Why do human beings speak so many languages?

Why do some places have many languages, and others only a few? Man vyiCC BY-SA

Some ideas, but little evidence

Most people can easily brainstorm possible answers to these intriguing questions. They hypothesize that language diversity must be about history, cultural differences, mountains or oceans dividing populations, or old squabbles writ large – “we hated them, so we don’t talk to them.”

The questions also seem like they should be fundamental to many academic disciplines – linguistics, anthropology, human geography. But, starting in 2010, when our diverse team of researchers from six different disciplines and eight different countries began to review what was known, we were shocked that only a dozen previous studies had been done, including one we ourselves completed on language diversity in the Pacific.

These prior efforts all examined the degree to which different environmental, social and geographic variables correlated with the number of languages found in a given location. The results varied a lot from one study to another, and no clear patterns emerged. The studies also ran up against many methodological challenges, the biggest of which centered on the old statistical adage – correlation does not equal causation.

We wanted to know the exact steps that led to so many languages forming in certain places and so few in others. But previous work provided few robust theories on the specific processes involved, and the methods used did not get us any closer to understanding the causes of language diversity patterns.

For example, previous studies pointed out that at lower latitudes languages are often spoken across smaller areas than at higher latitudes. You can fit more languages into a given area the closer you get to the equator. But this result does not tell us much about the processes that create language diversity. Just because a group of people crosses an imaginary latitudinal line on the map doesn’t mean they’ll automatically divide into two different populations speaking two different languages. Latitude might be correlated with language diversity, but it certainly did not create it.

Can a simple model predict reality?

A better way to identify the causes of particular patterns is to simulate the processes we think might be creating them. The closer the model’s products are to the reality we know exists, the greater the chances are that we understand the actual processes at work.

Two members of our group, ecologists Thiago Rangel and Robert Colwell, had developed this simulation modeling technique for their studies of species diversity patterns. But no one had ever used this approach to study the diversity of human populations.

We decided to explore its potential by first building a simple model to test the degree to which a few basic processes might explain language diversity patterns in just one part of the globe, the continent of Australia.

Map of Australia’s 406 languages before contact with Europeans. Claire Bowern, Yale University, with support from the National Science Foundation BCS-1423711CC BY

Our colleague Claire Bowern, a linguist at Yale University, created a map that shows the diversity of aboriginal languages – a total of 406 – found in Australia prior to contact with Europeans. There were far more languages in the north and along the coasts, with relatively few in the desert interior. We wanted to see how closely a model, based on a simple set of processes, could match this geographic pattern of language diversity.

Our simulation model made only three basic assumptions. First, populations will move to fill available spaces where no one else lives.

Second, rainfall will limit the number of people that can live in a place; Our model assumed that people would live in higher densities in areas where it rained more. Annual precipitation varies widely in Australia, from over three meters in the northeastern rainforests to one-tenth of a meter in the Outback.

Third, we assumed that human populations have a maximum size. Ideal group size is a trade-off between benefits of a larger group (wider selection of potential mates) and costs (keeping track of unrelated individuals). In our model, when a population grew larger than a maximum threshold – set randomly based on a global distribution of hunter-gatherer population sizes – it divided into two populations, each speaking a distinct language.

We used this model to simulate language diversity maps for Australia. In each iteration, an initial population sprung up randomly somewhere on the map and began to grow and spread in a random direction. An underlying rainfall map determined the population density, and when the population size hit the predetermined maximum, the group divided. In this way, the simulated human populations grew and divided as they spread to fill up the entire Australian continent.

Our simple model didn’t include any impact from contact among groups, changes in subsistence strategies, the effects of the borrowing of cultural ideas or components of language from nearby groups, or many other potential processes. So, we expected it would fail miserably.

Incredibly, the model produced 407 languages, just one off from the actual number.

The simulation model predicts virtually the same number of languages (407) as were observed in reality (406). Gavin et al DOI: 10.1111/geb.12563CC BY

The simulated language maps also show more languages in the north and along the coasts, and less in the dry regions of central Australia, mirroring the geographic patterns in observed language diversity.

And so for the continent of Australia it appears that a small number of factors – limitations rainfall places on population density and limits on group size – might explain both the number of languages and much of the variation in how many languages are spoken in different locations.

A simulation model based on a few simple processes predicts much of the geographic variation in language diversity in Australia. Gavin et al DOI: 10.1111/geb.12563CC BY

Applying the model elsewhere

But we suspect that the patterns of language diversity in other places may be shaped by different factors and processes. In other locations, such as Vanuatu, rainfall levels do not vary as widely as in Australia, and population densities may be shaped by other environmental conditions.

In other instances, contact among human groups probably reshaped the landscape of language diversity. For example, the spread of agricultural groups speaking Indo-European or Bantu languages may have changed the structure of populations and the languages spoken across huge areas of Europe and Africa, respectively.

Undoubtedly, a wide variety of social and environmental factors and processes have contributed to the patterns in language diversity we see across the globe. In some places topography, climate or the density of key natural resources may be more critical; in others the history of warfare, political organization or the subsistence strategies of different groups may play a bigger role in shaping group boundaries and language diversity patterns. What we have established for now is a template for a method that can be used to uncover the different processes at work in each location.

Language diversity has played a key role in shaping the interactions of human groups and the history of our species, and yet we know surprisingly little about the factors shaping this diversity. We hope other scientists will become as fascinated by the geography of language diversity as our research group is and join us in the search for understanding why humans speak so many languages.

This post originally appeared on THE CONVERSATION

6 Hashtag Campaign Tracking Tools for Social Media Marketers – Best Of

Hashtags are also a way to connect several campaigns together, even those managed offline (there are hashtags in many TV commercials as well). It all makes it obvious why every kind of business needs to treat them seriously.

However, it’s not always easy for businesses to track performance of hashtags. There’s no real data or information to be able to answer important questions like:

  • Which hashtag to use for a campaign?
  • Who else is using the same hashtag?
  • Which user segments will be attracted to this hashtag?
  • How does it perform compared to a competing hashtag for a similar campaign?

This is where I pitch in. I will tell you what are some of the best-rated tracking and analytics tools, specifically suited for tracking all your hashtag campaigns. So let’s get started.


Brand24 gives you real-time access to all mentions of your hashtag across different social media platforms. You can identify high potential influencers, get sentiment analyses for quick understanding of contextualized (negative, positive, or neutral) mentions, and respond and react to customer messages instantly.

It also allows you to distribute work across collaborators and enables grouping of results around specific keywords, topics, and word clouds.

The platform is easy and intuitive to use, quick (you get results within 5 minutes), fully automated, and comes with an accessible demo. It also differentiates itself by letting you pitch direct sales messages to people searching for your brand with information searched or purchase intent.

  • Affordable (price ranges between $49 and $399)
  • Responsive customer service.
  • Unique analytics (advanced searches queries, estimated social reach, interactivity analytics, etc.)
  • Available as both iOS and Android apps.
  • Integrated with Slack.
  • Pay-as-you-go service.
  • Comes with keyword quota limits.
  • Photo and video focused social media sources are lumped together, making it cumbersome to get a thorough understanding of the data.
  • Archives only a year’s data, which might be a concern for brands that manage social media campaigns spread over longer durations.
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Mention is an end-to-end social media monitoring and tracking suite that tracks hashtags in real time. You can either conduct online searches or can get daily alerts with aggregated information of hashtag mentions from the previous day.

Apart from providing basic data around reach and share, you can also get insights on influencer identification, frequency and volume of hashtag used, and several other important aspects. The Mention dashboard becomes your one-stop destination to manage everything about your hashtag campaigns.

By offering task assignment and work sharing features, Mention enables collaborative operations for your marketing team. You also get customized reporting and influencer scores for particular hashtag campaigns.

  • Find related stories pertaining to your hashtags.
  • Android, iOS, and Windows app.
  • Segregate positive and negative mentions through Sentiment Analysis.
  • 14-day free trial.
  • ‘Priority Inbox’ algorithm flags some unimportant mentions that may cause wastage of time and resources.
  • The user reviews of Mention mobile app are just average.

Social Studio

Powered by SalesForce, Social Studio is a social media monitoring and analytics suite that works particularly well for hashtag tracking.

Create a tracking campaign, and you will get insights from all social media accounts to get an idea of how audiences are engaging with the hashtag across platforms.

You can create fresh topics and trends using Social Studio’s customizable dashboard. You can also drill down and see post content and read every comment that mentions your hashtag.

With machine learning-powered image and sentiment analysis tool, Social Studio helps you easily understand the context in which audience discusses your hashtag. Plus, audience posts can be automatically prioritized and routed to your team members for follow up actions.

  • Fully integrated in SalesForce’s Marketing Cloud Product.
  • Unified platform to organize several social media and hashtag campaigns.
  • Easy to organize and distribute work among team mates
  • Review stats, reposts, overview, and customer or post level responses, right from the dashboard.
  • The UX is not the most convenient or impressive among similar social media listening tools.
  • There are too many hidden functionalities that make it complicated to use.
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Brandwatch helps you track social media mentions, from general comments on posts to specific conversations such as complaints. You can easily set up a dashboard for tracking a hashtag campaign in the Campaign Tracking Wizard.

It lets you use queries and operators to manage hashtag tracking campaigns as specific as you want. The Brandwatch Dashboard and Query Wizards let you provide details of the campaign, such as hashtags, campaign website, specific landing pages, and link to particular content.

Once ready, the Dashboard shows you the campaign results from last 24 hours, along with spikes and dips. You can easily use this view to understand the context of hashtag mentions and can identify influencers that might help multiply the popularity of the hashtags.

  • Easy to use Campaign Tracking Wizard.
  • Livestream Tab provides real-time mentions of hashtag campaign.
  • Insight related to key themes and content that drive engagement.
  • Brandwatch Audiences helps identify potential influencers not tapped yet.
  • Price is comparatively higher as compared to other premium tools like Brand24, for a similar package of functionalities.
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Sysomos helps you search for hashtags, create visually insightful analytics, and enables real-time listening of audience conversations around your hashtags.

Engage in conversations, publish content, and distribute work among team mates – all using this tool. Sysomos’ ‘Heartbeat’ tool monitors up to 2 years of data and real-time conversations in 190+ languages. It checks all social media platforms, popular blogs, and news sources to curate the information.

You can easily tag different conversations and compare them against one another to identify opportunities for engagement.

  • Advanced campaign monitoring and tracking.
  • Analyze competing hashtags.
  • Identify influencers.
  • Real-time alerts to manage crises situations.
  • Workflow management, in-app reporting, content creation, and community analyses.
  • Data visualizations tend to take a bit longer.
  • The prices tend to mount quickly as you scale up the features.
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Talkwalker tracks hashtags used across social media platforms, online news portals, blogs, and forums. It covers 150 million websites, dozens of languages, offline as well as online channels, including TV and radio broadcasts.

Its proprietary image recognition technology, superb analytics, and automated reports make it a great hashtag tracking and analytics tool.

  • Single dashboard to show all hashtag campaign metrics.
  • Benchmarking and competitor analysis.
  • Insights on top performing channels, reach and engagement, and influencer identification.
  • Sentiment analysis and reporting capabilities are not quite powerful as compared to other tools in this list.
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Concluding thoughts

Though there are dozens of potent social media analytics tools, not all of them deliver great results when it comes to tracing and analyzing hashtags.

However, the tools discussed in this guide have proven effective in helping marketers quickly manage multiple hashtag campaigns and get great results powered by the insight these tools can produce. In my experiments with all these tools, Brand24 was the easiest and also the most empowering to work with.

This post originally appeared on HONGKIAT