Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Google Earth for linguists - and more Tunisian Berber

I've been playing around with Google Earth lately, and apart from all the obvious things you do when you get a satellite picture of the earth to play with - find your house, places you've been, etc. - it became clear that the ability to create and save placemark files opened up some interesting applications for linguists. To make a linguistic map, all you have to do is:
* create a new folder for the linguistic map (menu Add > Folder);
* list villages and towns that you know speak the language;
* look up their coordinates (where necessary) on sites like FallingRain - or better yet, record them with a GPS while you're there;
* go to them in Google Earth (you can type in rather than placename) and create placemarks for them (the pin button near the bottom right corner);
* change the icons for the placemarks if you have distinctions you want to make;
* add text to the placemarks (or folder names) in the Comments field;
* save the resulting folder as a KMZ file to be reopened in Google Earth.

Google Maps won't let you draw borders in, but (where relevant) this can be handled easily enough: File > Save Image, open it in Photoshop or GIMP, add a layer (so you can see the original at any time if you mess up), and draw the borders which, if you've plotted enough points, should be pretty obvious by then anyway. Filled in in suitable monochrome, this will look nicer in print, but has disadvantages: you lose the ability to attribute lengthy text to individual points (which shows up in Google Earth if you click on them), not to mention the ability to zoom in, or see the overall topography and environment.

By way of an example (possibly relevant to my PhD plans), here's one I did earlier: Tunisian Berber - Shilha. It has a bibliography of everything I could find on Tunisian Berber under the main folder, with works on individual villages cited under their placemarks, along with quotes on the vitality of Berber there. Berber is highly endangered in Tunisia, so I used four icons to represent different stages: a ghostly grey square for places where it disappeared shortly before 1900, a small bluish square for ones where it was still spoken in the 1930s, a white and blue circle for places where it is probably still spoken, and a larger white and blue square for places where it is still spoken by almost the whole population. It is divided into four subfolders, corresponding to different regions. As you will see, these varieties, in addition to being confined to less than thirteen villages in the whole country, are rather inadequately investigated - contrast the wealth of literature on and in Kabyle, or even Tashlhiyt. I hope this "cartographic bibliography" is found to be useful.


Paul said...

Hi Lameen,
This is an excellent use of Google Earth. I'd like to offer a little enhancement, WRT drawing in borders.

Google Earth allows you to add Image Overlays, which can have any degree of transparency/opacity you desire.

In order to draw a border, do as you suggest in GIMP, but your final step is to delete the original layer and crop to the size of your region, leaving you with a plain, monochrome image in the shape of your region. To help you locate your region properly later on, you may wish to leave a few alignment marks (like a dot on a settlement or placemark)

I chose PNG for the image format, as it supports transparency, so you don't have to worry about the background colour peeking out from behind a non-rectangular shape.

Pop back to Google Earth and do Add | Image Overlay, and add your new region. Use the slider at the bottom of this dialog to choose an appropriate opacity (I thought that a little under 50% was aesthetically pleasing).

By doing this, you don't sacrifice the text in your other placemarks, zooming works, and the underlying topography is still visible.

I have quickly modified your .kmz to demonstrate this, here. Let me know if you'd like me to remove it.

Just for speed, in order to demonstrate this technique, all I did was draw a circle around the Taoujjout, Tamezret and Zraoua area, but obviously, a much more complex map can be built up through this technique.

Lameen Souag said...

That seems to produce very nice results - thanks! I had no idea you could do that.

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