Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Linguistic Landscapes of Beirut

David Joseph Wrisley, an English professor at American University of Beirut has compiled a set of maps in an attempt to document the language diversity of Beirut. Arabic is the official language of Lebanon but a law determines "cases in which the French language may be used.” These maps show signs and are color coded by the language of each sign.
Unfortunately the color scheme does not lend itself well to seeing geographic patterns, if there are any. The French color is much too similar to some of the English colors. A trivariate color scheme like the map below might work better, though for dots I would go with stronger colors. Choose a primary color for each language and let them blend together where they mix.
If the point is that there is no pattern then his color scheme is as good as any. Here is an embedded version of the map. You can pan, zoom and click each point to see a picture of the sign. One final recommendation would be to allow the full screen option. The small map windows are tough to navigate.
Numerals used in signs, with only two choices, shows more of a pattern. Western Arabic numerals are in blue (0 1 2 3...) while Eastern Arabic or Arabic-Indic numerals are in orange (٠ ١ ٢ ٣ ٤ ٥ ٦ ٧ ٨ ٩)
Another interesting map is the vernacular map, showing the locations data collectors named when taking the pictures. This was done in response to some articles discussing Beirut's lack of addressing and how people navigate by informal landmarks, many of which no longer exist.

You can read more about the project and see more maps on Wrisley's project page.

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