Spatial Visualization and Language Documentation

Kristine A. Hildebrandt                 (

Course goals

Maps and atlases (collections of maps) can be an important and extremely useful part of the toolkit for examining and interpreting variation and change in language documentation and in projects aimed at maintenance, promotion or revitalization. They allow for orderly and illuminating generalizations to be drawn from often unruly distributions of patterns. They also allow for a birds-eye view of patterns across large populations or large geographic and temporal spaces. Although maps cannot tell the whole story behind languages and varieties, they are one way in which we can provide context or approach explanation for interesting or unexpected patterns or phenomena.

Traditionally, map-making has been the sole domain of cartographers or those with large grant budgets, but with new advances in free, shareable technology that is easy to learn, interactive spatial visualization of language data is possible at all levels of organization, from multi-collaborator to the individual. This four-part workshop will introduce participants to the ways that maps and atlases have been used in language research and community outreach.

Course materials

We will work with information in these articles/chapters:

  1. Auer, P. and J.E. Schmidt. 2009. Introduction: Language and Space. p. 1-19 in Auer and Schmidt (eds.) Language and Space: An International Handbook of Linguistic Variation. Volume 1: Theories and Methods. Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.
  2. Dransch, D. 2000. The use of different media in visualizing spatial data. Computers and Geosciences 26: 5-9.
  3. Gregory, I.N. and A. Hardie. 2011. Visual GISting: Bringing together corpus linguistics and Geographical Information Systems. Literary and Linguistic Computing 26:3 297-314.
  4. Hildebrandt, K.A. and S. Hu. 2013. Multimedia mapping on the internet and language documentation: New directions in interndisciplinarity. Polymath 3:3 51-61.
  5. Hoch, S. and J.J. Hayes. 2010. Geolinguistics: The incorporation of Geographic Information Systems and science. The Geographical Bulletin 51: 23-36.
  6. Upton, C. 2010. Designing maps for non-linguists. p. 142-157 in Auer and Schmidt (eds.) Language and Space: An International Handbook of Linguistic Variation. Volume 2: Language Mapping. Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.
  7. van Uytvanck, D., A. Dukers, J. Ringersma and P. Trilsbeek. 2008. Language sites: Accessing and presenting language resources via Geographic Information Systems. MPI manuscript.
Supplies needed

A laptop would be useful 

Student learning objectives

Students will:

  • Gain an overview of maps and map-making in the humanities and in linguistics
  • Learn about ways that digital maps are now being used in language documentation, with examples from around the world
  •  Learn to manipulate existing online digital maps and atlases, with an eye to identifying the strengths and drawbacks, and also how they might design a map for their own documentation, revitalization or planning work.
  •  Learn to create a basic online language and/or dialect map
  •   Learn to incorporate selected audio and visual material into their map
Instructional methods

This course will be a combination of lecture, large- and small-group discussion, and hands-on activities


Workshops will be Pass/Fail: Full attendance is required for a pass in any workshop. Students will also choose one of the following:

  1.    Work in a small group to prepare one of the class readings for discussion and presentation to the larger group, or,
  2.    Demonstrate an existing or newly created online language/dialect map to the class at the end of the workshop, including explanation of content, layout and tools/resources involved in construction of the map
Disabilities services

The Office of Disability Services implements the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and insures that UAF students have equal access to the campus and course materials.  The instructor will work with the Office of Disabilities Services (208 WHIT, 474-5655) to provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities.