There is a myriad of difficulties in overlaying language data with geographical data. But it has be done and can be done. While I was working in México on a language documentation project, I learned that some of the language mixing (not quite diglossia, rather the living of two people groups with different languages in the same spaces) was due geographical factors and economical factors pulling them into the same geographic locations. In the particular case I am thinking of there was a mountain pass and a valley on the way to the major center of trade. In this sort of context the interesting things are displayed not when a polygon is drawn showing a territorial overlay of where various language speakers living, but where something is drawn showing what the density or population dispersion per general population is. Some of the most detailed (in terms of global perspective) language maps can be found in the Ethnologue[ref 1] .
I am generally on the look out for web apps and APIs which can be used to overlay data to bring new insights to situations through graphical representations. I recently found a tool for overlaying data on Google Maps. This tool creates heat maps given data from another source. This tool is called gHeat. This tool was brough to my attention by Been O’Steen as he modified gHeat to display some prices for student properties[ref 4] in the UK. My initial thought was: “Wow how can we do language maps like this?”Obviously I still think that language based heat maps could prove to provide language workers world wide access to visualizations of data that could really add clarity to the language vitality situation.
- Lewis, M. Paul (ed.). 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. ↩
- Map of Languages in Western Mexico in the Ethnologue. [Accessed: 9 September 2011] http://www.ethnologue.com/show_map.asp?name=MX&seq=30. [Link] ↩
- Map of Languages in the Americas in the Ethnologue. [Accessed: 9 September 2011] http://www.ethnologue.com/show_map.asp?name=Americas&seq=10. [Link] ↩
- Ben O’Steen. 2011. Student Property Heatmap. Random Hacks: Hacks, code and other things. [Accessed: 2 September 2011] http://benosteen.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/student-property-heatmap . [Link] ↩