Language and GDP

Apr 2, 2010 by

The world’s largest languages are usually listed by the number of speakers (including either native speakers only or second-language speakers as well). The Globalization Group, Inc. has recently come up with a different top 10 list of languages, based not on the number of speakers but on the GDP associated with the language. Of course, this is a problematic measure since GDP is typically calculated on the basis of states/countries rather than languages. Moreover, what this chart presents as one language may be sufficiently different in different countries (for example, Canadian French is different from European French, and Brazilian Portuguese from European Portuguese). Still, it’s an curious measure.

The results are not surprising at all, with English carrying the most GDP of all languages (about 35% of the world’s total, or GWP). Japanese comes second with about 8% of the GWP. I am not sure why Chinese is divided into Simplified and Traditional Chinese (this is useful for translation business, but is not the way that linguists would subdivide Chinese). Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese etc are not listed. German, Spanish and French come next with between 6-7% of GWP. Italian and Russian hover around 4% each, and Portuguese and Arabic tie for the 9th/10th place with 3.1% each. Together with Dutch, Korean and Turkish, they account for 90% of the world’s GDP.

A more detailed discussion of this top-ten list can be found here.


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