Visualizing Genetic Language Relations in Geographic Space

AVML - Advances in Visual Methods for Linguistics
24-26 September 2014, Tübingen

Johann-Mattis List /
Thomas Mayer /


What can visual analytics contribute?

  • Interaction

  • Transition

Towards an interactive representation of language history

  • Combining an areal representation with

  • a genealogical representaion

Sunburst visualization

  • A sunburst visualization (Stasko and Zhang 2000) is a radial space-filling visualization technique for displaying hierarchical structures.
  • A sunburst is similar to a treemap, except it uses a radial layout.
Stasko, John and Eugene Zhang. 2000. Focus+context display and navigation techniques for enhancing radial, space-filling hierarchy visualizations. In Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization, 57–65. Los Alamitos CA: IEEE Computer Society.

Sunburst example

The WALS Sunburst Explorer

Mayer, Thomas, Bernhard Wälchli, Christian Rohrdantz and Michael Hund. 2014. From the extraction of continuous features in parallel texts to visual analytics of heterogeneous areal-typological datasets. In Nolan, Brian and Carlos Pascual-Periñán (eds.), Language processing and grammars: The role of functionally oriented computational models (SLCS) (Serie: Studies in Language). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 13-38.

Voronoi tesselation


  • The tool is implemented in JavaScript using the D3.js library (Bostock et al. 2011)
  • The map is generated with TopoJSON
  • The voronoi tesselation is created with the D3.geom.voronoi() method

Bostock, Michael, Vadim Ogievetsky and Jeffrey Heer. 2011. D3: Data-driven documents. IEEE Transactions on Visualization & Computer Graphics (Proc. InfoVis), 17(12), 2301–2309.

TREX - Tree Explorer


  • Interactive visualizations can help to detect interesting aspects in the data
  • Transitions in the visualization help the user to track the changes in the visual display
  • A proper representation of language change involves interactive visualizations

Thank you for your attention!