New York Times online articles to become paid, and...

Friday, January 22, 2010

The New York Times is planning to phase in a system whereupon those that view over a certain number of articles online have to pay for more, which means we won't get any more stellar analysis like this. It's an article on the growing popularity of Chinese in public schools in the US, but for the majority of the languages surveyed the numbers are far too low to really make a meaningful comparison. I'll turn their chart around a bit, ordering it by the percentage of schools that teach certain languages instead of the percentage change over a decade:

1) Spanish - 93% (no change)
2) French - 46% (-18%)
3) German - 14% (-10%)
4) Latin - 13% (-7%)
5) Chinese - 4% (+3%)
6) Italian - 4% (1%)
7) Japanese - 3% (-4%)
8) Hebrew - 1% (+0.8%)
9) Greek - 0.7% (-0.3%)
10) Russian - 0.3% (-2.7%)

The problem with the article is that it is too much hype - it takes a 3% rise in Chinese and draws some pretty grandiose conclusions from the number. Chinese as a language certainly deserves a fairly high percentage, but there's no reason to conclude that these numbers really have much to do with any geopolitical reality. Case in point: Russian has fallen from 3% to 0.3% during a decade in which it has posted some pretty solid growth. Italian is also up a bit for some reason, but Italy hasn't really changed over the past decade.

At the very least Spanish is maintaining a high position, so Americans are aware of the value of that language. French dropping down so much is a bit odd though since Quebec hasn't gone anywhere and neither has France or the rest of the world. Perhaps French is just sinking down to a more representative level, as the former 60% might have been a tad high.

Finally, the numbers for Latin are also a bit odd, because all other sources show it to be on the rise - enrollment in the UK is way up, and the number of people taking APL Latin in the US has increased by 50% over the past decade.


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