Data Visualization

La Lettura – Corriere della Sera


Client: La Lettura – Corriere della Sera

In April 2020 we started a cooperation with Corriere della Sera’s weekend cultural insert, La Lettura.

Corriere della Sera is the largest and most sold Italian newspaper. Its weekend insert is broadly considered one of the best and most-read weekend editions, and for around 10 years it has displayed every week a different data visualization works by some of the most important information designers in Italy.

This series has been sparked by our proposal about a bunch of visualizations regarding Linguistics, its concepts, and theories. The original idea, researches, and design are entirely from Dataspoiler’s founder Marco Giannini.

Toponomastica Italiana”, (Italian Toponymy), number 438, 18th of April, 2020

The toponyms are grouped together according to three historical phases (Pre-Latin, Latin, and Medieval Italy) in which they would have originated, and reported on the current council boundaries which still retain their trace in form of the termination of the name (suffix) or internal part (infix). The total figure for each category is displayed at the end of the arrows.

Original names of the most important settlements are fully shown in the respective form transmitted (and in brackets in the current Italian version). The names subsequently adopted are omitted (e.g. such as the new Latin names imposed on existing cities, which the Romans conquered during the expansion phase, 5th-2nd century BC). For the sake of simplicity, Sardinia has been excluded, whose original language (Protosardo or Paleosardo) is poorly known.

The populations considered: Ligurians, Etruscans, Greeks, Celts, Latins, Byzantine Greeks, Germanic populations (in particular Longobards and Goths). Settlements (and toponymic outcomes) of other populations that on various times occupied parts of Italy, including the Phoenicians, Umbrians, Sabines, Volsci, are left out.

“Termini di parentela” (Kinship terms), number 446, 13th of June 2020

This infographic shows kinship names in 7 different European languages; three of them are neo-Latin languages, three are Germanic languages, and one is Slavic.
Terms are organized in circumferences: from the ‘io’ who observes his family around, to (part of) the fourth degree on the most external ring. There’s also a broad, vertical organization according to the temporal sequence of the generations, from ancestors (above the ‘io’) to heirs (below). Same-generation relatives show approximately at the same height.

The lemmas of origin (from Latin or Proto-Germanic) are reported near to each node, whether they are known or reconstructed.

In the lower-left corner, the recurring affixes that mark the distance of degree of relationship and kinship acquired are lined up in a table; Germanic languages show a greater analogy than Latin languages, and a substantial equivalence between direct and ‘related’ relatives, who are classified as blood relatives (French beau/belle or English. –in-law). Finally, a small pie chart showing the percentage of consanguinity with the ‘io’ is added to each node.

“Gli alfabeti nella storia e chi li ha decifrati” (Alphabets in history, and who deciphered them), number 473, 20th of December, 2020

This infographic shows a wide collection of writing systems, arranged according to their respective phylogenetic relationships. Lines skirting the outer edge represent existing systems, while those that stop earlier refer to systems that are no longer in use.

We are able to read most of the systems nowadays, and connect to languages that have been or are still spoken. The few still unknown are labeled in black, those only partially know are labeled in dark grey.
Some systems are linked to the names of the scholars who deciphered them and made them intelligible. and the date they succeeded, some others are linked to the historical figures who created them out of the blue.

Upper right, there are two keys about the writing direction and the type of writing system. All the writing systems – as they are overall defined by scholars, who avoid using the word alphabet instead – presents a range of different solutions for the sake of communicating a meaning: ideographic (each linguistic sign representing a unique concept), logographic (each sign representing a concept and a sound, normally the initial sound of the word associated with the concept), alphabetic (each sign representing a sound or a combination of sounds), syllabic (each sign representing at least a consonant sound plus a vowel), abjad (signs represent only the consonants, no vowels expressed) and abugida (consonants plus diacritic marks that refer to vowels).

This art piece has been conceived as part of a series about visual linguistics and follows the previous visualizations on toponymy and kinship names. Idea, researches, and design are original.

“La tutela delle lingue regionali o minoritarie nella UE” (Protection of regional/minority languages in the EU”), number 486, 20 March, 2021.

In many European areas live and thrive populations who use a language other than that of the majority. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) is an international treaty promoted by the Council of Europe and signed in Strasbourg in 1992, aimed at protecting regional or minority languages as part of the European cultural heritage, and promoting their use in life public and private.

The dataviz shows the estimated number of native speakers per each of the languages taken into consideration in the 27 countries of the European Union.
Each square – representing a country – is proportioned to the speaking population. The white part represents the number of native speakers who use the country’s official language (or in some cases, more than one official language) as their mother tongue. The smaller colored areas represent native speakers of minority or regional languages.
Around any square, the percentage of minority language native speakers is shown either in red for protected languages, or in black for unprotected languages.

Well, but what is a minority or regional language?
A) “regional or minority language” means a language: i) traditionally used in the territory of a State by citizens who form a numerically smaller group than the rest of the State’s population; ii) other than the official language (s) of that State; this expression does not include the dialects of the official language (s) of the State or the languages of the migrants.
B) “Territory in which a regional or minority language is used” means the geographical area in which this language is the expression of a number of people such as to justify the adoption of different protection and promotion measures provided for in ECRML; c) “non-territorial languages” means the languages used by some citizens of the State that differ from the language (s) used by the rest of the population of that State but which, although traditionally used in the territory of the State, cannot be linked to a particular geographical area of the State.

And what does it mean ‘protected language’?
The different situations across Europe can offer an array of cases, but, to make it short, a protected minority language normally presents:
– recognized bilingual communities;
– official documents translated into it;
– a status under which citizens can address the authorities in their own language, and demand answers in the same language;
– multilingual road signs;
– authorization for school teaching in the language.

Over 40 million EU citizens use these regional languages to a greater or lesser extent, as well as the official language of the State. However, not all states in which regional languages coexist with national ones have granted them co-official status. While Germany, Spain, and others have done so, some countries do not provide legislative recognition to minority languages at all. There’s also a bunch of countries that didn’t ratify ECRML, but provided some sort of legislative protection, even inheriting it from state laws previous to ECRML, though co-official status is not recognized so far.

These countries include France, Italy, and Greece. The Belgian case is more complex, since the country is divided into linguistic political areas. And in Luxembourg, the official language is Luxembourgish, but official documents come in German and French.

This dataviz has been conceived as part of a series about visual linguistics and follows the previous visualizations on toponymy and kinship names. The original idea, researches, and design are from me. More and more coming, hopefully.

“Le parole degli animali” (on the topic of communication in the animal kingdom and how it compares with human language), number 500, 24 June, 2021.

The set of ‘design features’ which was proposed by Charles F. Hockett in the 1960s remains probably the most influential means of approaching animal communication and evaluating how it compares in its many forms with human language. Although Hockett’s perspective was restrained by his focus on the code itself rather than the cognitive abilities of its users, some of his observations still look astounding.

First, the overall vision is interpreted as a vantage point:
‘Although the comparative method of linguistics, as has been shown, throws no light on the origin of language, the investigation may be furthered by a comparative method modeled on that of the zoologist. The frame of reference must be such that all languages look alike when viewed through it, but such that within it human language as a whole can be compared with the communicative system of other animals […]’

Secondarily, the point on semanticity:
‘‘[…] Specialization refers to the fact that the bodily effort and spreading sound waves of speech serve no function except as signals. A dog, panting with his tongue hanging out, is performing a biologically essential activity, since this is how dogs cool themselves off and maintain the proper body temperature. The panting dog incidentally produces sound, and thereby may inform other dogs (or humans) as to where he is and how he feels. But this transmission of information is strictly a side effect. Nor does the dog’s panting exhibit the design feature of “semanticity”. It is not a signal meaning that the dog is hot; it is part of being hot’.

Hockett also made clear how these features connect to form systems that have a clear communicative functionality, some of them being even open systems, which means, new signs can be created inside them:

‘It should be noted that some of these 13 design-features are not independent. In particular, a system cannot be either arbitrary or nonarbitrary unless it is semantic, and it cannot have a duality of patterning unless it is semantic’.

This dataviz has been conceived as part of a series about visual linguistics and follows the previous visualizations on various topics. The original idea, researches, and design are from me.

“Pregiudizi di genere e struttura delle lingue” (on the topic of gendered stereotypes and their distribution in 25 different languages), number 510, 4 September, 2021.

Can the language we speak influence our way of thinking? Does talking about inanimate objects connoting them with grammatical gender as if they were male or female actually push us to think that inanimate objects have a gender? Several kinds of research show that these implicit associations are encoded in the language we speak, or more precisely, in statistics of the language we speak. And they also suggest that the languages that most connote gender in some specific terminology, e.g. in the work and employment field, are those whose speakers have more ingrained implicit judgments. Like they were forced to express their preconceptions about gender and how every gender fits different roles in society.

This trait is embedded in many languages, and plays a significant role in everyday life, even in small talks. Nowadays, people speaking modern languages based on Latin (i.e. Italian, Spanish, French, and others) are getting aware of possible misconceptions and how often they inadvertently express them, and trying to address their language by replacing gendered words with nongendered ones, even some small parts of them (e.g. gendered subfixes replaced by -* or -ə).

In a more sensible, scientific fashion, linguists do not address language features, whereas they agree in considering gendered word termination like ‘markings’: some languages have no neuter, and instead use masculine while not specifying any meaning about gender.

This visualization leans on the researches of several scholars (like D. Gentner, S. Meadow, M. Lewis, G. Lupyan, W. Phillips, and L. Boroditsky) in an attempt to bring on a common ground to the discussion. It has been conceived as part of a series about visual linguistics and follows the previous visualizations. The original idea, researches, and design are from me.