Urbanity and the dynamics of language shift in Galicia

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Recently we have been thinking a lot about how we humans organize ourselves in societies as we interact with each other, or as we create institutions that help us thrive or repress us. In our daily lives we make decisions influenced by the people around us or, perhaps, influenced by our view of an institution – for example, if we think that a city is cool we might want to align our views with what that city “thinks” as a whole. As globalization proceeds, we can feel the influence of places further away. This alters the structure of our social networks, which in turn affect how opinions travel from one place to another. We make important choices all the time, always affected by these social structures.

An example of such choices is what language to use in your daily life. Our recent paper looks precisely at this in our home region of Galicia, in northwest Spain. There, two tongues (Galician and Spanish) are spoken. Looking at data of fractions of speakers over time, we have found that the dynamics of language shift progress faster in the rural than in the urban. Earlier computational experiments show that more complex networks can hold dynamics out of equilibrium for a longer time, so we argue that it is the complexity of urban areas that can keep those dynamics apace. A slower unfolding of social change could cut us some slack, for example, if we needed some time to think strategies to save dying cultures; so our research suggests that, as globalization progresses, we should aim at increasing the richness of our social interactions – so please avoid one-way communication systems and other uniformizing technologies!

That slower rhythm in cities (faster in the rural) happens when a series of Galician regions evolves independently of each other. We performed further computational studies to see what would occur if regions far apart would have an influence as well – as in the example with cities mentioned above. We found that some regimes could turn the dynamics on its head, prompting cities to evolve faster than the rural areas. But the feature accelerating cities through this long-scale mechanism is the same one that would slow them down in the shorter-scale scenario. We think that we have hit a nice conflict between structuring dynamics of two different scales, and that looking at the pace of evolving opinions in a region we can see which mechanism dominates. As for Galicia, everything seems to indicate that our different regions do not talk to each other that much, and that the internal structure of each area (down to our nearest social network) has been the leading constrain in our decision making. We hope that in the future we can keep looking at language shift and other opinion dynamics to test the structure of human organization – we like to think that our research brings up more questions than it settles.


The authors: Mariamo Mussa Juane, Luis F. Seoane, Alberto P. Muñuzuri & Jorge Mira

Alberto Perez Muñuzuri

Prof. in Physics, Univ. of Santiago de Compostela

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