Friday, October 26, 2012

A map of London painted in Twitter languages

Joanna Carver, reporter


(Image: Ed Manley & James Cheshire)

Twitter has its own #language, but this map shows that in the home of the Queen's English, the Twittersphere is a polyglot place.

Using an algorithm adapted from web browser Google Chrome, engineering doctorate candidate Ed Manley and spatial analysis lecturer James Cheshire, both from University College London, were able to detect the language of tweets sent from the London area over the summer. Of 3.3 million tweets, 92.5 per cent are, not surprisingly, in English. The biggest tweeting tongues after that are Spanish (grey), French (red), Turkish (dark blue), Arabic (green), Portuguese (purple), German (orange), Italian (yellow), Malay (turquoise) and Russian (pink).

Arabic tweeters are busy in the strongly Middle Eastern area of Edgware Road, to the north-east of Hyde Park. They are also thick on the ground in the top-drawer shopping districts of Knightsbridge and Kensington. Turkish tweeting is spread across north London, while there are clear hotspots of Francophone activity - one in fashionable Notting Hill and another at the Institut Fran?ais.

"We're just showing that people can see this pattern going on," Manley says. "I hope this helps people think about the people who use Twitter."

Sixty-six languages were detected overall, and Manley said he was surprised to find a few in Basque, Haitian Creole and Swahili. Quite a few seemed to be written in the Filipino language Tagalog, but most of them turned out to be phrases like "hahahahaha" or "lolololol," and were excluded.

"I don't know much about Tagalog," Manley says on his blog, "but it seems like a fun language."

Manley's and Cheshire's work contrasts starkly with census information, which puts English-speakers in London at 60 per cent, leading Manley to conclude that either people tweet more in English or that English-speakers tweet more.

Manley, a Twitter user himself, thinks that one of the reasons people tweet is to build communities.

"I think it's a sort of democratisation of communication in a way," he says. "Because what you know have is you can communicate with anyone directly without any barrier. You can tweet Barack Obama and he might reply, though he probably won't."


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