We have all heard of a family tree, right? It is simply an illustration that shows a family’s ancestry, usually used to uncover, preserve and share their history. They are usually wider at the top than the bottom and closely resemble a tree in shape. Well, Minna Sundberg, an illustrator, and creator of the comic series Stand Still. Stay Silent decided to take thing a bit further and put together an illustration of a language family tree [1].

Beautiful and functional
Most language family trees are created by linguists as a way to show the historical relationship between different languages of the world. However, these images tend to be drab and downright boring, this led Sundberg to create a much more imaginative version to show readers why some of her comic characters could converse with each other unimpeded even though they spoke different languages.

Sundberg’s webcomic incorporates several Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish element and she wanted to show how closely related these languages were to each other. She originally wanted to show the distinct roots of Finnish but ended up accomplishing more than just that.

The resulting language family tree is incredibly detailed; showing, in addition to the languages themselves, how closely related they were, where they split and broke off, and a rough estimate of many people speak each language. This beats lessons on language families with a simple tree diagram that contains all the necessary information but lacks imagination [2].

Language roots and stems
Sundberg’s language family tree is actually two trees: a large one on the right (Indo-European) and a smaller one on the right showing the Uralic ancestor of Finnish and Hungarian. The Indo-European tree splits into the European and the Indo-Iranian languages, with the European arm of the tree splitting off into the Germanic, Romance, and Slavic branches. The language tree continues onto show the history of today’s popular languages including English, German, Spanish, Russian, Hindi, Bengali, and Panjabi with various splits and branches along the way.

The bottom half of the illustration gives a deeper insight into the history and family of Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish languages, which was the whole point of the illustration in the first place. The size of the leaves on each branch is intended to show a rough estimate of the number of people who speak each language.

Finally, the illustration also shows the size of each language relative to others in its era as well as their roots. What catches the eye, however, is the level of detail and research that must have gone into creating something as beautiful as this; Especially since it is intended to be used for educational purposes.

Show some love
Click on this link If you want to learn more about the Nordic languages (and see a beautiful illustration of a Danish cat with a painted tail). Sundberg illustrates a webcomic series that you definitely should check out here. You can also find some of her previous works here.

References:

  1. A language family tree – in pictures“, The Guardian. January, 2015.
  2. Feast Your Eyes on This Beautiful Linguistic Family Tree“, Mentalfloss. October, 2014.
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