Friday, May 28, 2004

Spam as a Barometer of Linguistic Influence

Just a quick thought: what does it say about the commercial importance of English that something like 90% of all spam sent and received everywhere in the world is in that language? Why have I never yet once recieved a single spam message in any other language?

I have a hypothesis to offer, which is that spammers, being both extremely avaricious and operating outside the boundaries of the law, feel no need to meet any obligations to "linguistic diversity" or any of the other non-pecuniary considerations which most legitimate business operations have to bother with. As far as spammers are concerned, English is the language that offers by far the most reach to the customers most worth having, and speakers of other languages are simply not valuable enough a market to bother targeting* their efforts towards. In a sense, one might call spam the ultimate wealth-weighted index of linguistic reach.

*Of course, spam is by definition the very opposite of targeted advertising, but one would still think that greedy spammers would like to reach as many gullible people as possible, and the gullible are a lot less likely to be polyglots than your netwise sorts. What is more, virtually every single one of the c. 100 million German-speakers there are in the world lives in a wealthy country, while several hundred million English-speaking recipients of spam are relatively indigent Third Worlders. Were I a spammer, Japan, Germany, Austria and Switzerland would be my top targets on demograpic grounds alone.