Imagine being able to visualize a language without having to read five textbooks.

A whimsical approach to a complicated concept

The process of how to best document and preserve an endangered language is no mystery to linguists. Researchers and field linguists rely on data and metadata to inform and collaborate with others in hopes of preserving a language.

However, there is much debate on how to best create long-lasting, meaningful linguistic data that can be re-used and expanded upon in the future with ease.

What if we could see this data from another perspective? What if we could visualize the data in a new way that could shed light on how to better future-proof our efforts?

A few essential questions that I explore in this project: 1) How can we visualize a language and why is this concept significant? 2) Can we create linguistic data that is lasting, flexible, and interactive?

A berry interesting timeline: the role of technology in linguistic domains

This timeline is a brief overview of important technologies that have been used in linguistic domains such as second language acquisition and language documentation. I covered the 20th-21st century simply because this is the period in which modern linguistics has become heavily developed and broadened.

  • Textbooks, chalkboard, and gramophones, oh my!

    Language textbooks have been around for a while. Chalkboards and blackboards were core tools of the American classroom after it was introduced to the U.S. in 1801. Gramophone records - which were integrated into linguistic research and teaching in the mid 1900s - were also a key audio technology used for recording and listening to native accents and languages and other phonological studies.

  • Audiolingual method and magnetic tape

    The Audiolingual method - also known as the "Army Method" - is a behaviorist approach to teaching foreign languages. The audiolingual method became popular in the 1940s because of World War II translation and interpretation needs. The first tape recorder was also developed in the late 40s and brought sweeping changes to the radio and recording industry. For the first time, sound could be edited on the spot - recorded, re-recorded, duplicated.

  • Slide projectors and color TV

    Slide projectors were often used to present information in the classroom via pictures (slides) and was the predecessor of the overhead projector.

  • Audio tape recorders and SYSTRAN

    SYSTRAN, founded in 1969 by Dr. Peter Toma is one of the oldest machine translation companies. Many compaines - including Google Translate until 2007 - use SYSTRAN for international translation.

  • First game console and Personal Computer

    In 1972 the very first personal game console - the Magnavox Odyssey, followed shortly after by Atari - was released along with the first personal computer with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) - the Xerox Alto.

  • Video game popularization

    After experiencing exciting success and attention, the gaming industry experienced a serious recession between 1983-1985 commonly known as the Video Game Crash of 1983, or "Atari Shock." Recovery occurred a couple of years later after the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Ever since, the video game industry has increased in popularity and was estimated in 2010 to be worth a whopping 25.1 Billion.

  • First Web Browser, PC gaming, and Rosetta Stone V.1

    In 1990, the very first web browser was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and soon after in 1993, Mosaic became the first popular web browser. In 1996, the first version of Rosetta Stone was released and available on CD-ROM.

  • Web 2.0, Google Translate, and first iPhone / iPad

    The first generation iPhone came out in 2007 and the first generation iPad came out in 2010 ( Here is a lovely timeline depicting the history of Apple devices). Also in 2007, Google Translate for the first time would use proprietary, in-house technology based on statistical machine translation instead of SYSTRAN.

  • Mobile apps and Gamification

    Duolingo is a popular second language learning application that can be accessed on your desktop or mobile device. This app is also aquality example of “gamification” - where elements of game design are used in a variety of contexts. Another noteworthy app that focuses on educational games in language learning is MindSnacks.

Creating flexible, interactive models for the future

Endangered language documentation

One main concern for endangered language documentation is being able to create lasting, multipurpose data that can be re-used and expanded upon in the future with relative ease. The goal for these models is to create a flexible data structure that can adapt to different linguistic methodologies and mediums. In order to allow for future collaborations or continuations of previous linguistic research, the linguistic data must be able to survive years of innovation and technological change.

Flexibility also facilitates versatile applications and enables us to look at language differently. Perhaps we might discover new insights and connections around linguistic data that we haven't seen before.

Second language acquisition

These models can also be used as a supplemental tool for language learning. The interactive interface induces the learner to explore and browse - something that is in many ways superior to a textbook. The visual hierarchy is easily accessible, allowing for quicker comprehension and spatial learning. Furthermore, these models also exercise personalized learning; different learners can visualize the information in a way that best suits their learning style.

Even as I was building the JSON data file for the models, my understanding of English Linguistics quickly expanded. Incorporating different languages is the next step in testing its flexibility.

The story

I’m really lucky. I get to combine my two biggest passions: linguistics and interaction design. I get to work with linguistic theories and data as well as design models with interactivity that function as a solution together.

When I was young, my father worked for a Japanese company and would travel there a few times a year. He would bring back stories, pictures, food, and language. I remember practicing phrases with him with his audio tapes. Ever since then, I've been culturally and linguistically sensitive.

Now I'm a senior undergraduate majoring in Emerging Media and Communications at UT Dallas. Originally being an arts major, I have successfully transitioned into interdisciplinary research that allows me to use a broad set of skills and learn something new everyday.

I was recently accepted into The JET Program (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program) and will move to Japan in July to participate for a year. I not only want to test what I’ve created on real students learning English, but pursue fluency in Japanese and continue research for this project.

What makes up a language?

Jammin' Resources

Berry Cool Things

Key Reads and References