“For the language learner, the networked nature of languages poses an interesting dilemma: should you learn a language popular among global elites? The tradition of learning French still looks like a good bet here. Or should you learn a language whose number of globetrotting bilinguals is small relative to its importance? Supply and demand says that this will be valuable. This is the real case for learning Chinese: not because it is the rising global language, but because it isn’t—at least certainly not yet.”

“There is a “what else did you expect?” nature to the outsized role of Western languages in three Western-born products: the mass book-publishing industry, Wikipedia and Twitter. But the results are still meaningful: Twitter really is globally important (just ask the Iranian mullahs or the former president of Tunisia). Sina Weibo and VK (Russia’s Facebook) are not.”

When bigger isn’t better


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