Language Landscape

by on June 1, 2015

What is it?

Language Landscape is a project that aims to map the distribution of languages all around the world. It is headed by a group of linguistics PhD students based in London. The Language Landscape Map seeks to represent language diversity as well as the multilingualism of societies and individuals by hosting recordings of language use mapped according to the time and place at which they were made. It is highly interactive and populated by recordings, which have been added by contributors like you. The idea is that anyone with a phone, mp3 player or device with a ‘record’ function can contribute to the map by uploading and tagging recordings of the languages you hear being spoken around you. Through this feature, the easily accessible recordings on the Language Landscape website provide a fast-developing overview of language use.

Language Landscape is also interested in representing languages of all forms and speaker-sizes on an equal level. This includes aboriginal languages, minority languages, endangered languages, and dialects and accents of specific regions. The beauty of relying on crowd-sourced data is that with enough contributions and organisation, it is possible to obtain a very accurate map that represents the very real multilingual environments in which we live. The flip-side, of course, is that it is very easy to misrepresent the linguistic situation of a an area or region if only a specific demographic wishes to contribute. This is why it is important to get as many contributions as possible! If you are interested in adding your voice, a voice with which to represent your unique language and culture, read on below to find out how you can contribute.

How does it work?

The Language Landscape homepage displays a map of all the recordings currently available on the site using the Google Maps API and an in-page JavaScript media player to play the recordings. Red markers on the map indicate where the uploaded recordings were made. Each marker represents either an individual recording, or a cluster of them, depending on the number of recordings in that area. A marker representing a cluster displays the number of recordings available in a given location (as in the header image above).

The clustering system is automatic and if you zoom in, clustered markers separate to their exact locations. Clicking on a marker brings up a bubble that allows you to see additional information about the recording and play it on the page itself (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Language Landscape homepage with an in-page recording.

What can I contribute?

There are many different kinds of recordings in the Language Landscape Map. Songs, poems, recipes, jokes, and opinions on different football teams are just some of the different types of contributions that have been made. As long as you respect what others post, it doesn’t matter what you say. It is worth noting, however, that all recordings undergo a screening process to ensure that nothing culturally, sexually or racially offensive is added to the site.

In addition to the recordings, all contributors are asked to provide a basic set of metadata, or additional information about the recording when they upload to the website. These include:

  • Date: the time and date at which the recording was made
  • Speakers: the names of the participants used for public display
  • Place: a street address, postcode, or set of coordinates that allows the sample to be mapped to where it was made
  • Languages: the language(s) that appears in the recording

How else can I contribute?

This metadata ensures that every instance of language use is mapped in time and space and that the participants and languages are readily identifiable. Contributors can label their language varieties as they see fit by adding a new language category. Alternatively, you can choose from the list of languages added by previous users, a list which expands only as more samples of languages are added. Languages can also be mapped to an ISO number (an international registration system for classifying languages and language families) but this is optional. You can find out more about the ISO code of your languages by visiting the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) ISO page. Within the Language Landscape Map, you can create separate entries for your distinct language variety even if it does not have an associated ISO code e.g. Salvadoran Spanish. In such cases, the new variety is nested under the standard, parent variety, which is mapped to an ISO code.

Contributors such as yourself can add to the information provided about the speakers, by specifying their age, gender, place of birth, residence, occupation, linguistic repertoire and so on. You can also provide information about the topic or genre of the uploaded material, and list keywords related to the recording, which then enables people to look it up easily.

There is also an option to obtain more information about the recording. If you click on ‘more’, you’ll be directed to another page where additional metadata, as listed above, is available. Clicking on ‘more’ also gives you access to transcriptions and translations of the recording, if provided by their contributors (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The ‘more’ button function. Additional information of a recording called “Grétar sings the colours of the rainbow”.


For contributors familiar with the metadata categories used in language documentation, there is an ‘advanced’ tab where they can contribute information on the spontaneity, interactivity, social context, and modality of the recorded event, as well as provide more information about the file type, format of the uploaded file, and equipment used. We strongly encourage users to upload a consent form, for which we provide a template, as well as specify editing rights, i.e. if the contributor permits, other users can enrich the recording’s metadata by adding a transcription or translation (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Adding metadata
Figure 3: Adding metadata

Searching for language data on the Map

To allow users to explore the metadata provided, the map has various search functions. A quick search—accessible from the homepage—allows you to search the website by language, year, country, genre, or topic. A search for ‘language’ or ‘language family’ highlights all relevant recordings with background information about the language family/variety searched for. A search for ‘Polish’, for example, will bring up a view of all the Polish recordings on the site (see Figure 4). The ‘language’ pages also offer other information about a language, including a description of its position on the genealogical tree. Genealogical trees are sourced primarily from Glottolog (Nordhoff, Hammarström & Forkel 2014).

 Figure 4: A Language Landscape sub-map: Recordings of Polish.
Figure 4: A Language Landscape sub-map: Recordings of Polish.


By using the ‘advanced search’ function, you can customise your own sub-maps (see Figure 5) according to categories like language, language family, genre, topic, and speaker’s age, language, and gender. The maps will only display the recordings relevant to the search criteria you specify.

Figure 5: A custom sub-map: Recordings of either French or Polish made after 24 January 2012. The filters on the left show recordings and their corresponding search terms in different languages such as French (red) and Polish (grey).
Figure 5: A custom sub-map: Recordings of either French or Polish made after 24 January 2012. The filters on the left show recordings and their corresponding search terms in different languages such as French (red) and Polish (grey).


Finally, users can also create their own sub-maps by tagging a set of recordings as a ‘project’. These are displayed on project pages and are accessible directly from the homepage. The projects can be organised along a particular theme—for example, to represent samples of different languages at a particular location or show different varieties of a particular language. Projects are also searchable using the advanced search function, and give users the opportunity to upload images and customise the front page, much like mini-blogs.


In summary, The Language Landscape Map is a straightforward tool that can be used to learn more about the languages of the world. In addition to adding to the map, Language Landscapers can also use this resource to talk to others about language. The recordings on the map offer a wealth of resources for creating games, quizzes, and other fun educational materials for children and adults. Schools in Germany, Croatia, and the UK are already using the Map to supplement teaching activities. You can view some of the student’s individual projects by visiting our ‘Projects’ page. If you would like more information about these kinds of projects do get in touch! Hope to see your contributions on the Language Landscape Map soon!


If you’re keen on linguistic variation and want to know more about other language mapping tools online, this is for you.

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