04 October 2008

Library vs. Bibliothèque vs. Bibliotheek vs. Bibliothek in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland

Today, a comparison involving multilingual countries and their Google searches for certain words. Let's begin with Canada:

Library totally dominated here although its popularity declined somewhat through time. In Canada, approximately 75% of the population speaks English and 25% French. When doing a Google Insights for Search test for the same word in both languages, limited geographically to internet users from Canada, one would expect to see proportional Google-popularity. For instance, we would expect to find library and bibliothèque in a 75%/25% proportion. Instead, the actual overall proportion (2004-present) was 94%/6%. Odd! However, the second test with bookstore/bookshop and librairie came out with a perfect 75%/25% split. I would guess that this inconsistency might have something to do with a too limited data set for Google searches in Canada, rather than a cultural distinction—Québequois don't like libraries... not likely. Still, it is puzzling. Anyone have any other ideas to explain this? I did the same search for Belgium (my native country):

This time, bibliotheek was most popular by far. Now, Belgium has about 60% Dutch-speakers and 40% French-speakers. The proportions of local Google searches were as follows: bibliotheek vs. bibliothèque (library) 83%/17% and boekwinkel/boekhandel vs. librairie (bookstore) 64%/36%. I again obtained one expected and one unexpected result, just like for Canada. The library pair proportion was off but the bookstore one was "correct." I tried one more country, Switzerland (only the two main languages out of the four):

Bibliothek was at the top. The Helvetian Federation's population consists of about 65% German-speakers, 20% French-speakers, 5% Italian-speakers, 1% Romansh-speakers and the remainder speakers of unofficial, immigrants' languages, e.g., Serbo-Croatian. For the sake of determining the proportions when facing off German and French equivalents, I recalculated the proportion of those two languages as if they were the only ones: 75%/25%. Bibliothek vs. bibliothèque (library) produced 63%/37% which was not too far off. Buchhandlung vs. librairie (bookstore) yielded 56%/44%. All words displayed a diminishing trend. In conclusion, Switzerland showed a different "proportionality" pattern than Canada and Belgium (library face-off not too bad & bookstore face-off not OK vs. library face-off not OK & bookstore face-off OK). Looking at it another way, Canada and Switzerland saw a search-quantity decline, Belgium didn't.

Update 10-6-08: I took the advice given to me on the LanguageHat blog and fixed the searches a bit. First, Canada:

No significant difference could be observed, except for a slightly higher occurrence of bibliothèque/bibliotheque. Next, Belgium:

Here the increase caused by adding the non-accented bibliotheque spellng was more significant: the library duo yielded an 81%/19% but this was still not close to the proportion of language speakers. Finally, Switzerland's new graph was as follows:

Both Buchhandlung/Buchladen and bibliothèque/bibliotheque grew. Bibliothek vs. bibliothèque/bibliotheque yielded a 64%/36% proportion, Buchhandlung/Buchladen" vs. librairie a 66%/34%. The first change doesn't seems meaningful to me; the second one does bring the numbers a bit closer to the language estmates. One final thing: the proportion of French-speakers in Canada is of course a matter of contention, I picked 25% as a reasonable number, esp. taking into consideration the "mixed" families.

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