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.
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.
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.
Man Across Europe
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.
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.
In this post I take a look at some of the software needs of a language documentation team. One of my ongoing concerns of linguistic software development teams (like SIL International's Palaso or LSDev, or MPI's archive software group, or a host of other niche software products adapted from main stream open-source projects) is the approach they take in communicating how to use the various elements of their software together to create useful workflows for linguists participating in field research on minority languages. Many of these software development teams do not take the approach that potential software users coming to their website want to be oriented to how these software solutions work together to solve specific problems in the language documentation problem space. Now, it is true that every language documentation program is different and will have different goals and outputs, but many of these goals are the same across projects. New users to software want to know top level organizational assumptions made by software developers. That is, they want to evaluate how software will work in a given scenario (problem space) and to understand and make informed decisions based on the eco-system that the software will lead them into. This is not too unlike users asking which is better Android or iPhone, and then deciding what works not just with a given device but where they will buy their music, their digital books, and how they will get those digital assets to a new device, when the phone they are about to buy no-longer serves them. These digital consequences are not in the mind of every consumer... but they are nonetheless real consequences. Continue reading →
As linguistics and language documentation interface with digital humanities there has been a lot of effort to time-align texts and audio/video materials. At one level this is rather trivial to do and has the backing of comercial media processes like subtitles in movies. However, at another level this task is often done in XML for every project (digital corpus curation) slightly differently. At the macro-scale the argument is that if the annotation of the audio is in XML and someone wants to do something else with it, then they can just convert the XML to whatever schema they desire. This is true.
However, one antidotal point that I have not heard in discussion of time aligned texts is specifications for Audio Dominant Text vs. Text Dominant Audio. This may not initially seem very important, so let me explain what I mean. Continue reading →
When I was in México, working with a team doing language documentation we visited a community workshop where the community organizer was promoting the language through a dictionary creation effort. I was interesting to see the various bi-lingual teachers come together and discuss a proposed entry and the definition.
Meꞌphaa group working on dictionary
There were several interesting aspects of the social interaction: there was the political unity in the perception that they were all there for the good of their language, there was the social unity because they were mostly there because they were in state jobs as teachers or school administrators. But perhaps more socially significant was the perception that the workshop leader had skills in organizing a dictionary. (Nothing wrong with this perception and it is probably an accurate perception.) Yet, it was not the only perception which was at play in the social interactions. There was also the cultural age based and social ranking based way of coming to a consensus about what did a particular Meꞌphaa (or any given) word mean. It is kind of this unspoken tension between the eldest in the group who would culturally have the authority or provide a stamp of approval, the workshop "dictionary expert", and the average participant who has to decide if they agree or disagree with whom and if they are going to show it. Continue reading →
This week I have been outlining the types of data that linguists need to be able to use and relate to each other as they do Language Documentation and Linguistic Research. I try to express these things graphically and then also express where some of the leading tools which SIL International is offering sit in the problem space.
The Data Management Space for linguists with SIL software.