📖 5.27% done with American Amnesia by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

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This portends to be very interesting in that they plan to show what has changed over much of the 1900’s to indicate the drastic evolution in American politics, life, and philosophy over the recent decades. In light of the political battles between the left and the right over the past several years, this could provide some much needed help and guidance.

Their basic thesis seems to be that a shift away from a mixed economy has slowed American growth and general prosperity. While they do seem to have a pointed (political) view, so far it’s incredibly well documented and footnoted for those who would like to make the counter-argument. They’ve definitely got some serious evidence to indicate how drastic the situation is, but I’m curious if they can directly tie their proposed cause to the effect. If nothing else, they’ve created a laundry list of problems in America which need to be addressed by some serious leadership soon.

In some sense I’m torn about what to think of a broader issue this touches upon and which I mentioned briefly while reading At Home in the Universe. Should we continue on the general path we’ve struck out upon (the mixed economy with government regulation/oversight), or should we continue evolving away? While we can’t see the complexity effects seven levels further in, they may be more valuable than what we’ve got now. For example Cesar Hidalgo looks at the evolution along a continuum of personbyte to larger groups: firms (firmbyte), governments, and mega-corporations in Why Information Grows, so I can easily see larger governments and corporations like Google drastically changing the world in which we live (operating at a level above what most humans can imagine presently), but the complexity of why and how they operate above (and potentially against) the good of the individual should certainly be called into question and considered as we move forward.

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Global Language Networks

Recent research on global language networks has interesting relations to big history, complexity economics, and current politics.

Yesterday I ran across this nice little video explaining some recent research on global language networks. It’s not only interesting in its own right, but is a fantastic example of science communication as well.

I’m interested in some of the information theoretic aspects of this as well as the relation of this to the area of corpus linguistics. I’m also curious if one could build worthwhile datasets like this for the ancient world (cross reference some of the sources I touch on in relation to the Dickinson College Commentaries within Latin Pedagogy and the Digital Humanities) to see what influences different language cultures have had on each other. Perhaps the historical record could help to validate some of the predictions made in relation to the future?

The paper “Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk” indicates that of all the variables tested, economic growth was most strongly linked to language loss.

This research also has some interesting relation to the concept of “Collective Learning” within the realm of a Big History framework via David Christian, Fred Spier, et al.  I’m curious to revisit my hypothesis: Collective learning has potentially been growing at the expense of a shrinking body of diverse language some of which was informed by the work of Jared Diamond.

Some of the discussion in the video is reminiscent to me of some of the work Stuart Kauffman lays out in At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (Oxford, 1995). Particularly in chapter 3 in which Kauffman discusses the networks of life.  The analogy of this to the networks of language here indicate to me that some of Cesar Hidalgo’s recent work in Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, From Atoms to Economies (MIT Press, 2015) is even more interesting in helping to show the true value of links between people and firms (information sources which he measures as personbytes and firmbytes) within economies.

Finally, I can also only think about how this research may help to temper some of the xenophobic discussion that occurs in American political life with respect to fears relating to Mexican immigration issues as well as the position of China in the world economy.

Those intrigued by the video may find the website set up by the researchers very interesting. It contains links to the full paper as well as visualizations and links to the data used.

Abstract

Languages vary enormously in global importance because of historical, demographic, political, and technological forces. However, beyond simple measures of population and economic power, there has been no rigorous quantitative way to define the global influence of languages. Here we use the structure of the networks connecting multilingual speakers and translated texts, as expressed in book translations, multiple language editions of Wikipedia, and Twitter, to provide a concept of language importance that goes beyond simple economic or demographic measures. We find that the structure of these three global language networks (GLNs) is centered on English as a global hub and around a handful of intermediate hub languages, which include Spanish, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese. We validate the measure of a language’s centrality in the three GLNs by showing that it exhibits a strong correlation with two independent measures of the number of famous people born in the countries associated with that language. These results suggest that the position of a language in the GLN contributes to the visibility of its speakers and the global popularity of the cultural content they produce.

Citation: Ronen S, Goncalves B, Hu KZ, Vespignani A, Pinker S, Hidalgo CA
Links that speak: the global language network and its association with global fame, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (2014), 10.1073/pnas.1410931111

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“A language like Dutch — spoken by 27 million people — can be a disproportionately large conduit, compared with a language like Arabic, which has a whopping 530 million native and second-language speakers,” Science reports. “This is because the Dutch are very multilingual and very online.”

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