The diffusion of languages


Languages, like atoms in a solid, are constantly in motion. Katharina Prochazka and Gero Vogl have studied how exactly this language diffusion works using the example of southern Carinthia, Austria. Their results are published in PNAS this week.

Making use of methods originally developed in diffusion physics to study the motion of atoms, they built a model for the spread and retreat of languages over time and space. With this model, they were able to show that interaction with other speakers is the main factor influencing whether language shift occurs.

More information and interactive maps can be found on the project website.


  • Katharina Prochazka & Gero Vogl (2017). Quantifying the driving factors for language shift in a bilingual region. PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1617252114.
Physikalische Diffusion, die Bewegung von Atomen (links), und linguistische Diffusion, die Bewegung von Sprache(n) (rechts)