much more southern portions of the country.

Whether you want something cheap, something a bit fruity, something hoppy or something to just make the pain go away... our results clearly show that no matter where you may be in the world, it's a safe bet that if you just say "beer", the bartender will probably know what you mean.

Happy drinking, friends!

* Sung to the tune of "Beer Run" by Todd Snider...


  1. Hi,
    In the ten most spoken languages you forgot the fifth one (acoording to wikipedia.fr) which is a lot more spoken than german : french.

    Beside, the german word for beer is "bier" and the french one is "bière", this proximity could explain the german beer invasion in france

  2. @2084: You're right to point out the absence of French... but we based the map on the number of native speakers as calculated by Ethnologue (http://www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/distribution.asp). By that metric, French is only the 16th most spoken language, and thus didn't make it onto the list. We'll have another map soon that focuses more closely on Europe and a variety of languages not included in this map.

  3. But, wait, did you search for Fosters? It's Australian for beer.

  4. French might be only get the 16th rank worldwide, but in Europe it's one of the main languages. It's rather silly not to consider it when discussing the languages of Europe... and of France specifically.

  5. E.: As is mentioned in both the post and my comment above, we'll have a post in the coming week or two that includes French, along with nearly a dozen other languages spoken on the European continent that aren't included here. One map can't include everything.

    This map was specifically to show the world's "most popular" languages, if you will, and the fact that even languages with hundreds of millions of native speakers are significantly underrepresented online.


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