Thursday, March 7, 2013

What is "Face de Bouc"?

This recent article in French District (for French People in California) looks at how may people speak French in each of the US states. In order to do this, Facebook statistics are used, by looking at how many individuals in each state have listed French as a language. States are then ranked based on those absolute numbers. The main insights the author draws is that California has the most french speaking individuals (213,200) and Wyoming the least (1,440).

Personally, I don't find this super insightful and actually found the results to be presented in a misleading way.

There are definitely some questions we need to ask ourselves first before plunging into the data:
  • Is the proportion of Facebook users in the population the same across states? The article answers this implicitly and hints that the proportion ranges at least from a half to two-thirds.
  • Is the proportion of facebook users reporting their language the same across states? One could imagine that in more culturally diverse environments such as New York or California people might be more used to sharing this type of information.
  • The article does sometimes put the absolute number of French speakers in perspective based on the state's population. Nonetheless, the ranking in the article is based on absolute numbers. So naturally we would expect California and Wyoming to have opposite values. Does that tell us anything?

Based on the values reported in the article I was able to rank states by proportion of reported French-speaking Facebook users in the population:
State % of French-Speaking Facebook Users
District of Columbia 2.5%
New York 0.9%
Nevada 0.9%
Florida 0.7%
Hawaii 0.7%
California 0.6%
Alaska 0.5%
Illinois 0.4%
Georgia 0.4%
Louisiana 0.4%
Texas 0.3%
Pennsylvania 0.3%
Ohio 0.3%
New Jersey 0.3%
Arizona 0.3%
Wisconsin 0.3%
Oregon 0.3%
Montana 0.3%
North Dakota 0.3%
Wyoming 0.3%
Oklahoma 0.2%
Arkansas 0.2%
Mississippi 0.2%
South Dakota 0.2%

Although not perfect, this does provide a better comparison. District of Colmbia is mentioned in the original article as having the highest proportion, but nowhere does it state that this value is almost three times the value for the second highest state, New York. Definitely puts things into perspective!

And California despite having the largest absolute number is sandwiched between Hawaii and Alaska, probably not the states you would have thought of first!

Of course this ranking is only meaningful if we assume that the two previous assumptions hold on the proportions of Facebook users and language reporting are constant across states.

Oh and by the way, French people like referring to Facebook as "Face de Bouc" which sounds the same but literally means "billy goat face" :-)

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