There have been several interesting projects which have created language use visualizations over the last few years. The Ethnologue project produces a particular kind of visualization. In the past I have talked about the need to socialize and make the data which the Ethnologue apps are based on more accurate to WGS 84. I talk about that need in two places, on insite here: Geographical Data and on my non-insite blog: https://hugh.thejourneyler.org/2012/some-current-challenges-in-using-gis-information-in-the-sil-international-corporate-knowledge-system/
There are several challenges with the basic assumptions put forward with the current Ethnologue visualizations.
- they project a language homogeny which is not necessarily accurate to real life.
- they project a geographical display which is not indicative of real language use. That is language use may actually be in digital mediums which can not be heard at certain locations.
- Ethnologue maps make no overt claims about digital communications devices and their use by minority language speakers, however, my feeling in general is that SIL (especially in our training programs) does not assume a digital device using minority language user.
One of the tools which SIL could use to inform its business intelligence is the language of use in digital social mediums. For instance Wikipedia allows any ISO 639-3 language community to form their own wikipedia. This means that all of the IP edits are recorded and public. This also means that that would give us a language use location based on IP addresses. This can then be super imposed on additional data collected from Geo-enabled tweets. With such information, prior to a survey the pre survey data available about language use (in certain contexts) just got more interesting. – if of course survey is about questions of language use.
Some people have taken to mapping Wikipedia edits. Such a map shows that there are a lot of people in a lot of places, speakers of minority languages included, who are able to edit content centrally hosted like that which is found on wikipedia. Here is a map created from the English language wikipedia, which is available from http://www.dailydot.com/society/wikipedia-conflict-map-flame-wars/.
As I state previously, the homogeneity of language use within a given geographical region is difficult to map. There are questions of speaker population density, and questions of social environments. While the Ethnologue maps are very detailed in terms of their global scope one of the challenges for this kind of visualization is expressing diversity. Below is a map of language diversity based on tweets in New York City. The power of using tweets to measure the linguistic diversity of a region is that tweets are usually connected between two or more people and reveals the social connection between those people. This is a powerful bit of information. SIL could leverage this data in several ways, one way would be to make this data available to its scripture use partners. Language may not always be a barrier to understanding the gospel but I have yet to see it not be an inroad to a relationships in and through which the gospel can not be shown or presented.
Language Diversity as demonstrated on twitter
If our conceptualization about language and its geographical distribution is at all reflected in the way that we look at Ethonlogue maps then we can often miss the wide distribution that many language communities have. For instance this language map show the use of Irish as twitter users are using it. Notice that the language is not bound to Ireland.
Something fantastic with Webonary data
The UK data explorer has a very interesting set up using a powerful (free and open) visualization software tool called D3.js The tool allows you to type in a word and see how it is spelled in a variety of languages. It uses Google Translate Check it out here: http://ukdataexplorer.com/european-translator/?word=man
WordPress is equally capable to serve up Webonary data if it is configured correctly.
Some other thoughts on linguistic cartography and the display of language vitality.
If you just like looking at language maps you might enjoy this post: https://hugh.thejourneyler.org/2012/types-of-linguistic-maps-the-mapping-of-linguistic-features/
One final thought
Here is an interesting set of maps for language use. While the Enthologue maps first language use, second language remains a mystery. These efforts are trying to add visualizations to the second most popularly spoken language for a geographical region.
- Australia: http://pappubahry.com/misc/electorate_langs/
- USA: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/05/language_map_what_s_the_most_popular_language_in_your_state.html
A second way to look at the earth is what are the places? This as been a recent hot topic in the Language Documentation circles. However, on the single language level there may or may not be a lot of interesting information to a lot of people. However, to look at the earth by which languages are taking about certain places is interesting. One point of large interaction for this conversation is wikipedia.