STATEMENT OF PROPOSED STUDY OR RESEARCHPamela Fox | Australia | Computer SciencesA World Wide Web of Comparative Linguistics
The goal of this project is to develop a visual interface that allows theuser to input a desired word in an available language and interactively view theetymological history of that word displayed visually on a map of the world. There areseveral objectives to this project: developing an intuitive visual interface for displayingetymological information to non-linguists in an entertaining yet educational way;increasing a sense of global connectedness by showing how languages are intertwinedwith one another; discovering the best techniques for describing to a computer databasehow words in different languages are connected to one another; realizing the mostefficient method for storing words and discovering connections.
For example, after inputting “pass” in English, the systemwould draw an arrow from England to France, which would display “passer,” and then toItaly, which would display “passus.” Mousing over any word would display informationon its meaning and language (e.g. “step” and “Latin” for “passer”). By clicking on a wordfrom one of the non-modern languages and choosing the "Find Descendants option", thesystem would then find all words that derived from that word. For example, clicking onthe Latin “passus” would then show the user that the Spanish word “paso” and thatanother English word “pace” were derived from it. The user would then realize thatmodern-day “pace” and “paso” share a related meaning because of their commonancestor, and can be called cognates, words or morphemes related by derivation, borrowing, or descent. The system would include an option that would force the systemto automatically search for and display all the possible cognates to the user. For wordsthat are simply borrowed from another language with no derivational change (called“loan words”), a visually distinct arrow would be used to represent that type of connection. It is of note that typical dictionaries only give ancestral etymology for agiven word, but since this system will combine the etymological knowledge of everyword, it can easily provide descendant information as well (the forward links).
These are several extensions I’ve already thought of; Iexpect more to arise while I am conducting the research. When the information isavailable to do so, a word could be broken down into its roots, and the user could find theevolutionary information of just a root. In some cases, this will reveal connections between words that would not otherwise be found when querying the entire word.In my search for related work, I was upset that I couldn’t find linguisticvisualization programs on my own until a veteran of the field gave me links. It seems tome that research with an interactive nature should be made easily available for itsaudience to use and evaluate, and so I would code my program’s visual interface in aweb-accessible format (e.g. Flash, Java). To further increase its interactivity, I wouldmake it possible for certain users (e.g. linguists) to input their own linguistic knowledgeinto the system. So the project would also be an experiment in the programming of dynamic and interactive programs, which I see as a new paradigm for research in theInternet age.
The Tower of Babel (A) is an interactive etymological database, but it doesn’t display the information visually, and is clearly only designed for a technicalcrowd because it expects knowledge of specialized jargon and isn’t user friendly.The Visual Thesaurus (B) is a fun interactive visual tool for displayingsynonymy/antonymy between words in the English language. Kirrkirr (C) is a similar