Compliments of Vox
“The limits of my language,” the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once posited, “mean the limits of my world.” Explaining everything within the limits of the world is probably too ambitious a goal for a list like this. But here are 23 maps and charts that can hopefully illuminate small aspects of how we manage to communicate with one another.
Indo-European language roots
Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish comic artist, created this beautiful tree to illustrate both the relationships between European and central Asian languages generally, as well as a smaller but still striking point: Finnish has less in common with, say, Swedish than Persian or Hindi do. The latter two are Indo-European language, even if they branched off more quickly, whereas Finland is Uralic.
The languages of Wikipedia
This map shows the language in which the plurality of Wikipedia articles on a given country are written. Some countries match up. Articles about European countries tend to be mostly written in their languages (though intriguingly Catalan is the plurality language for articles about Spain, perhaps because of an old breakaway competitor to Wikipedia in that country). Same goes for East Asian countries and the US.
But a whole lot of countries are most commonly written about in English, and not just countries where English is a major language. There’s not much reason for English to be the most common language for articles about Mongolia, for example. Out of all the world’s Arabic speaking countries, only Syria appears to have Arabic as its most common Wikipedia language.
German has footholds in Bolivia, Uruguay, and Namibia. These make some degree of sense; Germany colonized Namibia until World War I (committing the first modern genocide in the process) and a small German-speaking population remains today, while Bolivia and Uruguay have small German-speaking communities that migrated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But really, most articles about Bolivia ought to be in Spanish.