Francis Deblauwe of Word Face-Off (“Comparing the evolution in internet-popularity of words and phrases”) has had the excellent idea of comparing the popularity of multilingual synonyms in multilingual countries in this post, “Library vs. Bibliothèque vs. Bibliotheek vs. Bibliothek in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland.” A sample finding:

In Canada, approximately 75% of the population speaks English and 25% French. When doing a Google Insights for Search test for the same word in both languages, limited geographically to internet users from Canada, one would expect to see proportional Google-popularity. For instance, we would expect to find library and bibliothèque in a 75%/25% proportion. Instead, the actual overall proportion (2004-present) was 94%/6%. Odd! However, the second test with bookstore/bookshop and librairie came out with a perfect 75%/25% split. I would guess that this inconsistency might have something to do with a too limited data set for Google searches in Canada, rather than a cultural distinction…

The graphs for Belgium and Switzerland are also interesting.


  1. A couple of factors to consider:
    1. Google differentiates between “bibliothèque” and “bibliotheque” without the accent; his search omitted the accentless word. If you add “bibliotheque” to the Canadian search, the ratio changes to 90/10 for “library” vs. “bibliotheque+bibliothèque”.
    2.French is the preferred language of 21.5% of the Canadian population (Wikipedia), not 25%. Francophones may well tend to do many English searches, while Anglophones, one would think, do relatively fewer French searches.
    3.Searches that include “library” and “bibliothèque” are going to include many searches for specific libraries, like the Vancouver Library, while perhaps searches for “libraire” and “bookstore” include more generic searches for things like “bookstore Vancouver” rather than specific stores. So it’s a different type of search that yields a different result. IOW, Anglophones and Francophones are equally likely to search for a bookstore in their native language, accounting for the expected 75/25 ratio. But many Francophones search for English-named libraries, causing a 90/10 skew in that pair.
    4. There’s a significant wage gap in Canada between Anglophones and Francophones, which reflects differences in educational levels. This obviously will influence search patterns as well.

  2. Well explicated, sir!

  3. The Swiss graph for Buchhandlung would probably look less skewed if he’d take Buchladen as a synonym.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I will revise the graphs accordingly.

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