LINGUIST List 25.3625

Tue Sep 16 2014

FYI: The WALS Sunburst Explorer

Editor for this issue: Uliana Kazagasheva <>

Date: 15-Sep-2014
From: Thomas Mayer <>
Subject: The WALS Sunburst Explorer
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We're proud to announce the release of the WALS Sunburst Explorer (, an online visualization tool that combines areal and genealogical information of the WALS database (Dryer and Haspelmath 2013;

The WALS Sunburst Explorer shows the values for all WALS features by combining the geolocation of the respective languages with their genealogy in a sunburst visualization (Stasko and Zhang 2000). The map and the sunburst are enhanced with interactive functionality and linked views. The user can select a region of the world map to get only those languages spoken in that area displayed in the sunburst. The sunburst itself is zoomable. If you click on a segment, only the languages of the respective subfamily are displayed.

The main aim of the WALS Sunburst Explorer is to help its users to distinguish between cases of language contact and genealogical inheritance (Mayer et al. 2014; Rohrdantz et al. 2012). The combination of both types of information can be approached from two different angles. The first approach focuses on a given geographical distribution to explore whether the languages in that area all belong to the same family and thus lead to a clustering of the inherited feature at a certain region of the world or whether there is a real contact situation with unrelated or distantly related languages sharing the feature through borrowing. The second approach concentrates on a given language family to check whether the feature values are the same or similar for all members of the family or whether a divergent feature value can be attributed to the fact that the language is spoken in a different region and might have borrowed the divergent feature from a neighboring language. The WALS Explorer provides the necessary functionalities to tackle both approaches.

Thomas Mayer, Bernhard Wälchli, Christian Rohrdantz, Michael Hund

Dryer, Matthew S. and Martin Haspelmath (eds.). 2013. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at, Accessed on 2014-08-13.)

Mayer, Thomas, Bernhard Wälchli, Christian Rohrdantz and Michael Hund. 2014. From the extraction of continuous features in parallel texts to visual analytics of heterogeneous areal-typological datasets. In Nolan, Brian and Carlos Pascual-Periñán (eds.), Language processing and grammars: The role of functionally oriented computational models (SLCS) (Serie: Studies in Language). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 13-38.

Rohrdantz, Christian, Hund, Michael, Mayer, Thomas, Wälchli, Bernhard & Keim, Daniel A. 2012. The World’s Languages Explorer: Visual analysis of language features in genealogical and areal contexts. Computer Graphics Forum 31(3): 935–944.

Stasko, John & Zhang, Eugene. 2000. Focus+context display and navigation techniques for enhancing radial, space-filling hierarchy visualizations. In Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization. Los Alamitos CA: IEEE Computer Society, 57–65.

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics; Typology

Page Updated: 16-Sep-2014