What is a map? Typically people might assume that a map has to be an outright depiction that clearly shows the reader to a destination. Today I present something that might not usually be counted as a map: an image depicting the growth and history of old-world European languages. This image might not appear to be a map on the surface, as it contains very few instances of typical map components, such as landmasses or cardinal directions, etc. However, I believe that this can be considered a map despite its lack of typical map pieces, because the basis behind its main point is to help aid and guide its viewers towards understanding the foundation of language and its originations in Europe. In addition, just as a landmass might signify that a certain group of people would live there, the leaves on the trees of this map similarly describe how a certain linguistic group occupies space together; these groupings can be seen akin to any geographic collection of people. Just as any other “traditional” map’s main focus is to help its readers reach a certain location, such as a country or an island, this map is similarly focused on bringing its readers to realizations regarding its focal point of language. As far as this point goes, its important for the reader to realize how far back they can trace their own linguistic origins, and to see how connected languages that might seem polar opposites, are.
When I first saw this map I was struck by its elegant and effective use of artistic technique, which it uses in order to facilitate the readers understanding of linguistic origins. One particular artistic piece which is most prevalent in this map is the usage of tree-imagery in order to symbolize the growth and breaking off of different sects of languages and dialects, just as branches stem off from the main trunk. For example, through this imagery, one can clearly see the monumental split in language that occurred thousands of years ago, that in turn caused a division between two entirely separate linguistic families; European and Indo-European. This tree illustration also helps the reader better understand the popularity of each language, as the thicker trunks were often more popular language families, leading to in turn, the languages with the highest popularity being accompanied by the larger leaf groups seen at the end of each branch. This effective use of foliage-based imagery aids the reader in their understanding of the map through a number of symbolic pieces. This map was certainly made for the enjoyment of the masses, as it displays a usually complicated topic very succinctly and fascinatingly enough so not to lose the readers attention. The author clearly thought to approach the map less from a scientifically correct stance and more from an artistic map that also gets the point across. A linguist might have lots of points to add to this map, but certainly the existing assumptions the map presents are also factually true.
This map has a unique ability in that it is able to show readers the true “roots” of the languages that we speak today. This map truly allowed me to see how the English I speak today shares common origins with a number of languages that I might consider quite different from English. Through its numerous artistic iconography, this map shows how language has developed, changed and evolved over time, and this stemming off of different linguistic sects allows the reader to wonder and question what might have caused these significant changes, be it cultural, ethnic or other. This map faces a number of limitations regarding the information it presents. Perhaps the most glaring limitation is the sole inclusion of Indo-European languages in the map. While the title shows that this was the aim of the mapmaker, the addition of African or other similar languages might aid greatly in helping people who might not speak one of the languages on the existing map, find their linguistic roots. In addition, the expansion of actual textual explanation regarding the expansion of languages since 0 AD would be highly beneficial, yet at the same time might jeopardize this maps artistic purpose, as it could clutter and take away from the image.