Web-based Multimedia Mapping for Spatial Analysis and Visualization in the Digital Humanities: a Case Study of Language Documentation in Nepal
KeywordsMultimedia mapping Spatial analysis Visualization Digital humanities Language documentation WWW
There has been a recent and noticeable increase in connections between humanities and geography (including geographic information system (GIS)), particularly in visualizations and in projects that spatially represent historical, narrative, and textual descriptions. This movement has been termed by Harris et al. (2011) as the “Geohumanities.” By “humanities,” we mean spatial considerations of disciplines concerned with the human condition, and involving largely qualitative, introspective and speculative methods of inquiry (e.g., literature, anthropology, philosophy, history, communication studies, and languages/linguistics). The linkages between social sciences and GIS geography have been substantive and productive, particularly in the rapidly expanding realm of the digital humanities (DH) (cf. Goodchild and Janelle 2004).
In such projects, mapping is used in the spatial visualization of multimedia information, including digital still images, sound, and video. One discipline that is poised to greatly benefit from a deeper collaboration with GIS is that of linguistics, particularly applied dimensions such as typology, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, and language documentation and description. Examples of such notable interdisciplinary collaboration include the AUTOTYP linguistic typology project (http://www.spw.uzh.ch/autotyp/), Der sprechende Sprachatlas “The Speaking Language Atlas” (http://sprachatlas.bayerische-landesbibliothek-online.de), and The Linguistic Atlas of the Middle and Atlantic States (http://us.english.uga.edu/lamsas/) (Kirk and Kretzschmar 1992). Recent geolinguistics publications also reflect this shift in collaborative momentum (cf. Auer and Schmidt (2009), Lameli et al. (2011), and Gawne and Ring (2016)).
At the same time, in a recent paper on sampling in dialectology research, Buchstaller and Alvanides lament that until recently, “The majority of sociolinguistic work [could] be described as spatially naïve, using geographical space merely as a canvas…on to which the results of linguistic analysis [could] be mapped.” (2013: 96). This need for inclusion and testing of different types of spatial factors alongside social ones is increasingly being addressed in regions like the USA and Great Britain (Trudgill 1974; Auer and Schmidt 2009; Lameli et al. 2010; Buchstaller and Corrigan 2011; Cheshire et al. 1989, 1993; Labov et al. 2006; Kretzschmar 1996; Kretzschmar et al. 2014; Britain 2009 and also the rise of “geohumanities” Dear et al. 2011), but is still in its infancy in other regions of the world (but cf. Stanford 2009 for a report on adjusted spatial factors on language practices and tonal patterns of Sui communities in China).
Compounding this general gap, precious few quantitative studies have investigated language attitudes and practices in linguistically diverse areas. This gap is unfortunate because it is often these attitudes and reports of language practices that can shed light on shifting ideologies as precursors to endangerment in areas where languages compete among each other and with prestige varieties (Giles et al. 1977; Coupland et al. 2006). In the Nepal scenario, two of the languages in our larger documentation project (Manange and Gurung) are threatened but viable, while the other two (Nar-Phu and Gyalsumdo) are highly endangered (technically moribund), with very few active younger speakers. Our overall aim, therefore, is to build an online, interactive atlas that contributes towards what Britain (2009: 142) terms “socially rich spatiality,” taking into account speaker practices and networks as they intersect with geo-physical location.
The potential for mutual benefit in the GIS-linguistics and GIS-language documentation collaborative contexts cannot be overstated and is the focus of this paper. Increasingly, language documentation (particularly of vulnerable or threatened speech communities) relies on an awareness and understanding of the spatial-temporal interplay of language practices, structural variation, and contact dynamics, all working together to form a more comprehensive profile of the contributing variables to the survival and threat scenarios of these languages. Spatial visualization of documentation, through maps and atlases, for example, also benefits grammatical description in itself as a product or output, as grammars vary widely in their coding and conceptualization of space-time continua (e.g., Slobin 1996; Bickel 1997; Harrison 2008). This variation can be more deeply appreciated in tandem with GIS applications as relevant to the language communities.
GIS is defined as a computer program for the capture, storage, manipulation, visualization, and spatial analysis of geospatial features (e.g., points, lines, or polygons) and their attributes (Chang 2015). The attribute data of the geospatial features in GIS are commonly alphanumeric values stored in an attribute table, thus termed as structured data. Therefore, the spatial analysis of GIS is often conducted using a structured query language (e.g., “Country_Name” = “Nepal”). As a result, GIS has traditionally lacked the ability to integrate non-structured data, such as digital photographs, digital audio and digital video clips (i.e., multimedia components). In the past two decades, a new trend of developing multimedia mapping systems has been seen in the literature. Multimedia mapping refers to the integration of computer-assisted mapping systems and multimedia technologies that allow one to incorporate not only geospatial information in digital map format, but also multimedia information. The development of multimedia mapping techniques has gone through several stages, including the emergence of interactive maps and electronic atlases (Openshaw and Mounsey 1987; Rhind et al. 1988; Shepherd 1991), the development of “hypermaps” in the 1990s (Wallin 1990; Laurini and Milleret-Raffort 1990; Cotton and Oliver 1994; Cartwright 1999), the integration of hypermedia GIS systems (which features hypertext, hyperlinks and multimedia) and GIS in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Shiffer 1998; Bill 1998; Hu 1999; Soomro et al. 1999; Chong 1999; Hu et al. 2003; Yagoub 2003; Goryachko and Chernyshev 2004; Belsis et al. 2004). After having compared the various multimedia mapping techniques, ranging from desktop-based multimedia mapping to Web-based hypermedia GIS, Hu (2012) pointed out that the former relies heavily on computer programming languages (e.g., Visual Basic), and digital mapping software (e.g., ArcView, ArcGIS, or MapObjects) with local data storage, local access, and single user. The media format is often in Microsoft Windows with large file sizes, such as .tiff for images, .avi for digital video, and .wav for digital sound. The latter relies on both computer programming languages (e.g., Visual Basic) and markup languages (e.g., HTML), and Internet map server (IMS) (e.g., MapObjects IMS, ArcGIS IMS) with remote data storage, network access, and Internet users. The media format is often Web-based with small file sizes, such as jpeg for images, .mov for digital video, and .wav for digital sound. In both cases, the multimedia map application developers must invest in dedicated computer hardware (e.g., Web server, data server) and computer software (e.g., map server), plus IT personnel. The developer often faces a steep learning curve to become knowledgeable about the coding in native language of the map server. Now, as cartographic mapping system and GIS evolve from traditional desktop platform to Web-based online platform, there is a need and an opportunity, to develop a Web-based multimedia mapping approach to integrating geospatial information in digital map formats and multimedia information, which is of significance for DH-centered visualization and spatial analysis.
Our objectives in our language documentation research in Nepal were to (1) use geo-tagging equipment to collect audio and visual recordings of three types of socio-linguistic data: language attitudes and practices interviews, free-form narratives, and elicited vocabulary and grammatical paradigm sets, from representative speakers of the four endangered languages in 26 Manang villages; (2) design and develop a Web-based, interactive, and multimedia atlas that can display data points corresponding to the speakers, links to the three types of data gathered in multimedia format, provides friendly user interface for the manipulation and spatial analysis of all the data. It is anticipated that the online atlas can bring all local and international stakeholders, such as the speech communities, linguists, local government agencies, and the public, together to raise awareness of language structures, language practices, language endangerment, and opportunities for preservation, all through this easy-to-use means that enhance the geo-spatial representation in engaging visual and sensory (multimedia) formats. The following section describes our methods and the atlas design and functionality.
The Manang District is appropriate for a case study of Web-based multimedia mapping as it intersects with geo-linguistics and language documentation and it has undergone rapid environmental, economic, and infrastructure development and changes over the past 15 years, including the ongoing construction of its first motorable road and the population shifts associated with this (see Laurance 2014 for commentary on road-building impacts). Some Manang communities have also witnessed population movements associated with both the rise of boarding schools in the capital Kathmandu, and also the rise of migrant worker opportunities where young adults relocate to Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates for long-term employment (Hildebrandt et al. 2015). These changes have mixed impacts. On the one hand, they can benefit rural communities by connecting them to business and other opportunities available only to more centrally located marketplaces. On the other hand, these changes can trigger language shift as local residents (particularly younger ones) may emigrate away from their areas of traditional language practice for education and job opportunities. These changes introduce new, complex variables behind language contact and language endangerment beyond just social variables, and further motivates a spatial perspective of language practices and patterns in this area.
Data Source and Data Set
Use of XML to Store the Data
In the design of the Web-based multimedia digital atlas, the layout design was adopted. There are three rows. The first row contains three tabs, the second row is the map container and the third row contains map legends. The three tabs serve as a user interface for spatial analysis and visualization. The first tab is named Languages by Village. With this tab, the user can search for the language identified by interviewees as their mother tongue. To do so, the user can first select a village from a dropdown list of all the villages where linguistic interviews were conducted, and click the Search button. The Google map is zoomed into that selected village and customized marker icons that represent locations where the sociolinguistic interviews were conducted in that village are shown on the map. In this case, there are four customized marker icons for four different languages—the green balloon for “Nyeshangte,” the yellow balloon for “Manang Gurung,” the purple balloon for “Nar-Phu” and the orange balloon for “Gyalsumdo.” In addition, tooltips (e.g., language name) to the markers are provided. In addition, these marker icons are clickable. When the user clicks on an icon, it will launch a Google Maps API standard Info-window in which the speaker ID, age, mother tongue, residential picture, and a link to the video clip of associated recordings will be displayed.
The second tab is named Villages by Language. With this tab, the user can search for all the villages in Manang District where a selected language is spoken. To do so, the user can first select a language from the dropdown list of the four languages, and click the Search button. The search result will be displayed on the map as customized marker icons. Similarly, each marker icon is clickable. The third and last tab is Question & Response. With this tab, the user can select an interview question from the question dropdown list (see Appendix for the entire list of the sociolinguistic survey questions), and click the Search button. The search results will be displayed on the map as different marker icons, each representing an answer to that question. This function provides the user a tool to further examine the spatial distribution of language practices and attitudes in Manang languages.
Inside second row is the map container where the Google Maps is displayed. A few standard Google Maps controls, such as Pan and Zoom controls, Map Scale control, and Map Type control–Roadmap and Satellite, are available for the user to interact with the map or satellite imagery. The last row is where the map legend is placed. If the user selects the first tab or the second tab, the map legend contains four customized marker icons that represent four different languages; if the user selects the third tab, the map legend contains customized marker icons that represent different responses for the interview questions.
“Methodology” and “Results” sections detailed the workflow and elements of the “Documenting the Languages of Manang, Nepal” atlas. However, this multimedia atlas is not the only example of ongoing efforts use geospatial technology in the digital humanities, particularly in geolinguistics and online, interactive language mapping. We summarize here examples of three projects with parallels to the Manang Languages Atlas, their similarities, and their differences.
The Web-based, interactive, and multimedia language atlas can be accessed on the Internet; therefore, it can bring all local and international stakeholders, such as the speech communities, linguists, local government agencies, and the public, together to raise awareness of language structures, language practices, language endangerment, and opportunities for preservation, all through this easy-to-use means that enhance the geo-spatial representation in engaging visual and sensory (multimedia) formats.
One example of this potential contribution may be found in Hildebrandt and Hu (2017) which, through quantitative analysis of spatial distributions of respondent answer types, demonstrates that non-structural (language attitude and use) variables reveal different degrees of vitality vs. endangerment in Nepal. The Web-based multimedia mapping approach offers a unique tool for a spatial analysis and visualization of variations in self-reported attitudes and practices across the four Manang languages, with adjusted spatial factors (e.g., location of communities to a newly built motor road, location of communities to the district headquarters, location within closely clustered communities) alongside traditional social factors (e.g., gender, age, education, occupation, and so on). As a result, this research project contributes to new understandings of the relationship between space and language practices in Nepal.
All interviews began with an oral consent process (originally composed in English and given in Nepali, the regional contact language), which was based on a script approved by SIUE’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for informed consent in research involving human subjects. This consent process included respondent awareness that his/her information would be made available for public access, through audio-visual and through still (photograph) images.
This work is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences - Documenting Endangered Languages (funding no. 1149639): “Documenting the Languages of Manang” and by an equipment support grant from SIU Edwardsville. We are grateful to members of the Gurung, Gyalsumdo, Manange and Nar-Phu-speaking communities in Manang, Nepal, for their help in gathering these data. We are grateful to Dubi Nanda Dhakal, Oliver Bond, Sangdo Lama, and Ritar Lhakpa Lama for assistance with interviews. We are grateful to Saita Gurung and Manisha Chaudhary for assistance with atlas construction and development. All errors are the responsibility of the authors.
This research was supported by the US National Science Foundation’s Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences-Documenting Endangered Languages (funding no. 1149639): “Documenting the Languages of Manang” and by an equipment support grant from SIU Edwardsville.
Compliance with ethical standards
The authors of this paper will agree, accept, and comply with all the ethical standards set by the journal.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The field data collection (i.e., field interviews) was approved by the SIUE’s Institute Research Board. The authors used an approved oral informed consent script for data collection.
The authors have given the informed consent to publish this article in the Journal of Geovisualization and Spatial Analysis if accepted.
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