Bulanjdjan just reminded me of something I have wanted to do for a while now, and this afternoon I managed to do it.

What I’m referring to is using Google Earth to map a linguistic boundary, to show where a language was traditionally spoken, or to show which land is traditionally associated with which language or languages. By way of example, the red blob in this Google Earth file represents where Wagiman was traditionally spoken, at least as far as AIATSIS is concerned.

Paul has a pretty good step-by-step in a comment at Jabal al-Lughat about how exactly to do this, except I didn’t think about the importance of including a landmark or two so you can easily get the image in exactly the right location in Google Earth. I had to flip back and forth from Photoshop to line up my image correctly with the different satellite images.

This is of course, not the first time I’ve used Google Earth for linguistic purposes. Almost a year ago I collated all the public information¹ that I could that related to place names in the traditional languages of Sydney, and I put them all into another Google Earth file. Except the spelling conventions that the dual-naming board decided on left a lot to be desired: Meeliyahwool?!

Anyway, there are plenty of possibilities for applications of this kind. Imagine if similar images were created for every language in Australia, or even other parts of the country, and the transparency of an image depended on the severity of endangerment; the more highly endangered, the more faded the image, just like in Back to the Future. That way, people could look at a map of Australia and visually gauge just how much language we have lost.


¹I want to stress that all of this – the Sydney place names and the traditional Wagiman land – is publicly accessible information. I’m not making any claims as to land ownership or anything like that, and I’m certainly not responsible for any inaccuracies.